Day 2, BluesFest 2018: Waiting For Lauryn, And The Loo – The Ins And Outs Of Festival Life


There’s two things in life Chris Graham won’t queue for – food and a toilet. The stuff that goes in, and the stuff that comes out. Here’s his report from Day 2 of the Byron Bay BluesFest.

A wise man once said, ‘The world is your toilet’. He was referring specifically to men. I am a man, therefore it was about me, as much as it was about roughly 50 percent of the world’s other 7 billion people. But what about the other 50 per cent? I’ll come to them.

It’s a strange segue, but my point being, when I head to the BluesFest in Byron Bay every year – an event that attracts about 120,000 people over the course of five days – I always spring the extra cash for a VIP ticket.

Contrary to popular opinion, VIP doesn’t actually stand for ‘Very Important Person’. In my line of work, I’ve met many people who think they are, and it usually turns out they’re not. And so to me, at BluesFest at least, VIP stands for Very Important Piss… in both its forms – urine and alcohol. Long story short, a VIP ticket at BluesFest reduces the wait for the ‘ins’ part (specifically, beer) and it also reduces the wait for the inevitable ‘outs’ part, which comes about as a result of too much ‘ins’.

Unless, that is, you’re a woman. In which case, year after year, I’ve watched a long queue of surprisingly upbeat women wait patiently – in both the VIP section and the general festival area – for their turn on the potty.

I say ‘surprisingly upbeat’ because as a privileged white male, if I have to wait for a traffic light, I feel oppressed. And yet, women the nation over seem to have blithely accepted their lot in life when it comes to toileting at big events. They just have to wait. Meanwhile, next to the ladies’ queue, men bustle in and out, doing their business and swapping manly jokes about bodily functions.

The queue for the ladies… both literally and figuratively. Mind you, this is in the VIP section. The queue for the hoi polloi crossed the border into Queensland.

‘Is this where all the big dicks hang out?’ Guffaw guffaw. Or ‘I’m marking my territory’, as a particularly drunk punter tries to spin in a circle, pissing on everything. Or ‘Stand back lads, shit’s about to get real’. That sort of stuff.

Also, “Mind my beer”. The guy next to me had rested his drink on the ground between his urinal and mine. “Aim before you shoot,” he joked… although it obviously wasn’t really a joke.

The most important part of my BluesFest toilet story is that there is no queue for the men’s loo. Given that, statistically speaking, there are roughly about as many women at the event as there are men, this would be perplexing were it not for the simple reality that men are much quicker in the toilet stakes than women. Which begs the very simple question… why don’t they put in more women’s toilets than men’s? Does equality of the sexes really mean having the same number of men’s toilets as women’s? What about equality of outcome?

Of course, ladies, you could just do what I urged my BluesFest Friend (BFF) to do: Come with.

As men, and for the record, we honestly don’t mind a female invasion of the men’s lavatory at festive events. All are welcome. Robert Plant is about to play on the main stage, and we’re in a lubricated mood. Our smelly man-cave is your smelly man-cave.

If ‘shit really does get real’, and someone objects, your ready-made excuse should be something like, ‘We’re bombing Syria and we cheated in the cricket. There’s bigger things happening. Calm down. Move aside.’

I think this inequality of the bodily functions happens because, respectfully, BluesFest is owned by a man. His name is Peter Noble, but his nature is certainly not, because there’s nothing noble about making so many women wait to pee. And he’s clearly also no feminist, although nor are the rest of us, because as men, we’ve stood by at BluesFest year-after-year and watched this happen. If the roles were reversed – if men constantly had to ‘wait for the facilities’, cross-legged while their bladders rapidly expanded – something would have been done years ago. Something would have been invented to move things along a little quicker. Like more fucking toilets.

Get on it Peter Noble, you misogynistic bastard.

Anyhoo, lengthy toilet intro aside, day two of BluesFest was, to put not too fine a point on it, outstanding. As expected. It was also very long. BFF and I achieved 26,661 steps yesterday (that’s each!), and obviously, that includes some of the slickest dance moves seen this side of a Tamworth line-dancing competition. But there was also quite a bit of waiting, and not just for the toilets (for BFF, obviously, not me). Generally speaking, BluesFest runs like clockwork. It’s quite apparent that artists are very sternly briefed that they must not run over their allotted time. This became clear during the first act we saw, the Teskey Brothers, an up and coming band from Melbourne.

The Teskey Brothers, performing at the 2018 Byron Bay BluesFest.

BFF and I have already seen them in Brisbane twice, and they are genuinely excellent. They didn’t disappoint, until right at the very end, when lead singer Josh Teskey told the crowd, “I think we’ve got time for one more song…?” before looking off-stage and getting the nod. He was about to launch into one final number when brother Sam told him they were done.

“Oh well, that’s a strange way to end…” Josh remarked. It was, although it didn’t dull what was an outstanding performance.

We also saw Asgeir, a guy from Iceland. He came highly recommended from BFF. For mind, it was all very pretty and zen, but I announced I would be bagging him in this article.

“Why?” BFF asked. “He’s only 26, or something, I think. Check it out.”

I didn’t bother, because it explains a key part of my criticism. Here’s me thinking that Asgeir sang an entire hour–long set in an annoying falsetto voice, when it turns out it was because his balls have not yet dropped. Moving on.

Gomez, performing at the 2018 BluesFest in Byron Bay.

Next on the list was Gomez, also recommended by BFF. I’m embarrassed to say that I had never heard of them, but apparently they were quite a big deal once. They were also genuinely sensational, a kind of mix between Oasis, Sound Garden, Eddie Vedder and The Living End. In BFF’s words, “They’re very colourful. All the 90’s flavours”. Did I mention BFF is a little bit racist?

One of the realities of BluesFest is that apart from being marvelous, it’s also laced with regret… regret at seeing the end of an act you wished you’d seen the start of. We rushed from Gomez to the last bits of Youssou N’dour, a big deal in Senegal and by implication all of Africa.

I’m one of those lovers of ‘world music’ (‘world music being code for anything produced by Brown people) who also happens to have an intense dislike for most other people who love ‘world music’. It’s hard to explain, but while we should all dance like no-one is watching, when a ‘world music’ drum beat comes on and you’re white, and you’ve appropriated dreadlocks, you should dance like everyone is watching. But they never do. I’m referring to ‘those people’ who dance like they just arrived at a Pagan festival circa 300BC, or the Planting Festival, which will be happening in Queensland in May (where last year they sold delicious Sparkke Change Bevvies… cue gratuitous plug).

Anyway, N’dour was bloody amazing. African music, in contrast to everything white people ever produced in the history of time, is always a celebration. And N’dour’s performance and encore (he went over time #whydotheblacksgetawaywithitandtheteskeybrothersdidnt) was exactly that.

Youssou N’Dour performing at the 2018 BluesFest. (IMAGE: Chris Graham, New Matilda)

And then it came time for Lauryn Hill, one of the headline acts this year and someone I was very much looking forward to seeing. Hill was one part of The Fugees, of ‘Killing Me Softly’ fame. She also, apparently, didn’t get the BluesFest memo about punctuality.

Ten minutes past when her set was supposed to commence, BFF and I were starting to think catastrophe had struck. Had Lauryn Hill been killed by racist Queensland police? Was she knocked down in a terrible BluesFest golf cart incident?

To ease the growing angst of the masses awaiting her arrival, Hill had kindly provided a DJ to warm up the crowd. And so, he kept going… and going… and going… and, unsurprising, eventually ran out of things to yell at the crowd. ‘Make some noise’ and ‘hands in the air’ were popular. So was ‘One time’. Unfortunately he used ‘one time’ one too many times, because by that stage, we’d all been waiting 25 minutes. The crowd responded with booing. Which is the point at which BFF and I left.

I have no evidence whatsoever to substantiate the following claim, but in my head, Lauryn Hill was late because she’s a fucking diva. Or possibly because she was waiting for the ladies toilets in the VIP area. Either way, there are two morals to this part of the story: 1. Don’t yell the same thing at 10,000 people too often. And 2. Don’t make BFF and I wait, particularly not when Robert Plant is in the next tent.

Which is where we headed… with no regrets as it turned out. Robert Plant, for the uninitiated, is the former lead singer and lyricist of Led Zeppelin, one of the most influential bands in history. Unlike others like Lauryn Hill who shall remain nameless, he started on time and to a much bigger crowd (some of which, obviously, had planned to watch at least the start of someone who will remain nameless named Lauryn Hill.

There’s always something pretty stunning about seeing a musician of Plant’s standing, and something even more special in the fact that the man is old enough to be my father (and I’m old enough to be a grandfather myself… which, if you suspend reason, makes my grandchildren Robert Plant’s great-grandchildren, and thus he is my real dad).

The legendary Robert Plant, performing at the Byron Bay BluesFest.

Truth be told, I didn’t expect a fiddle to feature in the performance. Or for Plant to whip out a tambourine and a Native American-style drum. Or for the guitarist next to him – a doppelganger for Father Time and at least twice as old – to shred a guitar with such extraordinary skill.

Put simply, if you get the opportunity to see an ‘Old Master’ perform live, then do it. Apart from renewing your faith in the elderly, it’s a timely reminder that if you spend long enough doing anything, apart from maybe Twitter or Hungry Hungry Hippos, you’ll master it. And Plant has certainly done that where music is concerned.

A bit like I’ve done with rambling, and making inflated and occasionally patently false claims that I cannot back up.

Having opened this article by stating I won’t queue for food or toilets, BFF and I finished the evening standing in the never-ending queue for a Byron Bay Organic Handmade Donut, a stall which, for the second year in a row, has literally been the only food outlet featuring a permanent, lengthy queue snaking through the crowd.

I don’t know how many donuts they’ve sold in the last two days, but that doesn’t really matter. What does is that they’re large (about the size of a human head), they’re full of doughy goodness, and they’re single-handedly responsible for a snap sugar shortage on the east coast of Australia.

So, even though I DO NOT queue for food, I queued for food.

It was worth it, or at least it was for me. For BFF, who is gluten intolerant, I think today is likely to deliver a lot more waiting, and quite a bit of that outside the ladies’ loo.

Until tomorrow….

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Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. In more than three decades of journalism he's had his home and office raided by the Australian Federal Police; he's been arrested and briefly jailed in Israel; he's reported from a swag in Outback Australia on and off for years. Chris has worked across multiple mediums including print, radio and film. His proudest achievement is serving as an Associate producer on John Pilger's 2013 film Utopia. He's also won a few journalism awards along the way in both the US and Australia, including a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards. Since late 2021, Chris has been battling various serious heart and lung conditions. He's begun the process of quietly planning a "gentle exit" after "tying up a few loose ends" in 2024 and 2025. So watch this space.