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Bluesfest owner - Peter NoblePeter Noble, owner of Australia’s premier ‘anti-pop’ music event, Bluesfest, tells us about the business of music festivals and why we shouldn’t follow in his footsteps.

Held over five days in NSW’s iconic Byron Bay each Easter, Bluesfest is regarded as Australia’s premier blues/roots music event, respected by musicians and patrons alike. In 2008, NSW Events reported Bluesfest brought more than $13.5 million in business revenue to the state. This year 2009 saw the festival at Belongil Fields celebrating its 20th anniversary with over 85,000 patrons through the gates, and a 24 percent increase in takings on the year before. It also recently won the coveted international Greener Festival Award 2009 for the third year in a row.

DB: Congratulations on yet another outstanding Bluesfest!
PN: Thanks! A festival is an awful lot of hard work. The real thanks has to go to the team though, and especially Annika (Peter’s life partner); the festival wouldn’t happen without her. I’m the one who gets to do the interviews but she’s the one who actually runs it.

DB: You must be happy, you’ve recently taken full ownership of the festival?
PN: I bought out all my partners, yes. It feels good to finally own something I’ve been working on for 16 or 17 odd years! What people have been saying to me that it feels like Bluesfest again. Now that’s not coming from me and it’s certainly no put down on the talent or the friendship I have with Chuggy (Michael Chugg) and guys like that, but I certainly think that if there’s one person booking the festival, then it’s going to have one person’s imprimatur on it—and this is the festival that I want Bluesfest to be like.

This is my vision. It takes an awful lot of time to learn the art of festival direction. Many people have a go at it, but to actually be able to do it on these stages, such that one act melts into the next one in a nice way, or segues in, that’s something you take many, many years to learn. And I’m still sure I’ll stuff it up with some of the acts because I’m not perfect and I’m always learning! My first ex-business partner Kevin Oxford, used to say: “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

DB: What do you think of the music festival scene at the moment?
PN: Up in Brisbane recently, I did the music conference, Big Sound Summit. I was on one of those expert panels and they asked: “Are there too many festivals?” I answered: “Yes, they’re getting like the corner pub, one on every corner.” Festivals aren’t just about sewing the talent together; it’s about creating something that has a real spirit to it. I mean I’m not the person that’s going to sit here and do this and lose my house either—that’s not what it is about. It’s the intention to do something that is artistically meaningful and that says something culturally that’s important. I like the way the Virgin magazine described us as ‘Australia’s favourite anti-pop festival’… They nailed it! It is an art to create a festival.

DB: I heard that you started the festival back in the eighties as you weren’t happy with the music scene?
PN: For many acts back then with Countdown and the indie pub scene, it was more about ‘I want my minute of fame and I’m willing to do whatever I can to get it’—but fame’s such a transient thing. The problem with it is that you are actually standing in front of someone who should be where you are; who actually is artistically relevant and who is saying something important.

The culture that was created by that attitude on some levels stopped the development of Australian music artistically. I often have discussions with people like Keith Welsh from The Music Network (now sold to Peer Group Media) and we ask, where’s Australia’s Joni Mitchell? Where’s Australia’s Neil Young? Why doesn’t this climate produce those people? They’re both Canadian artists and Canada only has 8 million more people than we do. Why don’t we produce a different kind of artist? We produce some wonderful pop artists but we don’t seem to produce too many at that level. The acts that are really creative have got to have a place, and this is definitely what Bluesfest is about.

DB: Any tips for people looking to get into music festivals as a career?
PN: I wouldn’t suggest it as a career path for people who aren’t absolutely obsessed because it’s almost like playing Russian roulette with four or five bullets in… and you could lose a million dollars just like that! I think that if you really want to do this, you’ve got to really love it, because you’re not going to make money for a very, very, very long time and you’re probably going to have to have a second job—which I did for many years! I’ve not got to a point yet that I need to make money so much that I’ll put everyone on just to make a dollar. Talking about it on a business level, you’ve got to take eight or nine million dollars a year to break even, so there’s no room for mistakes either.

–In 2010, Bluesfest will move to its new home at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, just north of Byron, for its 21st birthday celebrations.
Find out more at www.bluesfest.com.au

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Katherine Beard

Katherine Beard

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