The year was 1990. Australia’s Funniest Home Videos premiered its first episode, Madonna‘s “Vogue” was on top of the ARIA charts, and Macaulay Culkin won the hearts of us all with his role as Kevin McCallister in Home Alone.
On the east coast of Australia, a little known festival was also appearing for the first time. The East Coast Blues Festival took place at Byron Bay Arts Factory, showcasing 7 international and 7 Oz-owned acts over 4 days in front of a now-comparatively-modest crowd of 6,000.
The East Coast Blues Festival would eventually change its name to the aptly-titled Bluesfest. In the 30 subsequent years, Bluesfest would come to attract major supporters like Jack Daniel’s, develop a reputation for showcasing some of the world’s greatest artists and boast over 100,000 blues-goers annually.
Bluesfest 2019 takes place in Byron Bay this week from 18 – 22 April, featuring a stellar lineup including the likes of Hozier, Tash Sultana, Iggy Pop, Paul Kelly, Jack Johnson and Norah Jones.
In celebration of its 30th anniversary this year, we’re deep-diving into the last 30 years of Bluesfest and digging up some of its most memorable moments, from Paul Kelly and James Brown to Ms. Lauryn Hill and Joss Stone. Prepare for a sweet trip down memory lane and some beautiful fodder for the ol’ eardrums. Cheers to that, pal.
PAUL KELLY (1999)
Oz God Paul Kelly made his Bluesfest debut back in 1999 at Red Devil Park in Byron, alongside a line-up include Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs. He has since become a regular visitor – in fact, he’ll be making his 7th appearance this year when he headlines the 2019 fest.
JAMES BROWN (2004)
For its 15th year – and the first with the newly-titled ‘Bluesfest’ moniker – Byron welcomed ‘The Godfather of Soul’ to the stage, and he well and truly made us feel good. Festival co-founder Peter Noble later noted that Brown’s set was one of his all-time highlights from the festival’s history. “That was a wonderful moment.”
Brown led a jam-packed line-up that year, featuring the likes of Solomon Burke, John Butler Trio and The Black Keys. He would pass away 2 years later, making this performance that much more poignant.
Wolfmother took Red Devil Park by a storm in ’07. Coming off the back of an incredible year for the band, following the release of their well-received self-titled debut album, their Byron set was a highly-anticipated affair. Please enjoy this wonderfully-scattered video of Wolfmother performing “Woman” because a) you can see everyone going nuts and b) it looks like it was filmed on a Motorola Razr, and that’s a cute, reminiscent mood.
SINEAD O’CONNOR (2008)
In 2008, Bluesfest returned to its old stomping ground at Belongil Fields. Sinead O’Connor travelled Down Under for the occassion, and her set was unanimously heralded as a moment to remember. I mean, that’s definitely no surprise – imagine being there in the crowd witnessing the legend herself crooning “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Shivers. If you were lucky enough to attend that year, you would’ve also witnessed the likes of Keith Urban and John Fogerty. That’s inspired.
GRACE JONES (2011)
That outfit. The vocal cords. Those legs. Despite making the crowd wait for nearly an hour, Grace Jones compensated for the mishap by performing a set that featured plenty of theatrics, costume changes and reveals. We’re continually undeserving of our queen.
JACK JOHNSON (2014)
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???????? LIVE at Bluesfest at our 25th Anniversary! ???????? Only @jackjohnson could make whistling so chill ???? Feel all the vibes with the world's best-known surfer turned singer-songwriter this Easter! ???? ???? #linkinthebio #jackjohnson #bluesfestbyronbay #festival #byronbay #surfmusic
Jack Johnson graced the Bluesfest stage for the festival’s 25th anniversary. May he whistle his way into your sweet, sweet dreams tonight with this lil’ throwback snippet.
JOSS STONE (2014)
Joss Stone radiates love and positive energy and all the happy things. Case in point: her performance of “Right To Be Wrong”, alongside an adorable pre-song chat, in 2014.
LAURYN HILL (2018)
How could we discuss Bluesfest’s highlights without including queen Lauryn Hill’s headlining act last year? Some were left sour after the 32-minute wait and Ms. Hill referring to the crowd as “Brisbane”. But let’s be real here – if you’re Lauryn Hill, you have the right to be as late as you want and to call the crowd whatever you like… even if it’s the wrong city. WE STAN LIVING LEGENDS.
Well, it’s safe to say that this year’s Bluesfest is shaping up to be one of the best yet. You can still suss out tickets and camping info via their offical website.
Keep your eyes (and thirst buds) peeled for the Jack Daniel’s bar, as well – after all, if you aren’t slurpin’ on a bit of whiskey, are you truly getting your blues on? I’ll drink to that.
Safe sippin’, blues-goers.Image: Instagram / @bluesfestbyronbay & @evanmalcolmphoto