Australia’s music mecca
Byron Shire in Northern New South Wales is revered for many things – cracking surf, quirky characters, organic food and lush scenery – but what you might not know is that it has become Australia’s unofficial music mecca.
In addition to a number of smaller events scattered throughout the year are three of the country’s most coveted gigs: Byron Bay Bluesfest, Splendour in the Grass, Mullum Music Festival and The Falls Music and Arts Festival. While they are all hosted within a 20km radius of each other, each has its own distinctive draw cards, type of punter and personality.
Now in its 26th year, Bluesfest has evolved from a small arts factory event into one of the world’s most awarded and applauded blues and roots festivals staged just ten minutes from the beach hub of Byron Bay. For five days over the Easter long weekend, roughly 100,000 people are treated to a stellar line-up that next year will include Lenny Kravitz, Michael Franti and G. Love & Special Sauce.
Country singer Troy Cassar-Daley, who hails from the Far North Coast’s Bundjalung people, calls Bluesfest the “jewel in the crown” of North Coast festivals.
“I remember seeing Buddy Giles years ago and [witnessing] that man play made me realise just how many other guitarists have spawned from him,” he said. “Seeing him sweat on stage, giving everything he could give almost moved me to tears.”
After a two-year stint at Woodford, north of Brisbane, Splendour in the Grass returned to its spiritual home at North Byron Parklands in 2013 to critical acclaim. While there were significant teething problems with the spacious new site, patrons were treated to a slew of high quality acts over the three-day festival.
This year’s (2014) line-up saw 80 Australian and international acts grace three main stages dotted throughout the stunning 660-acre site near Yelgun. Splendour attracts a younger crowd than Bluesfest and has a strong creative component courtesy of performance artists, living sculptures and street theatre.
While Australian music festivals like Big Day Out continue to suffer poor ticket sales, and others like Homebake are relegated to the scrapheap, Mullum Music Festival has shown that some punters simply prefer a boutique festival format.
Since its inception in 2008, the all-ages, all-inclusive line-up has attracted thousands of people to Mullumbimby to soak up 120-plus performances staged in 12 different venues. What is usually a quiet hinterland hub located 20 minutes inland from Byron Bay transforms into a pulsating labyrinth of performance spaces dotted throughout town. Existing infrastructures like the high school hall, civic centre and bowling club convert into pop-up venues alongside alleyways and street corners.
Images courtesy of Veda Dante
The annual musical calendar concludes with The Falls Music and Arts Festival, which uses the same North Byron Parklands site as Splendour but has a distinct look and feel. Simultaneous events in Lorne (Victoria), Marion Bay (Tasmania) and Byron fuel the festival fever with punters in each three states sharing their experiences on social media.
The event also includes The Village Festival, a space within Falls where professional and non-professional artists host a range of sideshows, performances, sculptures and interactive activities.
“The Village is run by a professional team of highly experienced arts workers, often mentoring teams of volunteers, students and keen amateurs,” said co-creative director Suzanne Kalk of the Melbourne-based outfit.
“Our programming aesthetic is populist, accessible, quirky, and littered with the familiar and the exotic.”
So if you’re looking for a quiet week to holiday in Byron, I think there’s one at the beginning of February. Oh wait…
Byron Bay Bluesfest
Location: Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm
Splendour in the Grass
Location: North Byron Parklands