THE BOSS: Byron Bluesfest Festival Director Peter Noble.
THE BOSS: Byron Bluesfest Festival Director Peter Noble. Tao Jones

Bluesfest stalwart retains his passion for iconic festival

OVER the past 30 years Byron Bay Bluesfest has become more than a music event, it has become a cultural experience and integral part of both the Australian music calendar and North Coast music culture.

And the man who has been at the helm for a big part of those 30 years, Peter Noble, who splits his time working and living between Byron and Bali, is still as passionate as ever about the festival and about music.

"Life truly is an amazing adventure which I take on with wild enthusiasm on a daily basis," the Grammy winner and festival director said.

"I have a great team around me which means basically my workload isn't what it once was and I don't want it to be. I want to enjoy this festival too."

That doesn't mean he isn't working hard.

While Noble says he hasn't been in the office for the past month, he has been in the US scouting out talent for the 2020 festival - just weeks before 2019 has even happened.

But that is what it takes to create Australia's most awarded festival - an event that has taken out both music and tourism awards in large numbers, brought some of the biggest names in music to the country and brings large numbers of tourists each year to Byron and a large number of music fans to its side concerts in Melbourne and Sydney.

Noble said that this year the side shows look likely to sell 50,000 tickets, with 43,000 already sold three weeks from the event.

"Ticket sales are doing better in Melbourne than Sydney but this shows we are not a small event, our tentacles now reach around the country," he said.

Not bad for an event that started 30 years ago at the old Arts Factory (known colloquially as the Piggery) at Byron Bay as the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival.

Back then, Noble's main interest was as a promoter, bringing bands to town. It wasn't until 1994 that he officially became a director of the event.

"This is only my 26th festival," he joked, though that is more than enough festivals to have Noble awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to live and recorded music, tourism and the community.

It is also more than enough time to have him earn the "Keeping the Blues Alive" award from The Blues Foundation in Memphis, Tennessee.

And he remains passionate about the event that has moved (permanently ensconced at a farm 11km north of Byron since 2010), changed and grown over the years.

He believes that comes from being a musician first.

Growing up in Sydney, Noble was drawn to the music industry at an early age, playing in rock, soul and blues bands during the '60s and '70s.

His bass playing and business sense helped secure jobs with a number of artists including Clapham Junction, and as band leader for Marcia Hines, before moving to the US to work as a professional musician.

Eventually, after touring nationally and internationally, he settled in the US and set up Portland, Oregon's first International Jazz Festival as well as being house booker for legendary venue The Earth.

Returning to Australia in the early '80s, he became a pioneer, touring blues groups in Australia, including bringing them to Byron which started his love affair with the town and later the event that he has mentored for almost three decades.

As well as changing locations, the festival has expanded and grown. Noble collaborated with leading cultural creative Rhoda Roberts in 2013 to produce the Boomerang Festival, a world indigenous festival held at Bluefest's Tyagarah home.

Boomerang returns to Bluesfest this year and will host its own space featuring dance, language, story, talks, carving, weaving and traditional healing programs.

The festival has also become more environmentally aware over the years, according to Noble.

"Back stage at Blues this year for the first time there will be no single-use plastic bottles," he said.

It was a move made after a discussion with long-time Blues fest supporter and performer Jack Jones.

And that's the other thing that Blues Fest has become over the years - a family, with many performers including Casey Chambers coming back every year even if they aren't performing.

This year will honour those people and many of the pioneers of blues and roots music in this country, including Russell Morris, Richard Clapton and Joe Camilleri.

Noble said there had been a lot of talk about why they hadn't gone for a really big headliner this year.

"We could have spent a lot of money on Fleetwood Mac - on one or two headliners," he said.

"Instead we are putting on great acts across all the timeslots across all the days."

Bluesfest will present more than 200 performances across numerous stages over five 12-hour days, as well as camping for up to 6000 people and children's entertainment.

From a modest crowd of 6000 people, in 1990 it now attracts 100,000 each Easter.

This year's line-up includesbig names Iggy Pop, Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, Paul Kelly, Hozier, Norah Jones and Tommy Emmanuel.

For details, go to bluesfest.com.au.


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