Less than 24 hours before it was due to have its first musical act onstage, Bluesfest has been cancelled for a second consecutive year due to the evolving COVID-19 situation in Byron Bay and Ballina.
Last month, festival organisers gained approval from NSW Health to welcome roughly 15,000 patrons from tomorrow to the 120-hectare Byron Events Farm site, where artists such as Jimmy Barnes, The Church, Tash Sultana and Kasey Chambers would play to a full-seated outdoor crowd.
NSW Health decided on Monday afternoon to ban Greater Brisbane residents affected by the snap three-day lockdown from day one of Bluesfest.
However, NSW Health issued a statement earlier this afternoon advising that Health Minister Brad Hazzard has signed a public health order cancelling the planned music festival over the Easter period.
“This action is being taken to minimise the risk of the highly infectious COVID-19 variant of concern being transmitted in the local area, as well as across states and territories,” the statement read.
“Infectious Queensland travellers attended a number of venues in the Byron Bay area and the new locally acquired case was infected at one of these venues.
“NSW Health acknowledges that the cancellation of Bluesfest is disappointing for ticket holders and event organisers. However, while urgent investigations and contact tracing are ongoing, NSW Health is adopting a cautious approach to keep everyone safe.
“NSW Health wishes to acknowledge the outstanding cooperation of Mr Peter Noble and his organising team, who were working hard to ensure Bluesfest would be conducted in a COVID-safe manner.”
Hazzard said that while the cancellation of Bluesfest is disappointing for music lovers and the local community, he hoped that ticket holders would support the festival and hold on to their tickets.
“I understand Bluesfest will be working on a new date as soon as possible,” he said.
In a statement, Bluesfest said: “We are heartbroken that COVID-19 has spread into our local community.
“We are getting the message out as quickly as possible so that those travelling to the event can make alternate arrangements
“Bluesfest was to have been the first major festival to occur in Australia and possibly the world since the summer of 2019-20.
“It had a capacity of 16,500 people daily over its five days, with three performance stages, plus camping – operating at approximately 50 per cent of normal capacity and production.
“The Bluesfest team has worked day and night for a year to achieve the approved COVID-19 safety plan – the first of its kind in the music industry and have been told by the NSW Health that it exceeded other major sporting events in its depth and ability to protect the public.
“We feel deeply for everybody affected – the fans, the artists and the hard-working Bluesfest team. But in the end, the health of our community must come first.
“We will be having discussions regarding Bluesfest postponement and will update everybody soon. However, this weekend we will be packing down the event that was cancelled within 24 hours of gates due to open.”
Bluesfest director Peter Noble said confirming the event’s cancellation was “one of the most difficult statements I have ever had to make”.
“We really wanted to be at the forefront of the return of live music at pre-COVID-19 level,” he said.
[PLEASE NOTE: THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH A STATEMENT FROM BLUESFEST SINCE FIRST BEING PUBLISHED]