THERE'S something about a muddy football field on the outskirts of Byron Bay that keeps luring Ben Harper.The American folk rock legend's love affair with the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival started in 1996, when the then-26-year-old and his howling Weissenborn guitar stole the show and won the hearts of countless Australian fans.
Fast-forward to 2007 and Harper, now married with children, will return with his family and band The Innocent Criminals for his fifth Blues Fest performance.
"To be perfectly honest, who wouldn't want to go back to Byron?" he chuckles down the phone from his Californian home.
"When you get to make music on top of it, that's just a bonus really.
"I travel a lot and there are very few places you want to go to for all the reasons.
"It's the people you meet, the openness, the culture, the clean air and the ease about life that really sits with the rhythm of my own life.
"I can't wait to get back in the water, get a meal at a little fish cafe, meet the people on the street and
hike into the hills and sit real still."
He may have a reputation for being difficult in interviews, but get Harper started on the northern New South Wales hippie town and you can't stop the gushing.
It's a place the honorary Aussie so adores, he hopes to make it a future home with his wife, Hollywood actor Laura Dern, and their two children, son Ellery, 5, and daughter Jaya, 2.
"Right now, with kids, home is where they go to school, but God willing and life being long, we will be there," he says.While Harper has garnered Grammy Awards, critical acclaim and album sales in the millions, he keeps a low profile.He is hardly the type seen in magazines hugging Justin Timberlake and falling out of limos. "It's an entity being known and I don't want to slap that in the face and take it for granted, but you can't live there, it's a dangerous place," he says."You don't have to be a musician to have a huge sense of self-importance."I have a friend from high school who was the town hero and no matter how many records I sell, he will still have a bigger ego than I do."
In Australia, however, Harper is a superstar. "Australia's appreciation is unparalleled," he says.
He credits his 1996 Blues Fest set as the "lightning rod" that spread his music across the country."That was the moment I knew, well something is going on here." www.couriermail.com