Since its humble beginnings as an indoor event held over four days at “The Arts Factory” in Byron Bay in 1990, attracting around 6,000 festival-goers, the blues and roots showcase has changed venues and owners a number of times before literally putting down tent-pegs, in 2013, on a tea-tree farm at Tyagarah, about 15 minutes north of Byron Bay itself.
This year, 6 main stages and a rocking busking stage were graced by over 107 Aussie and major International artists over five huge blue sky days, providing something like 13,350 minutes of entertainment for music lovers of ALL ages – from the newly born to those well into their twilight years!
I’m almost ashamed to admit that our visit south of the border for Bluesfest this year was my first time, but I can say with ZERO hesitation that it won’t be our last! Only hours into arriving and catching our first taste of the immaculately set-up and administered festival, we were already discussing the possibility of a 3-day stint in 2015. Giddy-up!
Even our first contact with a volunteer staffer brought huge smiles to our faces as we were welcomed with a harmonica-embellished, softly sung greeting and instruction on where to park and pitch our tent. So good were these first impressions that we were able to look past the fact we were instructed to set up our tent directly on top of a rather irate nest of green ants! Their furious bites alerted us to the fact that it was probably a good idea if we repositioned our makeshift shelter elsewhere!
Once set up, it was straight off to the South Gate entrance to move through security and head straight into the grounds to start exploring!
Dave Matthews Band
While there was a literal smorgasbord of amazing performances to witness across the day, across the various stages, there was really only always going to be the one main reason for me to be down at Bluesfest this year – the headlining set by alt rock legends, the Dave Matthews Band (DMB).
If you’ve been following my blog for some time you’ll no doubt already be well aware of my affinity to this band after having religiously road-tripped a half-dozen times down to the stunning Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington State each Labour Day long weekend, while living in Vancouver.
See also: Dave Matthews Band at The Gorge 2012
While the band’s spirited performance may have been lacking the dramatic backdrop of the Gorge this time around, they certainly delivered in every other aspect!
The “Mojo” tent was heaving out all sides with fans and general music lovers alike dancing along with Dave to some of my all-time favourite DMB tracks like “You Might Die Trying”, “Too Much”, “Jimi Thing”, “Ants Marching” and a HUGE rendition of “Grey Street” to close out the set.
Dave Matthews Band Setlist → Byron Bay Bluesfest, Tyagarah (19 April, 2014)
- Belly Belly Nice
- Funny The Way It Is
- You Might Die Trying
- Don’t Drink The Water
- The Space Between
- So Much To Say
- Too Much
- You & Me
- Jimi Thing
- What Would You Say
- All Along The Watchtower*
- Ants Marching
- Grey Street ^
* With Warren Haynes
Below is a selection of images I was able to snap throughout the 150 minute set.
Warren Haynes takes the stage
Hard core blues & roots fans got their “YES!” moment when Warren Haynes, legendary jam guitarist from the US band Gov’t Mule (also playing at the festival), joined Dave and the band on stage to hammer out an epic cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”.
His guitar duel with DMB’s Tim Reynolds during the performance was something to savour, and has already been “put up there” as one of the festival highlights this year so far.
John Butler Trio
Earlier in the night we were treated to another stellar live act in Australia’s John Butler Trio. Again, not my first time in seeing these guys rock out live, but it was Kirsten’s first time catching them in person, so I was really hoping that John & co. were going to bring their A-game and treat us to a selection of fan favourites, and also some tracks from their current album, “Flesh & Blood”, released earlier this year.
Happily, all hopes and expectations were met as they jumped out of the blocks with “Revolution” and got the rowdy, eclectic crowd hopping over the course of their set to tracks like “Better Than”, “Ocean” (A-MAZING as always), “Zebra” and, of course, “Funky Tonight”.
John Butler Trio Setlist → Byron Bay Bluesfest, Tyagarah (19 April, 2014)
- Used To Get High
- Hoe Down
- Better Than
- Blame It On Me
- Devil Woman
- How You Sleep at Night
- Funky Tonight
See also: John Butler Trio @ The Commodore
…and earlier that day
Of course it was an all-day event and it would be remiss of me to neglect mentioning some of the other acts we enjoyed across our time down in Tyagarah. The sublime folk stylings of Samuel Beam (aka Iron & Wine) were a highlight, as was the always entertaining KT Tunstall (I’ll NEVER get tired of seeing her perform and loop her way through “Black Horse & The Cherry Tree” live!), and the real “sleeper hit” for both Kirsten and me, the unique talents of Aussie songstress Kate Miller-Heidke – what a thoroughly engaging young lady she is!
In summary, we loved EVERYTHING about our first Byron Bay Bluesfest experience. A great lineup of acts was complemented beautifully by an immaculately planned, professionally run festival (benefiting from 25 years of experience no doubt) providing a fun, safe, feel-good vibe that will be hard to beat as far as gig experiences go for the rest of the year.
Congratulations and a big THANK YOU to all involved. There’s EVERY chance you’ll be seeing more of us next year!
UPDATE: By the numbers…
Just a few numerical facts from the 2014 Byron Bay Bluesfest for you to chew on, courtesy of the bluesfest.com.au website:
- 104,526 festival goers in attendance over 5 days
- 5,660 campers set up within the Bluesfest campgrounds
- 109 bands/artists performed across 7 stages over 5 days
- 40,000+ coffees were consumed by Bluesfest patrons over 5 days
- Food consumed included 1400kg Noodles, 1 tonne of meat, 350kg of lettuce, 3500 Boiled eggs not to mention 20,000 + donuts and the 14,000 Yum Cha pieces consumed over 5 days
- 1,844 meals were served to artists over the 5 days of the festival and 4,284 meals to festival crew over 7 days
- 1,054 workers and 500 volunteers contributed to festival set-up, operations and de-construction.