That was 19 festivals ago, and some things haven’t changed – the Blues are still fine, the views still breathtaking. The town is not so sleepy anymore though … maybe there’s a veranda or two less on the main street (but there are still quite a few!) and it’s not so much about apples these days … but we are definitely still in a valley!
In 1996, after only three years, Blues at Bridgetown was leading the way not only in terms of showcasing blues music and being one of the first blues festivals in Australia, but shutting down regional main streets was not commonplace and having any festival performances broadcast Australia-wide let alone internationally was unheard of. It’s not so common today either. Blues at Bridgetown truly established themselves as cutting edge and it all laid the foundation for today – the event is still going strong, showcases some the best musicians in the world alongside amazing up-and-coming talent and has become a significant contributor to the economic growth and vitality of Bridgetown and the Warren-Blackwood district.
So how did it all start? Let’s go back a few years.
Around 1986 Pip Mills, Sheila Howat and a small group started to develop a festival that would re-establish and empower the arts in the region through music. They progressed in an ad hoc fashion bringing a very wide range of music performances into the town. Fast forward to 1993 when Chris Hughes and the WA Tourist Commission offered support for the development of a Blues Festival that could be promoted as an attraction to interstate and international visitors.
A public meeting was called with representatives from all community interests to find out if the town would support such an idea. The answer was a resounding yes and a committee was formed to develop an event that would position itself as a leading music festival and attract large enough audiences, but not too large for the town over a three day period. That first committee – Pip and Sheila with Doreen Harkins, Jenny Greatwich, Tom Scott, Joan Krauze and John Roberts – delivered the inaugural Blues at Bridgetown event in 1993 which was put together in six months and attracted approximately 5,000 people. In its second year, the audience grew to around 12,000 people.
Over the 23 years that Blues at Bridgetown has been around many people have come and gone – within the organisation, within the community, within the music scene. No doubt some “up-and-coming blues talent of the future” from those early years made it, some perhaps not.
So. That’s how it all started 23 years ago, seeded from an idea a few years before that. What is it that has Blues at Bridgetown still here and going strong after all this time? Vision, passion, great music, community … and the individual people who have been a part of something special along the way, adding their special little bit of magic to it.
“Fine Blues” indeed.