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Australia Byron Bay Bluesfest cancellation over COVID case angers music industry and fans

22:27  31 march  2021
22:27  31 march  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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A bus takes workers back to Byron Bay after Bluesfest was cancelled. © Getty A bus takes workers back to Byron Bay after Bluesfest was cancelled.

Artists, stallholders, fans and industry heavyweights have expressed their "disgust" that Bluesfest 2021 was ordered to be axed just hours before it was set to begin amid COVID-19 cases in Byron Bay.

It was set to be the first post-pandemic music festival, but NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard dashed the hopes of many when he signed the public health order yesterday bringing the event, due to start today, to a grinding halt.

CEO of Live Performance Australia, Evelyn Richardson, said the festival had sustained a "$10 million loss" from the last-minute cancellation, which had seen many scrambling to recoup costs.

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"We have people being turned away told go home and an operator that has been running that festival for 30 years who has had the festival shut down two years in a row in an environment where nobody can get insurance for that," she said.

Ms Richardson said the cancellation of Bluesfest was devastating in its "major implications for the [entertainment] industry".

"We can't sustain another six or 12 months of this, of sudden lockdowns and being shut down," she said.

"A lot of artists, a lot of people who have flown in, service providers and so on who all need to be paid, because it was opening tomorrow."

Music band Tyde, who were scheduled to perform, said they found it "absolutely disgusting that a seated, socially-distanced arts event gets cancelled next to these sports games going ahead".

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"While we believe we have to do the right thing to keep everyone safe, it's disgusting that sports events in stadiums ... still go ahead."

The band named as examples the Australian Open in Melbourne and Saturday's Broncos game at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

The Queensland capital enters the final day of a three-day COVID-19 lockdown today after a string of COVID-19 cases — two of whom headed into NSW's Byron Bay and infected a man, leading to the festival's cancellation. 

Chief executive of the Cape Byron Distillery Eddie Brook said the timing could not be worse for many businesses banking on Bluesfest's $100 million injection into the local economy.

"There are a number of those businesses that are just coming off JobKeeper and that safety net has been taken away, so he there is a lot of uncertainty and I think a lot of those businesses are going to be really hurting, especially those ones outside just at the Byron Bay region," he said.

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Dozens of stallholders were preparing for around 16,500 attendees to pour into the Byron Events Farm today, while many of those ticket holders were getting to the end of lengthy road trips to the far-north coast. 

Several stallholders at the festival grounds told the ABC yesterday that they had not been alerted to the cancellation, including two women who had volunteered to work in exchange for tickets.

Elsewhere, ticket holder Jess Shanahan, 19, was left wondering what to do yesterday when she heard the news at Coffs Harbour, six hours from her Hawkesbury home and just a couple of hours from Byron. 

"We're pretty annoyed and not sure what to do. Obviously, if we go to Byron it's risky — spending five or six days will mean the possibility of going into a place a COVID case has been," she said.

Organiser Peter Noble described the confirmation the festival was off as "one of the most difficult statements I have ever had to make". 

"We feel deeply for everybody affected, the fans, the artists, and the hard-working Bluesfest team."

Australian band the Cat Empire said they were "gutted" Mr Noble had been "stopped at the final hurdle" but acknowledged the decision had been made in order to keep people safe.

"It was so important to see this iconic event prevail, and the shocking timing of a couple of COVID cases has seen it all collapse, taking the hope and livelihood of so many of our industry down with it," they said.

"This is a setback our industry could not afford."

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