A few days before we were due to jet off to Byron Bay for the Bluesfest, Andrea looked mournfully at me across the desk at work.
“I forgot to cancel the camper van I booked for Byron Bay,” she said. ” I think it might be too late now to get my money back.” She tried calling and sweet talking the rental company, but to no avail: there was a camper van out there somewhere that was determined to spend this weekend with us. Andrea wanted to try and rent it out to anybody who was looking for accommodation, I wasn’t so sure that was a great plan, but we decided we’d figure it out later and just make the most of it. We wouldn’t be able to collect it until Thursday, so we still had to take the tent for the first night anyway.
The next problem was mud. As in, there’s usually lots of it at BluesFest. Oh dear, does that mean we have to go shopping for new footwear? One advantage of being “on the beach” at work … time for online shopping … we found some wellies online and pretty soon they were on their way via express delivery. Woohoo! We’re all set!
Wednesday arrived and we had a pile of cases by our desks in the ThoughtWorks office. Everybody stopped by to ask where we were going (and why the hell do we always take so much STUFF?) The reaction was always the same when they found out we were headed to Byron Bay: “You’re going to have an awesome time!” It’s a pretty good way to start a trip – by the time we left, we were pretty excited! We took a taxi to the airport that afternoon – wearing the new wellies, very sexy we looked in those – and settled down in our usual spot in the bar for a pre-flight drink and a gossip. Except that somebody seemed to be finding her email more fun than wine and gossip … I was a little disappointed, but luckily she found her way out of that laptop pretty quickly and we were back on track!
As we boarded the plane, the stewardess glanced down at our feet. “You must be going to Bluesfest!” she said, “Make sure to check out Tijuana Cartel!” She seemed nice and kinda cool, so we decided to try and take her advice. We landed at the Gold Coast airport and found our bus, and some beer, which made the rest of the journey swing by quickly. The Byron Bay Tourist Village was nice, but dark … nothing like rocking up somewhere and staring at a pile of your suitcases on the grass in the dark when you really just want a nice cosy bed all ready for you. We are getting good at pitching tents so it was up pretty fast, although I got eaten alive by little bugs attracted to my headlamp and my apparently tasty blood.
Tent up, beds inflated, suitcases tossed inside, now can we please go and hit the town? For food, obviously … and maybe more wine or beer Town was a twenty minute walk away, along a fairly dark, busy road with quite a few drunk sounding but generally friendly people coming the other way. It was still quite busy, and we found a place to eat then wandered down to the beach briefly before heading home. I was out like a light, but the noisy birds woke us both up pretty early the next morning.
The festival didn’t kick off until Thursday afternoon, and we had a camper van to collect. After breakfast – it turned out that the kiosk at the entrance to the tourist village made a yummy bacon brekkie roll – we walked into town again to get a bus to the airport. It was a glorious day, and the town is full of brightly coloured shops and hippy signs, which looked fantastic in the bright sunshine. There were no buses until mid-afternoon, so we headed out first for a bit of a shop – I wanted to wander through the Rainbow Shop, and then we found a few dress shops and spent time trying on a variety of clothes. We hit the Beach Hotel for lunch and met up with Korny, who was still a bit dazed having travelled very early that morning.
After lunch, Andrea and I headed to the beach. It was gorgeous – a long, long stretch of pale sand, shallow turquoise water for paddling in, crashing waves and a few surfers for eye candy. Andrea jumped in for a swim, I stuck with paddling and sunbathing, until it was time to head back for the bus to the airport and collect the camper van.
Turns out we got upgraded from a Backpacker van to a Britz van – this thing was MASSIVE! It took forever to sort all the paperwork out, but we got a bottle of wine and some free chairs which would be great for the festival! The lady processing our paperwork walked us through the facilities on the van and how everything worked, I started to feel a bit brain-fried quite quickly though – glad Andrea had done this before and knew her way around it a bit better! She got behind the wheel and was pretty cool driving it back to the campsite, especially considering the size of the thing, not sure I’d have been quite as comfortable driving it. The sun was dipping down to the hills on the way home, and I managed to take a few shots out of the window that turned out pretty well.
Back at the campsite, we got ready and headed out to the festival. Disappointingly, the shuttle bus wasn’t free but cost $4 (each person, each way!) – this weekend was turning out to be pretty expensive! But there was no way Andrea was driving – this was NOT going to be a dry night for either of us.
The first act we both wanted to see was Eilen Jewell, who was playing on the Jambalaya stage (one of the smaller ones) at 7pm. We had a bit of time to wander through the grounds, explore the food offerings, and grab some drinks tickets and wine. It was pretty quiet, so when we made our way back to the stage there were only a couple of people between us and the stage – it was pretty awesome. She sounded amazing, although I was disappointed she didn’t sing the one song I knew well enough to sing along to (maybe somebody had warned her …) When she was finished, we ended up in the CD tent, where Andrea bought a CD and had all of the band members sign it. They all seemed pretty ordinary off of the stage, which was somehow surprising … the guitarist and drummers were pretty cute though
We watched a bit of My Morning Jacket, which was a bit more rocky and more up my street than blues or country. I was getting kind of tired and antsy after that, so when Andrea wanted to try and socialise a bit more I left her to it! Very bad of me … luckily we found each other again pretty quickly and ended up hanging out at the Apra stage and watching a reggae-style band called Kooii, who turned out to be pretty good and worth a bit of a dance to. We finished off the night with crepes in the food tent – mmmmm, nutella crepes. All in all, it wasn’t a bad start to the festival.
That night, Andrea had decided to sleep in the camper van, so I had the tent to myself. I was wise to the noisy birds this time, and slept in lovely and late with the aid of earplugs When we finally emerged from our “bedrooms” and got dressed, our neighbour Jason had also surfaced. We hadn’t seen him at all the previous day, which often happens camping but is kind of weird – you just see the tent but never the person. I was pretty sure it wasn’t empty though, I had seen the number of beer bottles rising over the last day or so (it turned out he was using them to mark his tent ropes, so that he didn’t trip over them).
We all got chatting, he took some photos of me and Andrea with our wellies and camper van, and then offered us a beer. There’s something wonderful about sitting outside in hot sunshine before midday with a cold beer and no worries!
Eventually, we all headed out together to get the bus up to the festival again, for what would be our longest day there! We started off at the Crossroads stage (one of the two largest) and watched Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges and then some of Steve Earle, while just across the fence we could hear G3 blasting out of the Mojo tent. We settled down with our chairs, got some beers, and enjoyed the show for a while. Eventually Jason decided to head off for some beers before we moved on, but he took for-EVER … we checked the two bars nearest to us and couldn’t find him, although they were pretty empty, we couldn’t wait forever so we headed off on our own. Turns out he had gone to get food, turned up where we’d been with three beers and food to find us gone. I felt kind of bad when he told us that later … I don’t think the beers went to waste though.
We watched some of G3, then saw Candi Staton, who was pretty good, and one of the few artists there that I actually knew After that we caught some of Seth Lakeman and Buddy Guy – who is 76 and still playing! – then planted our chairs in the wrong area to listen to Keb Mo for an hour. He had an amazingly smooth voice … Andrea was totally into the music and getting up to dance, but I was getting pretty tired. The last act we caught that night was Earth, Wind and Fire, who blasted on stage with Boogie Wonderland and got me up out of my seat for a few tracks.
Saturday was another gorgeous day, another lovely late morning, and another early beer. I could definitely get used to this kind of life! We had decided to take a trip out to hippy town Nimbin for something to do before the festival, so we piled into Jason’s car while Andrea tried to navigate from the back seat with Google maps. Nimbin was a quieter version of Byron but without a beach – we stopped in a pub for beers and I was amazed at how cheap they were! We wandered around a few shops before heading back, where we hung out at the campsite for a while, drinking beers, eating pizza and Tim Tams and generally enjoying chilling out.
We got to the festival in time to catch Seasick Steve, but something was wrong with the sound system and we could barely hear him – we had just packed up our chairs and started to walk away when guess what? Yep, it’s back on – and dammit, we’ve lost our good spot! We stayed and listened to him for a bit before heading out, and lost Jason again when he wandered off in a different direction. Never mind, he seemed pretty capable of amusing himself! We watched Bettye LaVette for a while but she was kind of depressing … we found the stewardess’s favourite band Tijuana Cartel, who turned out to be pretty upbeat and dancy, so we bopped along to them for a while.
At some point we headed back to the Mojo tent and set up camp … I was feeling pretty festival’d out so was happy to sit and watch from the side while Andrea still wanted to get in the thick of the crowd and dance. It actually worked out pretty well … we watched Ziggy Marley, who was awesome, Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot and John Fogerty for the rest of the evening, leaving only after he sang Heard It Through The Grapevine, as Andrea insisted …
Sunday was our last day … Jason was also leaving, he had a long drive back to Newcastle and headed out long before we finished clearing up. With the camper van full of our stuff, we headed out to the beach and parked up – I couldn’t be bothered to change into my swimsuit, but after paddling in the water I couldn’t resist getting in either, so ended up jumping in with my t-shirt on!
We headed into town to get some food, but didn’t get very far before the traffic was thick and slow, and we turned around to go back to the festival instead! We ate and listened to Yann Tiersen for a bit before leaving to go to Ballina Airport, which is one of the smallest I’ve ever been to.
It was all over … the one nice thing being that we still had Monday off before heading back to work! We made the most of that too … I had grand plans to go on a long walk around North Head, until I stopped by Andrea’s to help her put up the tent to air it. She invited me up for a wine … and, well, there’s something pretty wonderful about sitting outside on a balcony, looking across Manly beach, with cold wine and no worries …