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Australian Guitar x Bluesfest 2022: Tex Perkins

Tex Perkins
(Image credit: Press/Supplied)

It’s been a long and bumpy ride to the next edition of the Byron Bay Bluesfest – especially after its attempt in April got nixed a day out from opening, with the site and its stages already built – but lo and behold, Bluesfest is finally (finally!!!) making its return in 2022. 

Taking the form of an exclusive special edition, sporting an all‑Australian lineup, the four-day celebration of all things blues, roots, rock and beyond will take place at its established home of the Byron Events Farm (formerly Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm) across next year's Easter long weekend of Friday April 15th through Monday 18th. 

And although the usual suite of international icons are sitting this one out – y’know, travel bans and all that fun stuff – the lineup couldn’t be more enormous: headliners include Midnight Oil, Paul Kelly, Tash Sultana and Jimmy Barnes, with over 50 of Australia’s biggest and best names set to raise the barn over four epic days.

To get ourselves prepped for what is undoubtedly going to be the most exciting weekend of the year for any Aussie music fan, we’re catching up with handful of the acts we’re beyond keen to see. 

This week, we're going one-on-one with Tex Perkins!

THE CHEAT SHEET

Okay, so who’s this?
Tex Perkins is a living legend in Australia’s blues, punk, country and rock scenes. He’s played in at least a dozen bands since the early ‘80s – most notably The Beasts Of Bourbon, The Cruel Sea and Dark Horses – in addition to his solo act and collab efforts with the likes of Tim Rogers and Murray Paterson. At this year’s Bluesfest, he’ll be debuting a special edition of his Johnny Cash tribute, The Man In Black.

What would I know him from?
Even if you’re new to the wild world of Tex Perkins, there’s a solid 99 percent chance you’ll have heard of one Mr. Johnny Cash. Perkins and his crew will be jamming out an hour of the Nashville numen’s greatest tunes (and some choice cuts from deeper in the catalogue) in a somewhat reconfigured, Bluesfest-exclusive remix of Perkins’ critically acclaimed theatre show, The Man In Black.

Why should I see him?
Because although any of Tex Perkins’ projects are worth at least a casual suss, The Man In Black is something truly special – an incandescently authentic, one-of-a-kind tribute to a genuine rock ’n’ roll legend, performed with the kind of power and passion that Cash himself would’ve applauded.

When is he playing?
Tex and co. will take The Man In Black for a spin on the festival’s kick-off date: Friday October 1st.


So Tex, what are you looking forward to most at Bluesfest 2021? 
Well to tell you the truth, I just want it to happen! Not even for my sake – I just want it to happen, I want it to actually take place. Everything after that is cream on top, really. To tell you to truth, even that is a big ask in these times – to expect something to actually go ahead. In my experience, especially over the last month, you’ve just gotta forget everything that you thought was going to happen. It’s worse this time around, too, because last year, as it was kind of Melbourne‑centric, I worked quite a bit. I did a lot of COVID-safe gigs in Queensland and I played a lot in New South Wales. A lot of them were regional gigs – wherever I could drive to, I would head out to play. But this time, all my activities have ground to a halt. There’s no wriggling out of this one.

From your perspective onstage, because of everything going on with COVID and the constant postponements and cancellations of live events, have you found that when you are able to get up there and rock out, people are appreciating it more? 
The transition to COVID-style gigs wasn’t huge for me because y’know, I do a lot of those more casual gigs anyway. My bread and butter is me and another guy – usually these days it’s Matt Walker – we would go out as a duo and we’d play a selection of material in a seated venue, usually, to people our age. Y’know, people in their 40s and 50s – they’re used to being seated anyway. A lot of the younger acts had trouble transitioning; “What!? People have gotta sit down when they watch us!? Oh my God!” A lot of acts chose not to play, rather than play in those conditions. So yeah, apart from the numbers, it wasn’t a big change for me. 

The solution was to do two gigs in one night, because you were only allowed a third of the venue’s capacity in each show. So I would just try to squeeze more gigs into the same space of time. I think the thing I noticed the most was when I was involved in this Rolling Stones tribute act, a Sticky Fingers 50th anniversary set – we played in Brisbane and I noticed that there was actually a mosh pit, so to speak, and people sort of writhing around together. I hadn’t actually seen that in years – even way before COVID! It was like something I’d forgotten even existed. 

So maybe after having been distanced for a while, those people were kind of letting go and really connecting, physically, in a more excited way. I don’t think that will happen at Bluesfest, though – it would have to be very strict, wouldn’t it? I’m assuming there’ll be all sorts of restrictions with seating and distancing and such. 

With Bluesfest being a unique environment, specifically a festival, is there a difference to how you structure the Man In Black set for something like this, compared to how you would for a theatre show? 
Absolutely. It’s a completely different thing. It’s not the theatre show – that’s a two-hour spectacle with dialogue and an intermission, and none of that is going to happen at the festival. You’ve got an hour to smack it all out and f*** off, so it’s very much just music-driven. We’re used to playing a vast array of material when we play Johnny Cash, but this is a tight, one-hour set, just the songs and the atmosphere. I think people will be happy with it, too.

Are you just playing the hits, or are you keen to pepper in a few deep cuts from the Cash vault? 
Oh yeah, absolutely. Good deep cuts, too! With the theatre show, we kind of restrict it to a narrative, y’know – certain songs from throughout the story of his life, all laid out to the way the narrative unfolds. But this way, because it’s a festival, we can just play the songs that we love and the songs that really work in a live set, and we can put some newer songs in there as well. We do more songs from his latter period than we do in the theatre show; we do a fair amount of material from the Rick Rubin albums, which is pretty distinct.

So what made you want to bring this particular show to Bluesfest? Is that what got pitched to you, or was it something you brought to the table? 
It was pitched to us. I don’t know Peter Noble well, but I’ve known him for a long time – he always reminds me that he was the promotor of some very early gigs I was involved in, in the mid ‘80s. He brought out a band called The Anti-Nowhere League, which was a late-period punk band from England, and he put on this show – it was the last time I saw hundreds and hundreds of skinheads all gathered in one place – and I was one of the support acts. I was in a band called The Bush Oysters. I remember Peter was a fan of The Bush Oysters, so [when he was putting together the lineup for Bluesfest 2021] I think he said, “Okay, what’s Tex doing?” 

I’ve played Bluesfest a lot of times over the years – I’ve honestly lost count. Seriously. The Cruel Sea would’ve played three or four times. Tex, Don And Charlie have played there a couple of times. I’ve played there with the Dark Horses, I’ve played there with The Ape, I’ve played there with The Fat Rubber Band… So basically, Pete just came to me and asked for the Man In Black show. I mean career-wise, it would have been better for me to have The Fat Rubber Band play, but we played the last Bluesfest, so that was off the table. And also, being a local, I think I fill that token local spot.

Who are you excited to catch at Bluesfest 2022? Take a peek at the lineup below, then start getting your schedules ready!

BYRON BAY BLUESFEST 2022 – LINEUP

  • Midnight Oil
  • Paul Kelly
  • Jimmy Barnes
  • Fat Freddy’s Drop
  • John Butler
  • Xavier Rudd
  • Pete Murray
  • Ian Moss
  • Kate Ceberano
  • Kasey Chambers
  • The Waifs
  • The Church
  • Jon Stevens
  • The Living End
  • Mark Seymour & The Undertow
  • The Angels
  • Russell Morris
  • Kate Miller-heidke
  • Vika & Linda
  • All Our Exes Live In Texas
  • Ross Wilson And The Peaceniks
  • John Williamson
  • Troy Cassar-daley
  • Briggs
  • Tex Perkins The Man In Black
  • Hiatus Kaiyote
  • Josh Teskey & Ash Grunwald
  • Weddings Parties Anything
  • The Black Sorrows
  • Cw Stoneking
  • The Bamboos
  • Chain
  • Backsliders
  • Ash Grunwald
  • Melbourne Ska Orchestra
  • Jeff Lang
  • Nathan Cavaleri
  • Kim Churchill
  • Henry Wagons
  • Jk-47
  • Garrett Kato
  • Mama Kin Spender
  • Dami Im
  • Pierce Brothers
  • Emily Wurramara
  • The Buckleys
  • Fiona Boyes & The Fortune Tellers
  • Ray Beadle
  • Pacey, King & Doley
  • Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission
  • Hussy Hicks
  • Roshani
  • Daniel Champagne
  • Little Georgia
  • Lambros.
  • Round Mountain Girls
  • The Regime
  • Electrik Lemonade
  • Palm Valley
  • Byron Busking Competition
  • Rockwiz Live

Tickets to the 2021 Byron Bay Bluesfest are on sale now – head to bluesfest.com.au for more info!