AU ABROAD

the AU interview: Bluesfest Festival Director Peter Noble on the 2015 line up and the changing nature of the festival!

The 2015 Bluesfest lineup has continued to grow strong and stronger, as it does every year. Always offering a stellar Easter weekend full of music from some truly legendary bands and artists, not to mention the platform it offers emerging Blues and Roots artists, Bluesfest continues to prove itself as the country's premiere festival of the genre. Larry chats Bluesfest 2015 with Festival Director Peter Noble.

Lets talk about the third lineup announcement. It’s quite a mixed lineup, you’ve got the hip-hop royalty of Jurassic 5 to The Gipsy Kings…

Yeah, we’ve got royalty, kings and a bit of blues and roots. We were calling the bitsa announcement at one point, but then we thought "Hang on a minute, we better rephrase that"!. But yeah, the Gipsy Kings and Bluesfest do sit quite nicely together… Jurassic 5 is giving our younger audience palpitations and it’s about time we gave all our blues and roots fans something to cheer about.

That’s right; there are a quite a few legends on that list.

You get to about the third announcement and all of a sudden, as all the acts start coming together you get an idea of what the whole festival is going to be like… and its starting to look like one that I am pretty happy to be doing!

It’s feeling like a Bluesfest!

It is! It’s good!

Other than Jurassic 5, is there anyone on this lineup that hasn’t played Bluesfest before?

Hmm, yeah! Trevor Hall, Dave Alvin and most of the guys from Music Makers.

Music Makers Foundation is phenomenal!

That’s what we are about in many respects... When people are like “Oh not much blues for a Bluesfest, you might wanna change your name”, that gives us a chance to roll it out without rushing it.

Well it’s not like the New Orleans Jazz Fest is all Jazz music… you’ve just got one stage dedicated to that specific genre.

I haven’t been for many years, but they usually have a Dixieland stage, Jazz stage, Blues stage, a square for the World stuff and then a Gospel stage… everything else is rocking.

I got to see Little Freddie King a couple of Jazz Fest’s ago, who’s apart of the Music Maker lineup at in New Orleans and is of course, New Orleans based. So you’re bringing in the blues from New Orleans as a part of all that.

Yeah! That’s what we do and Music Maker is one of those associations that were going into our second decade of working together… I mean, it’s not easy. I’ve been in the music business since I was a teenager and I’ve driven taxis and I’ve waited on tables, and that comes with the territory; you don’t always get to work in your first choice. But when you get older, it gets harder unless you created a certain level of public acclaim or at least patronage, it’s harder to get out there, put all your stuff into the back of a van and hit the road, and try to make a living out of it.

Life gets in the way… marriages, children and mortgages. Most of my mates from when I first started in the business, none of them are in the business anymore, they’ve all made other choices over the years and it’s the same for the blues artists. They don’t end up being able to make long-term careers if something happens along the way... and that’s where Music Makers steps in. They actually go out there and keep very good records of blues people from the South and try to keep tabs on what they are doing and as they often and quite regularly fall into poverty, they go and find these people; they might need to have medical attention or all their teeth might have fallen out over the years. They might even need to be re-taught how to play the guitar because they haven’t played for so long… but Music Maker will start them over, they do all that and get people out their working again. It’s just amazing what they do!

It’s one thing for say, Little Freddie King, because he is a constant working player, but they have done all that... If it wasn’t for Music Maker, these people wouldn’t be able to continue playing music live, and thank god people like this exist and can do that.

And give those sorts of artists the opportunity to be exposed to new audiences as well…

Yeah, and then you go and hear them and they are so great! It’s not like I’m making excuses, these people are old and for whatever reason they’ve fallen into obscurity. Music Maker gets them going again, tunes them back up and shakes the dust from their back. You really do hear some great musicians, it’s brilliant! Southern blues played by black people and pardon me, but I think they do it the best. Not to say white people can’t play the blues though, because they can. I just love to hear the blues played out of the culture.

It is a cultural sound! Although there is plenty that try to replicate it and it comes out feeling just that… a replication. Sometimes they create their own sound out of it but it is a hard thing to get.

And then you hear people like Charlie Musselwhite - Charlie’s from Mississippi. But he can play the blues to the point where people are like where did you learn how to do that? Because they hear it…

In a whole different way another artist we are announcing, John Mayall… he grew up listening to the blues, like I did in Australia, where were didn’t really have blues music occurring in the 60’s. You emulate it, you become a crazy, wild record collector and you're listening to everything that’s happening on the records of John Lee Hooker or whatever, and then you go out there and you play it to get other people as interested in it as you are. For that, in terms of the UK, John Mayall is their greatest ever blues man, because he turned more people onto the blues in the UK than anybody! I mean, if it wasn’t for him, you wouldn’t have Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood or Mick Taylor… they all came to the blues through his band. I guess you could say a few other people are pivotal, but he is right there with the blues makers as being right there at the beginning of the English blues sound. It may not be the same as a black guy's blues sound, I’ll give you that… but it’s certainly still the blues. I don’t mind hearing anybody play the blues who loves it.

That’s exactly right. Race aside, there are certainly plenty who can do it justice, it just seems a bit rare.

Yeah, particularly a lot of white guys play who blues/rock… they may as well just be playing rock, I reckon.

That’s very true! But one thing I like is the guys who eventually do just concentrate on the rock world, but keep their origins with the blues a little bit, that gives an opportunity for people to discover the music that obviously influence them. People like The Black Keys, who were doing so many different things at the beginning and no doubt were citing a lot of influences along the way…

That’s the acceptable side to blues/rock, you know what they are doing; then again they are playing Bluesfest, [so] I can’t really say any different. [Laughs] I think this is what happens with our third announcement, it all starts to blend together and you look at it and think, "Do we have a real festival this year or not?" I look at it and think this is going to be one of our better years.

It is certainly shaping up that way, and I imagine you still have a few tricks up your sleeve as well!

Hopefully! I mean, we are always talking with a lot of people about coming down. It’s their decision whether they come to Australia to tour, but y’know, you get them to the gate and you try to get them to walk through it and then they decide last minute not to come. We certainly do get a lot more saying yes these days than we ever have and I guess for Bluesfest, it's pretty much been since we moved to our new site five years ago. You start to look at the bills for artists and I’m not just sure why, but we started getting people like BB King coming, Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, Paul Simon and Dave Matthews Band… the list goes on and on. It just seems to be something that, when we got to our new site, the festival went through this major change and it’s grown again… in a good way! Not that it has gotten much bigger, but it has grown in terms of the artist’s knowledge and acceptance of it. We’re now on that Monopoly board of, "Oh yeah we played this", we are up there with all that now.

And when you’ve people like Ben Harper and Michael Franti, who openly talk about playing Bluesfest and spreading it to the world... Musicians trust musicians.

That’s what happens, musicians tell musicians and that’s how we build our reputation. From the minute they arrive on site, they realise they are at a musicians' festival; we welcome them, we ensure their dressing areas are great, that the food is great and then they walk on stage and the sound is great. But the best part is that the audience is brilliant… I’ve had bands like Earth, Wind and Fire come off stage and say, "Can we just take that audience on the road with us? Like, that’s one of the best audiences we’ve ever played to!" That’s what it is about Bluesfest, the 30 or 40% of people that come every year and the other 30 nor 40% that come every second year, they are music fans and that’s what we have developed… a festival for people who love music. It’s not about taking selfies or being there to be cool, I mean you can do all that if you want to, but in the end we will get you because the music is great.

That is exactly right. Well, I appreciate your time as always.

Thank you for all your support. I think it’s a pretty good announcement when you’ve got the Gipsy Kings, Rodrigo, Jurassic 5 and John Mayall in the one. We are definitely the most eclectic festival in Australia! [Laughs]

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For more information about Bluesfest 2015, head to www.bluesfest.com.au!