Last-minute ticket sales lift Bluesfest attendance close to pre-COVID levels

Last-minute ticket sales lift Bluesfest attendance close to pre-COVID levels

Baker Boy performing at the Byron Bay Bluesfest on Saturday. 

After two years of cancellations and devastating floods recently in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, Byron Bay Bluesfest has come back with a bang with more than 100,000 tickets sold as festivalgoers flocked to see international acts and beloved Australian artists such as Midnight Oil, Paul Kelly, Amy Shark, The Cat Empire, The Teskey Brothers, Hiatus Kaiyote and many more.

Event organisers report plenty of tears were shed as the five-day music and camping festival roared back to life at its purpose-built site at Tyagarah, just outside Byron Bay, to help kickstart the besieged Australian live music industry and support the festival’s flood-ravaged local community.

The 2020 Bluesfest was cancelled due to National Cabinet suspending all non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people in the early days of the pandemic, while last year's festival was all set to go ahead until a hen's night in the area with visitors from Queensland led to a COVID infection at the Byron Beach Hotel.

That case was enough for NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard to sign an order cancelling the event for the second year running.

A report later published by the Bluesfest Group, prepared by Lawrence Consulting utilising LocalImpact economic modelling, found the 2021 cancellation led to a loss of $181.2 million in tourism expenditure for Australia, as well as $108.6 million in added value and 897 full-time jobs.

Bluesfest director Peter Noble said he and both his local and music communities were yet to recover from the NSW Government’s decision to cancel the highly anticipated 2021 event the day before gates were scheduled to swing open.

“It demonstrated a lack of understanding of the value of our industry and what we contribute, socially and financially,” Noble said.

“In 2019, we sold 105,000 tickets and generated an economic impact for NSW alone of $270 million. The festival created 1300 full-time equivalent jobs.”

He added that final-hour cancellation influenced buying patterns this year as well.

"This year we’ve sold more than 101,000 tickets ­– more than 15,000 of those in the past week. We had a surge of sales in the last 10 days. People waited to make sure we didn’t get cancelled again before they bought a ticket.”

He said $1 from every ticket sold at this year’s Bluesfest would go to flood relief, with hundreds of ‘flood heroes’ and victims among the invited guests at Bluesfest 2022.

"We wanted to give the flood survivors a joyous moment over the weekend. People are hurt. People in this area are out of work. They rely on the trickle-down effect the festival provides," he said.

“This year’s festival employed 1200 workers, 350 stall holders and 400 volunteers. Then there are the indirect workers as well.

“This is what our industry does. Don’t underestimate us and don’t abuse us.“

Late last month the nation's arts and entertainment industry body, Live Performance Australia (LPA), said the Federal budget fell well short of supporting a rebuild post-COVID.

"Like everyone, the live performance industry is learning to 'live' with COVID. We’re getting back to business in 2022, so that we can do what we do best – entertain Australians with live events," LPA chief executive Evelyn Richardson said.

"Before COVID, our industry was a vast ecosystem of small, medium and large businesses, sole operators and tens of thousands of performers, artists, creatives and technical crew.

"The industry lost $1.4 billion in revenue in 2020, with significant losses in 2021 when our two major markets were locked down. We’ve also lost thousands of people across the industry and now face a severe skill and labour shortage, the worst ever experienced by the industry in living memory."

The LPA is calling on support to drive investment and rebuild skills and capacity in the arts and entertainment industry, and has been advocating the Commonwealth Government establish a temporary Live Entertainment Events Insurance Scheme similar to what has been made available in the screen industry and what was recently approved by the UK government.

"The UK example shows there is a solution that can be developed in conjunction with industry on commercial terms. We’re not looking for a handout, promoters are willing to purchase an insurance product. A scheme underwritten by government just makes it viable for insurers to put policies in the market," Richardson said.

"Live entertainment events drive visitation across regions and cities, pumping billions of dollars of spending into the economy. Our industry contributed $36.5 billion to Australia’s economy in 2019 and is a key driver of many other sectors, notably hospitality, travel and cultural tourism.

"Targeted support to rebuild skills, and to underwrite and attract investment will enable us to create jobs, get our people back to work, more shows back on stage, our touring networks re-established, and our audiences back to live events. This will support not just our artists and industry, but all the associated upstream and downstream businesses which depend upon live events as stimulus."

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