I came across Byron Bay Bluesfest by accident; on the final day of our yoga teacher training, one of our teachers, Emme, played a song called Depth Over Distance by Ben Howard. Having narrowly missed seeing him play at Glastonbury the previous year, I decided to google him to see if he had an upcoming tour scheduled. While he had nothing planned in the pipeline, I found an old article reviewing his performance at Bluesfest a year or two ago – and after looking further into the festival, I was soon sold, and quickly added the festival to my bucket list book.
Now in its 27th year, Byron Bay Bluesfest is an annual blues and roots music festival that takes place over the Easter weekend, thus almost guaranteeing five days of glorious weather. Located on the 120 hectares at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, just north of Byron Bay, it now attracts over 100,000 each year and boasts five main stages as well as a busking stage for local musicians.
I flew into Ballina airport from Sydney on Maundy Thursday, and as we drove along the coast into central Byron, past the iconic lighthouse and miles of sprawling coast and surf, I immediately fell in love with what is often cited as one of Australia’s most popular coastal towns.
After meeting my friend Lindsey – who had flown in from Auckland the previous night – for brunch and an afternoon beach walk, we headed to the campsite where we were to stay for the next five nights. Given our complete combined lack of camping gear, we opted to pay a bit extra to stay in a pre-put up tent, complete with camp beds and a floor mat; suffice to say it was a worthwhile decision, as it meant that both the putting up and dismantling of the tent was done for us. We quickly made friends with our neighbours Damo and James, who we spent much of the next five days with on road trips into town, indulging in sun down drinks and hazy nights at the festival that all seemed to roll into one.
Given that most of the music didn’t start until late afternoon, and it was often too hot to sleep past sunrise, we spent most of our mornings brunching in Byron, before lying on the beach for a few hours and heading back to the campsite in time for the evening’s festivities. And it was while mooching around Byron Bay that we became accustomed to its incredible busking scene; you could barely turn a corner without hearing melodic tones or the strumming of a guitar. Two busking brothers called Hoo8Hoo who also performed at the festival were among the most insanely talented musicians I’ve ever heard, and seeing them perform was definitely one of the highlights of our time in Byron.
And so, to the festival itself, and without question five of the very best days of my life. From our first night seeing Kendrick Lamar, to Sir Tom Jones’s final night finale, our entire time at Bluesfest was incredible. Seeing The Wailers perform Bob Marley’s most famous hits was definitely a highlight; as was watching Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys on our penultimate night. For me, however, the highlight was UB40’s two hour Sunday night set; with trumpets and saxophones galore and performances of my very favourite songs, I left knowing I had witnessed something I would never forget.
Leaving on Tuesday was bittersweet. While I was looking forward to my home comforts in Bondi, I was sad to leave both Byron and Bluesfest; knowing that our Easter weekend bubble was coming to a close. A magical weekend of beaches, brunches and blues, Byron Bay Bluesfest, you were the best.