BYRON BAY (CelebrityAccess) – The Byron Bay Bluesfest has encountered one controversy after another as the merry-go-round of performers and the consequences of that continue. The Bluesfest is set for April 6 – 10 at Byron Events Farm – here’s a timeline.
October 2022 – The featured second artist announcement for Bluesfest dropped in October 2022. Appearing on that artist announcement were The Soul Rebels with Big Freedia, Talib Kweli, and Wu-Tang Clan member GZA.
February 2023 – The Soul Rebels and “Friends” lineup appeared on a follow-up Bluesfest lineup announcement when it was released on February 1, 2023.
February 15 – Sydney-based band Sticky Fingers was announced as a performer at the upcoming Bluesfest, having been included in the festival’s sixth line-up announcement. Other acts announced included Sampa the Great, Jerome Williams, and Fools. Bluesfest Director Peter Noble released a statement at the time calling Sticky Fingers the “bad boys of Australian music” and said the popular festival, which welcomed over 100,000 fans in 2022 was “happy to welcome them back to the Bluesfest stage.
The fallout of that decision was immediate. Camp Cope drummer Sarah Thompson addressed the decision to book Sticky Fingers with a Twitter post, “Bluesfest go f*ck yourself.” Jaguar Jonze also had something to say about the decision writing on Twitter, “disgusting and sickening to see abusive and violent behavior glamorized into a bad boy image.”
Sticky Fingers’ lead singer Dylan Frost was accused of physically threatening Gamilaraay singer Thelma Plum at a pub in Sydney in 2016. That same year, Frost denied allegations that he made racist comments during a performance by the Dispossessed. After the incidents, the band announced they were going on an indefinite hiatus.
Frost also took to his social media to apologize to those affected by his behavior, revealing an alcohol addiction and dual diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He announced he was undergoing rehab and therapy.
The Bluesfest Twitter account replied addressing the fallout, “The singer from the band had an incident for which he apologized. He is diagnosed with Bipolar Schizophrenic. After almost 7 years without a recurrence. Isn’t it time to forgive, and let him get on with his life.”
However, according to reports, there was a recurrence in May 2018 when Frost was accused of verbally harassing and threatening to fight a transgender woman in a Sydney pub. After the backlash of that incident, the band posted to social media: “To all the haters; we are better than you. NEVER FORGET.” Frost released a statement of his own:
“I am wholeheartedly against racism, and so is the band. I do not condone or in any way excuse violence against women, straight up, I never have and I never will. I also have to acknowledge that my alcoholic behavior in the past has intimidated or made people feel unsafe around me, and I am truly sorry for this.
“It really upsets me to know that, through a series of misinterpreted accounts of events, I’ve now been seen as a symbol of something I detest: a racist woman-basher. I can be an arsehole sometimes, but I’m not that much of an arsehole.”
Finally, in 2021, Frost entered rehab after a court case relating to a scuffle between him and his bandmate Paddy Cornwall. NME.com reports Cornwall received an 18-month prison sentence, served in the community – after he punched Frost over 30 times during the fight in Marrickville.
February 19 – King Gizzard and Lizard Wizard withdrew from the Bluesfest billing. The band announced the news on their Instagram page. “We are deeply disappointed to be in this position but sometimes you need to be willing to make sacrifices to stand up to your values. This is, unfortunately, one of those moments.”
February 21 – In light of King Gizzard dropping off of the lineup, Noble released a statement and it reads (in part):
“As is well known, I am and always have been the Director of Bluesfest. Over the years, Bluesfest has been the promoter of music festivals which allowed diverse artists to exercise their freedom of artistic expression and have afforded the Australian public access to their works.
“Recently, a band decided to cancel a forthcoming appearance at Bluesfest because Sticky Fingers, particularly its lead singer (who are booked to play at Bluesfest), was involved in an incident with another artist offstage a long time ago. There has already been a lot of social media traffic about this decision. I think one commentator well reflects my feelings, as previously stated:
‘That whole situation happened 7 years ago and the lead singer of Sticky Fingers has been extremely apologetic and open about his bipolar schizophrenia and substance abuse during that time and is also Māori. They’ve done the work to try and make amends and took a long hiatus to fix things.’
“I believe an attempt to victimize this man and his band in the circumstances is cruel and unforgiving. This cruelty and lack of compassion are foreign to my values, as is the attempt to suppress the band’s artistic expression. I was and remain proud to give the band a chance at rehabilitation.”
February 22 – Zambian hip-hop artist Sampa the Great also withdraws from the Bluesfest lineup.
February 23 – US-based representatives of The Soul Rebels and Friends billing released a statement saying they would not be performing at the Bluesfest, but it wasn’t the choice of the artists – claiming their Bluesfest appearance was canceled “without the artists’ consent.”
“The tour of The Soul Rebels, GZA, Talib Kweli, and Big Freedia was canceled by Noble and Bluesfest in bad faith and breach of contract,” said the statement. It continues that the artists had “fully executed signed contracts” with Nobel and “had already booked travel to Australia and were looking forward to returning to the country to perform for their fans. Peter Noble removed the artists and the tour without any further communication or reason from Bluesfest other than him stating his decision to not want to pay the artists.”
The message didn’t stop there, “these are all black artists, and Big Freedia is an LGBTQ+ icon. It appears the tour may have been replaced by other artists including Sticky Fingers. We are uncertain about who else on Bluesfest may have been canceled.”
Noble responded to Double J, “That’s not the truth,” speaking of the allegation that he did not want to pay. “I will leave it between the lawyers.”
March 2 – After two acts pulled out of the lineup after discovering Sticky Fingers was playing, Sticky Fingers is removed from the list of performers.
“Bluesfest cannot, sadly, continue to support Sticky Fingers by having them play our 2023 edition, and we apologize to those artists, sponsors, and any others we involved in this matter through our mistaken belief that forgiveness and redemption are the rock on which our society is built.
“The narrative that they continue to deserve to be canceled, as well as anyone who publicly supports them, is difficult to accept, wherein a portion of society and media, passed eternal judgement towards those, in this case, a diagnosed mentally ill person whom we feel doesn’t deserve the continued public scrutiny he’s been given.
“We thank everyone who has contacted us and advised their support in this matter, especially those suffering from a mental illness who feel they cannot have their illness supported in a manner whereby they feel included in society.
“We will now move on, put this behind us, and continue to play and present our best-ever edition of Bluesfest … proudly.”
March 6 – An official statement was released by Noble and the Bluesfest legal team to The Music Network. It reads:
“The Soul Rebels contract was terminated because they did not comply with the contractual terms. By that, we mean, Soul Rebels, Big Freedai, GZA, and Talib Kweli.” It did not provide clarification on what “contractional terms” they were speaking of.
Those still confirmed as headliners for the Bluesfest are Tash Sultana, Bonnie Raitt, Gang of Youths, Paolo Nutini, and the Doobie Brothers.
The saga continues …