Byron Bay Bluesfest

The Dynamic Women Of Bluesfest 2017

6 September 2016

Blog post by Rusty Thorpe, Bluesfest Marketing Manager

As a mere male, it annoys me when I hear people say “…they must have more women on the line-up…

As a long-time staffer at Double J in the 70’s and then Triple J in the 80’s and early 90’s, we had a mission to promote not only equality between Australian music makers but also between genders…. I think we did pretty good.

Never did we add women to the playlist or line-up purely “to make up the numbers”

And neither do we here at Bluesfest.

We strive to bring the Best to Bluesfest – no matter the origin, no matter the gender.

Some years are leaner than others of course due to recording and family commitments, or simply just ‘not touring’ answers come back to us.

But we always put in the hard yards and this year the stars are already aligned, already we have struck GOLD!  

Regardless of what type of music you like or don’t like, I reckon it’s important to give the respect and credit where it’s due! And these dynamic women, with their unswerving self-belief, have risen or continue to rise to the top with their talent and virtuosity - NEVER because they are “making up the numbers”.

Here’s why these incredible women have touched my heart and why they’ll touch and leave a lasting impression on yours too.



Patti Smith was there at the birth of the punk revolution

...cutting edge music - absolutely!

...razor-sharp words - definitely!

...incendiary poems  - always!

This is Patti Smith, ‘The Godmother of Punk Rock’, who hung out at CBGB’s and fused spoken word, poetry and music. She comes to Bluesfest for the very first time next Easter and will for sure deliver an unforgettable set on opening night spearheaded by a track-to-track performance of her debut album ‘Horses’ !

Many of us despite the era of its release, have a connection to the masterpiece - be it personally or through a parent or grandparent. It’s perhaps, well ‘generation neutral’. 

She’s one of a kind. I mean – who else brings out a world leader (The Dalai Lama) to surprise guests at Glastonbury so festival goers could wish His Holiness a Happy 80th birthday.



There is no overnight fame story for this inspirational ‘roots and blues’ rock singer and song-writer. She played guitar (and a damn good bottleneck guitar at that) at a time and in a genre when women didn’t play guitar too often.

She has risen to the pinnacle of her career by virtue of her guts, determination and belief that she should be there. Now – with 17 or so albums and a swag full of awards (including 10 Grammy Awards ) she returns to Bluesfest after a four year absence, bringing with her a brand new album ‘Dig In Deep’.



While Mavis Staples and her sisters, together with their father, Pops Staples, were marching by the side of Martin Luther King on the Long Walk To Freedom … and playing shows in concert halls where the ‘coloreds and non-coloreds’ were separated by rope and race…. I was a young white kid in the UK, taken out onto the streets by my elder brother who proudly marched against the injustices of the USA and the UK.

My music was black, roots, soul, funk, jazz…. it was Motown and Stax and Leadbelly and Otis Redding AND THE STAPLES SINGERS, whose gospel and blues were the soundtrack to those freedom marches. It is fair to say Mavis changed my life….

When I first met her I could not stop crying and it was the measure of the woman who put her arm round me and said: “Its ok … thank you for your tears,  I lived through it … I’m still here … and still kicking.”

And it was an honour to introduce her onstage at Bluesfest back in 2015 to receive the first of Bluesfest’s ‘Shining Star’ Awards.


For a tiny woman … she has a big voice … and an even bigger heart. She sings, as she has done since she was a little girl, not of hatred and divisiveness .. but only of peace, love and harmony. RESPECT!!



It can be argued that there isn’t anyone more qualified to sing ‘The Blues’ than Beth Hart. She has enjoyed unrivalled success, then had to overcome more than her share of life’s downturns, to finally rise like a phoenix with a voice, heart and soul unrivalled. … and there is no doubting the 200% hi-octane performance you will witness when Beth Hart bares her soul onstage at Bluesfest with her exclusive performances.

Are you getting the drift of this blog ? All of these women are self-empowered, singular and strong in mind and body – they believe … and our next ‘girl on the block’ is no exception.



A comparative newcomer – her self-belief and determination has seen her rise swiftly through the ranks these past few years. Not only a successful artist in her own right .. she has collaborated recently on the David Bowie Proms Night at The Royal Albert Hall alongside the likes of John Cale, Marc Almond and Neil Hannan and also with Snarky Puppy (I wonder if a Bluesfest moment is on the cards …?? !!!)

 If you haven’t already, be sure to discover this Phenomenal Woman, Laura Mvula.



I know everyone knows: ‘Chuck E’s In Love’ but Rickie Lee is so much more than this.

 She bares her soul with elegantly (and sometimes discordant) deconstructions of other writers songs… The Rolling Stones’s ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and The Band’s ‘The Weight’ to name just two.

 Her unique voice fused with these unique arrangements make for a ‘listening’ performance of high integrity.



Who hasn’t sung along to :

What if God was one of us? … Just a slob like one of us? … Just a stranger on the bus …Trying to make his way home?…

But there is so much more to Joan Osborne ..…

How many women could have started their own record label in 1991 ?? … Joan Osborne did !!

She has worked with The Dead (featuring some former members of The Grateful Dead) and toured with The Funk Brothers ( Motown sidemen) and appeared with them in the documentary ‘Standing In The Shadows Of Motown’.

There’s a treat in store for all Bluesfest guests when Joan Osborne comes to visit.



In 2014 and 2015 Nikki Hill came, saw and ROCKED Bluesfest don’t you agree?

Never afraid to take on the locals it was no surprise to see and hear her kick-arse her way through an AC/DC classic and raise the tent at Bluesfest.

Fireworks and rockstar qualities - this gal has it all! Get front and centre and ‘Rock yer sox off !!’



I first heard Irish Mythen a few years ago at a local festival. A woman with the most incredible voice, tearing emotions apart from the small church hall stage. She did the same at Bluesfest in 2016 – scattering her awesome Irish humor amid songs of emotional depth and meaning.

She will be playing early in the day … and is therefore one very good reason to get in early to catch this amazing woman.

This first announcement of amazing and inspirational women could easily headline their own festival don’t you think?

Like I said and would like to say again, I’m not a fan when people call Bluesfest out on ‘just making up the numbers’ ! These women are here because of their talent and determination plus so much more!

 Check out some kick arse inspiring quotes from these women (like we need to be inspired anymore)

Patti Smith

“To me, punk rock is the freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are. It's freedom.”

I never felt oppressed because of my gender. When I'm writing a poem or drawing, I'm not a female; I'm an artist.” 

“The issue of gender was never my biggest concern; my biggest concern was doing good work”.


Bonnie Raitt 

“People say, 'Gee, you don't really do political music.' Well, I sing a lot of songs about how men and women and lovers treat each other, and none of us want to be talked down to or belittled or ignored or disrespected... So I'm proud to be a feminist”

I think people must wonder how a white girl like me became a blues guitarist. The truth is, I never intended to do this for a living


Mavis Staples

I won't wear rings and jewelry on the stage because I don't want you looking at my hands. I want you hearing what I'm saying

I never sang for a Grammy, for money, for fame. That's my whole purpose for singing: for people, for the fans.


Laura Mvula

It's important for any artist - particularly female artists - to feel completely comfortable and to know what they're trying to do

Limitlessness is important for me; I want to be able to use every opportunity to push me forward onto the next thing.” 


Joan Osbourne

I create Because it makes me connected to something larger than myself

There’s so many different ways humans have used music to express the spiritual part of our nature and to connect us with the divine. So for me the pathway is through music


Nikki Hill

There’s just something about the music that makes me feel good; that makes people feel good - That’s why I’m doing it!”


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