The People vs Bluesfest

The social media dwellings of nit-pickers and self-proclaimed social warriors have been booming for the past week. They smack their wrists and tighten their forearms at the sign of any potential injustice they can sink into their mighty veins. This week’s hit is the annual Byron Bay Bluesfest. And the culprit’s fault: few female artists on the line-up. Or so they say.

I saw a photoshopped poster floating throughout Facebook earlier in the week. It had deleted all the male artists from the bill and kept the female artists. The poster only had one: Kasey Chambers. Now whether this was a meme, showing that they only need Kasey Chambers on the bill to make their ticket worthwhile, I don’t know. Because there are other female artists included in Bluesfest’s first line-up announcement. American acts I’m With Her and Larkin Poe are also included on the list. And yes, I can hear you screaming already. Three female acts compared to twenty-three male acts is not a good ratio. But it’s a correction that the Facebook warriors should take note.

I saw an Instagram post from a person in the music industry, who I’ve mentioned before in one of my politically charged articles, saying that this is an important topic in the industry. I hope this person is talking about the topic in general, but I feel it’s a specific dig towards the award winning, diverse festival that is Bluesfest. While I agree with the statement that it’s an important issue in the industry, I think picking on Bluesfest is a lot like popping a pimple: you think it’s necessary, you think it will help, but really you should just leave that sucker alone.

Bluesfest has celebrated and embraced diversity for countless years and has proudly acknowledged itself as a safe festival for all genders and races to enjoy music. This isn’t your Splendour or Falls Festival, two festivals that the aforementioned Instagram user has had the pleasure of playing. And where there is a valid argument against those triple j run festivals, picking on the Gandhi of Australian festivals is unnecessary. Bluesfest celebrates its artists and has countless line-up announcements throughout the year, in the lead up to the Easter bound festival. This is their first announcement for the year. We have at least four more to go. I can guarantee that by the end of the full line-up, there will be a healthy mix of genders and races scattered throughout. I guarantee it.

Other publications have called Bluesfest out over this, and Bluesfest Director Peter Noble has defended his festival. The main point that Activist Group LISTEN made was “is not with [Bluesfest] itself, nor the women who have already been booked to play”, but with “the message repeatedly sent by Australian festivals that women and non-binary artists, especially those who are Indigenous and artists of colour, do not deserve to be announced first”. (Tom Williams, Music Feeds, 2018)

LISTEN’s statement also reads that, “First announcements indicate who a festival believes has significant value; they set the tone of a festival and draw the bulk of ticket sales. There has been plenty of discussion in the last few years about Australia’s music diversity problem, and why line-up announcements should prioritise diversity.” I disagree with the first half of this statement. Where Splendour and Falls and other major (triple j) run festivals do make their money off first announcements, I would argue that Bluesfest does not. I’ve been to Bluesfest a couple times, and because of that, I get countless emails about early bird tickets, majority of which are sold out before the first line-up has been dropped. This isn’t the shit-show of purchasing Splendour tickets a week from the first, and major, line-up announcement. Bluesfest tickets sell out because the thousands of people who attend understand the ethos of the festival, and trust that the line-up will not only be great, but also diverse. Each time Bluesfest post their next line-up announcement on their Facebook page, it feels like a first announcement. Meaning, each line-up feels fresh and exciting. Not like a second announcement to Splendour where it’s pretty much the day time artists who will help cure your hangover. Bluesfest are a contrary to LISTEN’s statement, in which each of the four-plus announcements throughout the year feels mammoth compared to the last. It’s a special thing. And when it comes to Indigenous artists, just look at the Boomerang Festival held throughout the grounds of Bluesfest.

If you don’t believe that Bluesfest will have a diverse line-up, embrace and welcome diversity as well as pay respect and include Australia’s First People, then you haven’t been to Bluesfest. And I would encourage you to look at Bluesfest’s website before criticising.

Edit: I’ve seen further artists comment on Bluesfest. These artists usually fit the bill for ‘triple j’ festivals and would not normally fit amongst the artists that play Bluesfest. In saying that, I saw The Stooges in 2013 Bluesfest. But everyone is quick to comment, even if they don’t fit the bill of the festival.

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