Bluesfest Review: Saturday Celebration


Vintage Trouble at Bluesfest. Photos by Stuart Bucknell Photography

It’s Saturday and celebration day! Yes, we’re marking a birthday so today includes a sleep in and much frivolity throughout the day.

After arriving via the southern car park and gate, you stroll straight to The Wilson Pickers’ 2pm set at Jambalaya to be greeted by a decadent, slow building guitar intro coupled with the howling harmonica and sublime close harmonies of “Man of Misery.” It’s a striking and beautiful balance between the full sound of 5 part harmonies and 5 stringed instruments all having their moment to shine and lead the way. Through you’re treated to their playful interaction with the audience and every opportunity to clap along. In particular, they give a real gift with a stunning, spine tingling rendition of Jolene!

After stopping to grab a doughnut (who needs birthday cake when you can have a hot, chocolate filled doughnut!?) you’re ready to kick back and take in the sparkling wit and cheek of Billy Bragg. It’s 4:30pm and the Crossroads stage is already overflowing for this sure fire favourite. Sitting outside, we’re bathed in afternoon sun with an enormous Bragg on screen in front of us. He’s jovial, tongue firmly in cheek, and you would hardly even notice he’s performing solo, his sheer personality and presence fills the stage. Irreverent and political as always, he’s not shy of poking fun at himself, especially when he gets his own songs wrong. His sarcastic wit is razor sharp as he quips “thank goodness it’s not one of those gigs with great big screens either side of stage that show the worried look on your face!” to which we all laugh heartily.

We all expect a Dylan cover, but Bragg’s signature mischief makes it current, changing lyrics to become “But the times, they are a changing BACK!” much to the glee of the audience. Bragg continues to make every piece of his set relevant to right now. One of the more pertinent moments is when he claims “Sexuality rules do not apply to me. There is a crisis in masculinity. This weekend, men all over will be pressurised in to doing things they don’t want to. For many, many years our sisters have rightly fought against the pressure to be a domestic goddess. Now it’s our turn to resist the pressure to be a DIY demon. Admit we’re never going to be as good at shit as our Dad’s were. To a man with a hammer in their hand, everything looks like a nail. That nail will never go in straight no matter how many times we bang it in. There are other ways to express your innate masculine creativity.” He has personality in spades and it’s the first time we’ve seen him live. It’s not his musicality hat commands attention, but his personality and attitude of inclusion and solidarity. He even gets a rarity at festivals, an encore, with the entire crowd singing along to “A New England”.

With our stomachs and cheeks hurting from laughing, we head back to the Crossroads stage at 6pm to catch Vintage Trouble’s guaranteed wowser of a show. They astounded us last year and this year is no different. Blasting on to the stage, they are full of energy and aim to please. A non-stop soul overload, with a cherry on top as Beth Hart joins the extravaganza on stage for “Run Baby, Run”.

We pop over to the neighbouring Jambalaya stage to catch the end of feisty Irish Mythen’s set, whom we lost our minds over last year. The atmosphere is thick with joy and the jovial feel only increases as we step inside, just in time for a stirring, completely a Capella rendition of Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz”, with every voice joining and all hands clapping. Mythen delivers a powerhouse, gut wrenching finale to  such a well known and loved song, complete with huge notes and a deserved enormous crowd response. In a delightful surprise finish, Mythen is joined on stage by an adorable toddler, Lois, the daughter of Cass Eager (who also joins them on stage). Mythen comments that “Four walls are very special to me. If the people around you are happy and healthy and you’ve got a roof over your head, you’re too goddamn rich” to introduce Eager giving a stunning a Capella performance of “None of that Matters” and to finish the set, Mythen tears the house down and fires up the crowd with her signature “Jesus Be Reasonable”.

We swing by the Crossroads stage to catch Beth Hart’s 7.30pm set and are met with a sassy, powerful, soulful performance with a delicate balance between the power and energy of the full band and the intimacy of her solo moments. The soul soaked blues wrap us all in familiarity while the funky piano riffs as Hart takes to the keyboard picks us all up in mood and energy for “Spirit of God”. The way Hart strikes a harmony between solemn piano interludes and the visceral, earthy backing from the band is mesmerising.

At 9pm we stop in at the Mojo stage and watch curiously as Sir Rosevelt’s video intro sets the scene, complete with moody tones and high production values. The crowd welcomes the band to the stage, the dapper gents and their instant impact of powerful, punctuated lyrics from lead singer Zac Brown energises the crowd and takes us in a direction we really didn’t anticipate! Some really divine slide guitar has their sound soaked in strings and attitude. Here we were thinking this was going to be an electrified pop-folk showcase, but then they bring on the dance! The instant reaction from us all is, “Woah!!” as a full scale dance track, complete with choreographed dancers smashes expectations and takes over the stage. We can hardly believe the combination of the funk laden dance with acoustic guitars! It’s a crazy, weird but funky meld of the two genres, pop-folk and dance, but we like it as we groove into the night.

To finish the night, we indulge in a quick stop to see Nahko and Medicine for the People at 9.30pm at the Jambalaya stage. We caught glimpses of them last year so make an effort to take in some of their set before departing for home. Filling the stage with energy and the vibe of fully intertwined workings of a 6-piece ensemble, the diversity is all encompassing with lots of influences and sounds melding together to create musical medicine for the people. They pack a punch with a very upbeat and full sound, enveloping us with their combination of rock and horns and strings. It feels like Power-folk!

After another huge day, we head for home and look forward to what is still to come over the next two days.

Missed Friday? Come for a walk with us through Bluesfest on Good Friday.
View our full Bluesfest photo gallery on our Facebook Page.

Highlights from Saturday at Bluesfest

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Bluesfest Review: 5 things we learned at Bluesfest 2017

Vintage TroubleVintage Trouble at Bluesfest, by Stuart Bucknell Photography

Before we give you our full wrap up, here’s 5 things we learned at Bluesfest this year:

1 – Byron Bay Organic Doughnuts are still THE most popular food item at the festival
It seems trivial, but food at festivals is a huge part of the experience, and ever since we’ve been going to Bluesfest, the Byron Bay Organic Doughnut stand has always had enormous queues. Our advice? Definitely get at least one, but get in the line any time you see that it’s short – no matter if it’s early in the day. #treatyourself!
NB: It turns out they’ve experienced heavy losses due to the floods, to we’re sending all the sugary vibes their way to be able to bounce back soon!

2 – Powerhouse Performances Guaranteed
I said it last year and I’ll say it again. Peter Noble knows how to program. Some of the most notable powerhouse performances to hit the Bluesfest stages this year were the electrifying Nikki Hill who blew the socks off everyone and had them clamoring for more, more, more; Kasey Chambers whose stellar set ranged through her back catalogue and her recent works, with everyone watching on proving they were in fine voice – when you’ve got a bearded man singing along word for word to “Am I Not Pretty Enough”, you know you’re on to a winner; Beth Hart stole hearts and minds both in her sass filled set and with her cameo with Soul legends, Vintage Trouble. Hart’s prowess and her effortlessly smooth transitions from full band, to solemn brevity on a solo piano piece, to funky piano riffs and soul soaked blues had her a firm favourite in the hearts of Bluesfest.

3 – Legends Never Die
Ok, so some actually do, and it’s sad when we lose a musical talent that has helped shape what we know and love, but the great thing about Bluesfest is the ability to bring out absolute legends who may be advanced in years but still have enough swagger to floor multiple thousands of people at once, just like 80 year old Buddy Guy did on the Sunday at the Crossroads stage, resplendent in polka dots and serving up a voice that shackled the high notes yet melted all the way down through every blues note to the bottom, playing guitar with his elbow, or his belt buckle, or it seems with his just his sheer personality. Mud Morganfield had the crowd entranced with the whim of his jive and old school blues sensibilities. And Mavis Staples blew the roof off the Jambalaya stage when her elegance and grace meshed with the most divine harmonies between herself and her backing singers. Staples spoke of her love for Bluesfest – the warmth and hospitality they receive from the people behind the scenes, acknowledging them as family. She declared that she came “to bring you some joy, some happiness, some inspiration” and that she did. Given it was Easter, it seemed only appropriate that a voice as deep and smooth as chocolate can smother you in blues, as Tony Joe White’s did, rumbling along like a percolated coffee – earthy, enticing, and altogether satisfying.

4 – Diversity in Styles and Causes
Bluesfest may boast the best line up of Blues, however, it’s steadfast reputation for quality means the door is open for Noble to select an eclectic mix of styles and genres that may be close to, derived from, or inspired by blues music. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue carved up the stage with their cataclysmic, high energy, RnB fuelled, jazz infused funk; Sir Roosevelt’s moody intro and high production values set the scene for the melding of acoustic and dance music –  slide and acoustic guitars accompanied a full club scene vibe complete with choreographed dancers! Madness whipped the crowd, both young and old, in to a frenzy with hit after hit. The Boomerang Festival with it’s astounding array of Indigenous performances, country style hoedowns with an electrifying edge, synths vs electric guitars, Hip Hop and RnB, ukeleles and two covers of Bohemian Rhapsody… This year’s Bluesfest had everything. The festival is also a solid community supporter, with multiple fundraising groups on site, drumming up support for their cause. It was heartening to see the Northern Rivers Flood Appeal, a devestating disaster only weeks before the festival, included at short notice int he fundraising efforst at the festival, alongside the famous Cyctic Fibrosis Raffle and the steadfast Playing For Change band.

5 – The Gender Gap Exists
In no way was Bluesfest deficient in amazing female performers, in fact, it feels that year after year, the festival selects some of the best and most inspiring women from around the world to grace the stage. However, these women are almost exclusively front women, women who are the main attraction with a band behind them. Time and time again, we saw bands of all males, whether a backing band or a feature act – if it was a group, it was a high likelihood that the members would all be male. While there were a few exceptions, like Mavis Staples’ fantastic backing singers and the inimitable Little Georgia, the prevalence of all male bands and groups was quite noticeable, especially after the ongoing social commentary about the issue across the music industry of late and with festival and gig line-ups being scruitinised and questioned regularly by the public. While it’s no fault of the Bluesfest team, it is proof of the endemic issue across the music industry which hopefully the inclusive nature of festivals like this can start to shift through leadership and discourse, and innovations like the Buskers stage and the nurturing nature of this festival itself. We want to see more gender diversity across all aspects of music – not just front women, but musicians in bands of all gender identities. I know it will be festivals like Bluesfest that lead the way as a much needed change begins.

All in all, Bluesfest left it’s mark on the 100,000+ strong crowds and we’re still dreaming about the amazing musicians we saw. Our full wrap up coming soon, in the meantime, check out the photos by Stuart Bucknell Photography on our Timber and Steel Facebook Page, and if you’re keen to experience Bluesfest yourself, get in line for an early bird ticket to next year’s festival!

 

 

 

Bluesfest Announces First Round of Artists for 2017

Bluesfest
Image Courtesy of The Lumineers

It may only be August but that doesn’t mean it isn’t time to start thinking about the 2017 festival season. This morning Bluesfest launched their first round of artists for next years festival and it’s huge.

This morning’s announcement includes Zac Brown Band, Patti Smith, The Lumineers (above), Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Billy Bragg, Jethro Tull, Trombone Shorty, Gregory Porter, Snarky Puppy, St. Paul and The Broken Bones, Beth Hart, Laura Mvula, Roy Ayers, Booker T Jones Presents The Stax Records Revue, Andrew Bird, Rickie Lee Jones, Joan Osborne, Turin Brakes, The Strumbellas, Jake Shimabukuro, Dumpstaphunk, Nikki Hill and Irish Mythen with more to be announced.

Bluesfest takes place over the Easter long weekend for the 13th to 17th April. For more information including how to get your hands on tickets check out the official site here.

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