Full Lineup Announced for the 2015/16 Woodford Folk Festival

Image Courtesy of Woodford Folk Festival

Over the weekend the Woodford Folk Festival revealed their 2015/16 lineup and it’s time to get excited. As usual the Woodford Folk Festival have delivered a lineup of artists taken from the best of folk, roots, rock and world music that’s bound to satisfy any music lover.

If you head to Woodford over the New Year period you’ll get a chance to see the likes of Dougie Maclean, Michael Franti, Harry Manx, The East Pointers, Irish Mythen, Marlon Williams, Kim Churchill, Lanie Lane, Josh Pyke, Katie Noonan, The Paper Kites, Tinpan Orange, Timberwolf, Jacinta Price, Tolka, Starboard Cannons, Davidson Brothers, Lucie Thorne & Hamish Stuart, Hat Fitz & Cara, Broads, Andrew Clermont, Catgut, Lime and Steel, One Up, Two Down, Kaurna Cronin, All Our Exes Live In Texas, Loren Kate, Totally Gourdgeous, The Little Stevies, Daniel Champagne and many more.

The Woodford Folk Festival takes place near Woodford, Queensland from the 27th December to 1st January. Check out the official website for the full lineup and more information.

Bluesfest Announces Third Round of Artists for 2015

Image Courtesy of Bluesfest

The third Bluesfest lineup announcement dropped this morning and for folk fans it’s actually pretty light on. Jake Shimabukuro and Rodrigo y Gabriela are the clear highlights with plenty of blues, rock and hip hop artists added into the mix. There’s also a Michael Franti concert announced featuring Michael Franti and Spearhead, SOJA and Trevor Hall as well as a pre-concert yoga session.

Bluesfest is set to take place north of Byron Bay from the 2nd to the 6th of April. Tickets for the festival are already on sale – check out the details on the official site here.

The full list of third round artists are below:

The Gipsy Kings feat. Nicolas Reyes and Tonino Baliardo, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Jurassic 5, John Mayall, Keb’ Mo’, Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin with The Guilty Ones, JJ Grey & Mofro, Tony Joe White, Jon Cleary, Trevor Hall, Serena Ryder, Jake Shimabukuro, Music Maker Relief Foundation feat. Cool John Ferguson, Little Freddie King, Alabama Slim, George Stancell

Michael Franti and Spearhead Announce One Off Bluesfest Sideshow

Michael Franti
Image Courtesy of Michael Franti and Spearhead

Michael Franti and Spearhead are one of the biggest names in roots music in the world and when they’re out here for Bluesfest this year they have announced a single sideshow – and it’s not in Melbourne or Sydney. Instead Michael Franti and Spearhead have chose Brisbane as their sideshow destination of choice with the band descending on The Tivoli on Wednesday 23rd of April.

Joining Michael Franti and Spearhead will be world-folk-roots specialists Nahko and Medicine For The People making this one of the most exciting sideshows during this year’s festival season.

General admission tickets for the show go on sale this Friday 14th February.

Which Side Are You On? – A Political Playlist

Woodie Guthrie

A criticism often leveled at modern music of is that no one sings political songs anymore – a statement that is both blindly false and shows up the lazy listening practices of music critics everywhere. Political music is as prevalent as ever and spans every genre – from Beyoncé’s take on modern feminism and Pink’s pleads to the president in the pop realm right through to Rage Against The Machine and even Green Day cramming their rock records with political messages.

And of course folk, country and roots are well represented when it comes to the modern political music with many seeing these genres synonymous with the struggles of the common man. As you head out to vote today we thought we’d get you in the mood with a list of ten modern political songs from some of Timber and Steel’s favourite artists

1. Ani DiFranco – “Which Side Are You On?”
In re-imangining the traditional classic (made most famous by Pete Seeger) Ani DiFranco provides a clear bridge from the political music of the mid 20th century and the modern age.

2. Gemini Downs – “Will You Marry Me?”
Marriage equality has gained momentum as a political issue in Australia over the last couple of weeks. We think this track by Adelaide’s Gemini Downs perfectly captures the sentiment of the issue.

3. Ben Harper – “Better Way”
Ben Harper wants to wake us from our apathy and empower us to find a better way: “What good is a man who won’t take a stand? What good is a cynic with no better plan? I believe in a better way”.

4. The Lurkers – “Who’s Got A Padlock And Chain?”
The Lurkers don’t just sing about politics – they live and breathe politics. While others are content to sing about metaphorically chaining themselves to the train tracks, these guys are actually out there chaining themselves to train tracks.

5. Les Thomas – “Song for Selva”
Singer-songwriter and folk evangelist Les Thomas has done so much for refugees in this country, using his music to build awareness, raise money and truly make a difference.

6. John Butler Trio – “Company Sin”
Through a stone at John Butler’s back catalogue and you’re guarenteed to hit a political reference. We thought this track about mining in far north WA would be a nice inclusion for this playlist.

7. Flogging Molly – “Rise Up”
Folk and punk are genres that have been linked with politics for as long as they’ve existed so including a folk-punk anthem in this list was a must

8. The Decemberists – “This Is Why We Fight”
I think the title of this track says it all.

9. Michael Franti & Spearhead – “Yell Fire”
Another great song in the people-take-action tradition of folk and roots music. And very catchy as well!

10. Old Crow Medicine Show – “Levi”
“Levi” does what so many great political songs have done in the past – using the story of an individual to make a comment about a wider issue, in this case war.

First Artists Announced for Bluesfest 2014

John Mayer
Image Courtesy of John Mayer

It may seem a little early to start talking about Easter 2014 but when Bluesfest reveals the first artists on their 25th anniversary lineup we stand up and take notice. And what a lineup! Made up of a couple of big US headliners – John Mayer and The Dave Matthews Band – a bunch of national and international Timber and Steel favourites – John Butler Trio, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Iron & Wine, Michael Franti & Spearhead and Devendra Banhart – and some names that are bound to get a lot of people excited – Erykah Badu, Morcheeba, Gary Clark Jr, KT Tunstall, Allen Stone, Valerie June and Nikki Hill – it’s definitely very very impressive. And that’s just the beginning!

Bluesfest will be held just north of Byron Bay from the 17th to the 21st of April 2014. Tickets to the festival are already on sale via the official site.

Stay tuned for more artists to be announced from here until next Easter – looks like it’s going to be a pretty amazing event!

Tributes Planned For Woody Guthrie’s 100th Birthday

Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie was born on the 14th July, 1912 and passed away in 1967 but his influence as a singer and songwriter permeate almost every facet of modern folk music. Next year (2012) would have marked the 100th birthday for the legendary folk singer and a raft of tributes are in the works to celebrate the milestone.

First up Billy Bragg and Wilco will be releasing a deluxe boxset of their two album Mermaid Avenue project from 1998 and 2000 which took the unpublished writings of Guthrie and set them to new music. The deluxe Mermaid Avenue boxset is currently set for release in March next year.

Jay Farrar, Centro-Matic‘s Will Johnson, Yim Yames (My Morning Jacket‘s Jim James) and Anders Parker are also planning a similar project to the Bragg/Wilco pairing with New Multitudes, another album of unpublished Woody Guthrie material set to new music penned by the group. New Multitudes has a January 2012 release date attached to it.

Notes of Hope Note of Hope will see some of the music industry’s best including Van Dyke Parks, Lou Reed, Tom Morello, Michael Franti, Ani Difranco, Pete Seeger, Jackson Browne and more come together to pay tribute to Guthrie through versions of his songs, both recorded and unpublished. The record is due for release the 27th September this year and can be heard in full on the 429 Records web site.

There are a couple of other releases planned for the milestone including a The Complete Woody Guthrie in January. Check out the official Woody100 web site for details on everything that’s happening next year. No word as yet whether there’ll be a local tribute but Guthrie’s 100th birthday sounds like just the right excuse to inspire the next Festival Folk Sing compilation…

Bluesfest Interview: Kim Churchill

Kim Churchill on the Woodford Stage, photo and interview by KT Bell

Here at Timber and Steel, we’ve developed a bit of a crush on Kim Churchill and we’re always keen to see what’s next on his agenda. Since we caught him side of stage at Woodford, he’s flitted through the US and Europe, so we couldn’t resit the opportunity to catch up with him properly after his Bluesfest sets.

KT Bell: I’m sitting here, drinking Scotch with Kim Churchill, because that’s what you do on the last day of Bluesfest!
Kim Churchill: That is! The interview’s started well. [laughs]

KT: The last time we saw you was side of stage at Woodford and you were about to disappear off to Peats Ridge.
KC: Oh yes!
KT:You were doing that crazy 2 festivals in 2 days thing. And you’ve done 2 shows here at Bluesfest, how have they been?
KC: I guess probably what every artist would say after playing a set at Bluesfest is they’ve been amazing and that is kind of the only thing that a show at Bluesfest can be. It’s one of those festivals that has created over the course of 22 years or however long long they’ve been running, similar to Woodford, they’re the gigs you live for as a musician, they’re the ones that you play all the other shit gigs, not that there’s many shit gigs, but you work through whatever tough times we have, be them small tough times or large tough times, you work through those to get to the sets at Bluesfest and stuff like that.
KT: I’m glad you had lots of adoring fans to see you and the Mojo Stage must have been great.
KC: I don’t know if they were my adoring fans, but I stole a few off Dylan.

KT: Excellent! Now, you’re just back from touring overseas, Europe and America, how was all of that?
KC: Intense! For me, the transition between being an adolescent living out of the back of a van, busking and doing small pub gigs, the transition came a lot quicker than I thought it would. All of a sudden, we’re living out of hotel rooms and planes and the whole thing was pretty intense to be honest. I don’t look back on it with complete happiness and lovely nostalgic feelings, it was hard work. But, an amazing experience, one of the most amazing I ever had and we’ll be touring Canada and America and Europe for the rest of this year, so it’ll be a chance for me to find my comfort over there more than anything. Because, to this point, I’ve sort of, especially with no surf, it bloody hurts. Like, we got to LA and had a couple of days where the booking agent, he said we were gonna go surfing and it rained, and if it rains in LA, all the poo and crap comes out of the rivers and you can’t surf in the water because it’s too dirty. So we just had to watch these perfect waves breaking off Venice Beach boarwalk. But anyway, I mean, I’ve hardly got anything to complain about.

KT: You played South by SouthWest (SxSW), how was that?
KC: Yeah, no surf there! Kind of in general, I think ridiculously overwhelming to the point where I have very little to say about the whole experience [laughs].
KT: Lot’s of gigs in a few days?
KC: Oh yeah, the gigs, SxSW is, every gig is amazing. The whole vibe of the festival is kind of like “Who are we going to find? What are we going to stumble across?” So as an artist, who, your biggest goal is to be that person that somebody stumbles across. It’s a nice situation to be in because you’re kind of handed everything on a plate, and all you have to do is deliver and then there’s always going to be a couple of thousand people that are going to wander past your set wherever it might be and they will either stop and be intrigued or continue walking. So, in that sense, it was kind of easy, and fun for that reason. I would say playing a wedding 2 years ago was a lot harder. SxSW, at the end of the day, it was a lot of fun, I certainly wouldn’t tell anybody to go there to be ‘discovered’ because there’s 120,000 people and maybe 5,000 are good for doing something in terms of helping you break America and the odds are that they’re probably doing something terribly wrong on the 20th floor of a hotel at any given time. [laughs] But it’s a festival at the end of the day, so you see a lot of amazing bands and you have great gigs.

KT: How does the music and festival scene overseas differ or compare to Australia?
KC: It’s larger, definitely larger. It’s more intense, kind of you have to, I find with festivals in Australia, it’s quite easy to wake up early in the morning and go for a surf and have a bacon and egg roll at the surf club and there’s that kind of relaxed element that only Australia offers. Whereas, overseas, bam! 9 o’clock starts and there’s interviews and there’s breakfast and there’s coffee with this person and you’re in the middle of this city and there’s thousands of people watching shows and you’re watching shows with them. The whole thing is just more intense. At the same token, you get that kick from it, being at those kinds of festivals, you sort of get the kick out of masses of people and the animosity of the whole event. But I feel a lot less at home, naturally.

Kim Churchill on the Mojo Stage big screen at Bluesfest.
Photo Courtesy of Tao Jones

KT: So have you been writing much while you’ve been on the road, or have you just been too busy playing?
KC: No, the more busy I am, for some reason the more I write! As soon as I stop, and I have time to write songs, I can’t f*cking write one! [laughs] It’s a pain in the arse. So, say when we were touring in Europe, it was one of the most thick, dense periods of songwriting I’ve ever had. I feel like there’s so much new stuff to write and record now that I’m a bit lost as to where to go in the future with my music. I’ve been writing a lot of very heavy  stuff on electric guitar and stuff that would probably suit a band, and then lot’s of calm and pretty folk stuff that’s finger-picking on acoustic guitar, and then everything in between. So, writing a ridiculous amount of music and now just kind of trying to process how to find the best stuff from that and create an album that isn’t half a heavy metal album and half a folk album [laughs], something in between.
KT: So, Folk Metal?
KC: Folk Metal! Yeah!
KT: Kim Churchill shall master Folk Metal.
KC: [laughs] I like Folk Metal!

KT: When we spoke at Woodford, you said that you were on track for recording later this year, is that still  on the cards or is it pushed back a bit?
KC: Oh no, it’s been happening, we’re just waiting to pull the right things out. We did quite a bit of recording at Sun Records in Memphis, which was amazing! We got to record though the mike that Elvis sung through for the first time. And, that was amazing. We’ve recorded quite a bit in Byron and we recorded  in Canada as well. Just waiting to grab the songs in the right way I guess. It’s been quite a complicated process and it’s taken longer than I thought it would, to reach something that I want to release. Probably now there’s about twenty songs that we could release and we could put two albums out or two singles and an album, or two EPs and an album or something. But, it’s not right yet.  So, recording will continue until the stage where it’s right enough.

KT: At Timber and Steel, as you know, we spotlight artists who we see are coming up and we think we should support.
KC: You do an amazing job too, I’ve got the mailing list.
KT: Thank you. And we try and cover as much of the Australian scene as we can and I actually interviewed Ash Grunwald earlier this weekend and asked him one of the things we ask a lot of established artists, which is who to watch out for and who is coming through on the scene who we should follow, and he said instantly, without batting an eyelid, Kim Churchill.
KC: [laughs] He’s a legend
KT: And he did tell me that you toured with him, you supported him a few years ago
KC: Yeah man! you know what, I actually , I pushed that guy and he proved himself as an amazingly nice person. I was 18 or something and that was when I was trying to get a gig, at a wedding, busking at market, you know, whatever! And, I saw he was playing this venue about half an hour away that some acts used to tour through, and he could pull a big crowd there, sort of five or six hundred people. I begged him, I found his number personally, Ash Grunwald’s number and I called him and I said “please let me play’. And he did, and I’ve had the utmost respect for that guy since then, he’s an amazing person, so I’m quite honoured to be the person that he mentioned.
KT: He just had such great things to say about you, so I wanted to make sure you heard that one from me!
KC: Oh, good on him! Man, I saw a bunch of his music on a Hollywood movie, the other day.
KT: Yeah, he was saying, Limitless.
KC: Yeah, the amount of work that guy has done, and the element of old blues  he brings in to a very new sort of rock music style, he deserves everything he gets. He blows my mind, that guy.

KT: He’s one of the legends here this weekend, and you jumped up with Micahel Franti on Thursday, because you’ve been touring with Michael Franti, which must be amazing.
KC: It has been amazing!
KT: Jaunting back to Sydney in the middle of the weekend for gigs with him, that must have been a bit mind blowing. So with all these legends in Bluesfest, are there any musicians that you haven’t played with yet and you have an absolute burning desire to meet, play with, jam with, any of that?
KC: Oh man, there are so many names that I would want to say, and the first names I would want to say, this Bluesfest has given me the opportunity to see some of my favourite acts from previous tours and stuff, the Hussy Hicks, A French Butler Called Smith, The Mojo Bluesmen, Transvaal Diamond Syndicate, all those acts, they’re the acts you see at festivals all the time and you go “they should be playing the big festivals, they should be doing the big stages”, and that’s what Peter Noble [Bluesfest’s Creative Director] I think has nailed, as he gets everything from them to Dylan to Elvis Costello, to BB King to Wolfmother! Like, he gets it all. The act that I would most like to write, record, meet, everything with is Dylan, and it always will be, so that is my answer to the question is, Bob Dylan. Whether that will ever happen is something that we will wait to find out about and we shall see.

KT: Like I said, we ask who to listen too and people have said you, so I’m asking you who to listen to, who we should check out.
KC: Alright, at this festival, everybody should go check out Mavis Staples, she is brilliant, she blew my mind, Trombone Shorty, in the Australian scene, the Hussy Hicks, A French Butler Called Smith and the busking comp winner Minnie Marks, she plays guitar like nothing I’ve ever seen before, she sings like Janis Joplin, she’s 17 and she’s going to blow the world apart.

KT: Thank you so much for your time Kim, pleasure again, see you again soon. Thanks for the Scotch!
KC: Thank you, cheers. Oh, you’re welcome!

Bluesfest Interview: Bobby Long

Bluesfest Monday
Photo and interview by KT Bell

Bobby Long has been making quite an impression here in Australia and overseas. We managed to grab a few minutes with him during his time at Bluesfest.

KT Bell: I’m sitting here with Bobby Long, now you played twice here at Bluesfest, and it’s your first time to Australia – how are you finding Australia?
Bobby Long: I think the people are the nicest people I’ve ever run in to. Really sweet and on a musical level, the crowds have been great. For a first time over here, it’s exceeded my expectations.
KT: A responsive crowd?
BL: Yeah, really great and it’s really exciting. The way that people are grabbing hold of the record, they’re listening to it and it’s just been so positive, I really think that this is going to be a good stronghold for me in the future years, which is really great. And it’s nice that it’s really beautiful too, and the beach, it’s great!
KT: There are a few people who make Bluesfest their regular trip to Australia, like Eric Bibb

BL: Yeah, I met Eric Bibb the other day actually, he’s lovely, and I supported Michael Franti last summer in America and it’s a regular thing for him. I supported Rodrigo y Gabriela and they come back, it’s great. I mean, one year and you feel a bit guilty because you’re working but it feels like a bit of a holiday. I’m sure you’re busier than I am, coz I just play and then do an hour of interviews and what not, and then I get to go and lie on the beach a lot – I haven’t done that yet, but you get to chill out and it’s beautiful weather. Usually at festivals in England it’s raining the whole time, and I heard this is the first time it hasn’t rained in 3 years or something, so it’s just great.

KT: Now, you said yesterday that you managed to leave your harmonica holder on a beach, was that an Aussie beach?
BL: [laughs] That was just a lie! I didn’t know where I left it and didn’t want to confess.
KT: Let’s just say it was Bondi Beach?
BL: [laughs] Yeah! Yeah, I left it on Bondi Beach! I buried it and couldn’t find where I buried it!

KT: So your debut album only recently came out in Australia, how was the writing and recording process for you?
BL: The writing was over the space of, some songs are two years old and some are relatively new. One of the songs I wrote in the studio, a lot of it was done on the road, I’ve been on the road for the last two years or so. But the recording process was incredible. I worked this really amazing piece with Liam Watson at Toe Rag and we all just jumped in a room and recorded it as a complete analogue record, straight to tape, and we just all jumped in a room and did it all live. It was really great, for a first album, I felt in control of what I was doing which is most important. I got to work with some great people and it was just a great experience, really fun.

Bluesfest SundayPlaying at Bluesfest on Easter Sunday

KT: How long are you in Australia and what else are you going to be doing while you’re here?
BL: I did two shows with Rodrigo y Gabriela before in Sydney and Melbourne and I did this show somewhere else and I can’t remember the name of where I did it, at a place called Lizotte’s, which is great, and a really great turn out, like 100 people which is incredible. And then, I’m going to Sydney tomorrow, and I’ve got a show in Sydney and Melbourne, I think I’ve got a show in Brisbane, then I go back to New York for a week, then I’m back out!
KT: Wow, you do a lot of tours!
BL: Yeah, I’m on tour a lot, I have like a blind enthusiasm for it, and I like playing a lot. I just want to work hard and make use of this opportunity I’ve got, so I’m out a lot, not any more than anybody else or anything, but I like being on the road and I like touring so my label makes use of that.

KT: Do you prefer the big festivals or the more intimate venue shows?
BL: You know, when a festival is well organised and has so many good people, I like playing the big festivals because it’s great and you get the mix of the musicians and check out music. But I like a little bit of everything, it’s been refreshing coming here and playing because it’s a bit different, playing bars and clubs, but I love playing at intimate venues and I got to play at the Troubadour in LA and, pretty much sold that out. And I’ve got to play at similar size venues in America and Europe and it’s nice to have a bit of everything. It’s pretty cool.

KT: Is it daunting playing for the first time in a new country?
BL: Yeah, it is a little, I’ve been really taken aback. And you always go in to a new country thinking grass roots level, and it’s going to be grass roots level for me for the next 2 years or so, or the next 10 years it could be, where you’re fighting to keep your place and fighting to gain new fans. It is a little bit, sometimes, but it’s exciting too. It’s really exciting coming to new places. To come to Australia and work is a great feeling you know.

KT: So what else can we expect to see or hear from you in 2011?
BL: I’m doing a poetry book, like a little book of poems or something. I’m kind of working on it and I kind of want to do it, it’s fairly interesting. I’m not doing it from the point of view of “oh, I’ve just done an album, I can do a poetry book or write a novel”, it’s going to be a very down to earth kind of thing and I’m hopefully going to start recording my next album in the next 6 months which is great. I don’t want to wait around too much. More touring, got to do a music video at some stage which is going to be funny. I’m just going to keep busy and keep my head above water.

KT: Are there any new songs you’ve been writing in Australia that we should keep our ears out for?
BL: I have actually been writing a little bit over here actually, but nothing that’s going to get finished [while here]. I had a day off two days ago and I sat down and started writing, it sounded pretty cool, but I don’t think I’ve got the time to finish it. I’m trying to enjoy myself a little here. I’ll probably take those songs and finish them off when I come home, but I probably will have a few thing that have come out of being here, definitely.
KT: The Byron Bay vibe, eh?
BL: Yeah, I mean, I’m not sure I’m going to write like a surf song but it might be slightly happier than my other stuff, hence the sunny atmosphere.

KT: Thank you so much for your time and all the best for the rest of your time in Australia and we look forward to seeing you again soon.
BL: Thank you, cheers!

Bumper Bluesfest Review: Part I

Bluesfest Saturday Photos by KT Bell

Having teased you with a few interviews and snapshots on select Bluesfest artists, it’s time for the big one! (SO big, we’ve had to split in two).

Six days, one festival. I’ve had holidays shorter than this! But my fears of festive fatigue were put aside as, in my opinion, one of the best Bluesfests unfolded almost seamlessly. Only a day and a half of rain towards the end bought a much welcomed, mostly poncho-free experience. Being my first visit to the new Tyagarah site, I discovered an impressive layout, with easy access to all stages, minimal queuing, plenty of food stalls and bars, abundant shelter, more ATMs, and plenty of toilets. Brilliant!

The weather and layout alone would make this Bluesfest a complete success, even before a band is mentioned, but it just went upward from there.

This year’s lineup bought with it a mix of the old, and the new. First time Bluesfest guests, and festival veterans. Folk and country, blues and rock. Some who twist the definitions of each genre, and those who escape definition all together. Some playing the legendary hits and crowd favorites, other’s showcasing new material to the diehard and uninitiated alike. And then there’s those moments when you’d just much rather remember the good old days. But I digress. Time to enter the gates!

Quickly swinging by Michael Franti and Spearhead for his familiar rootsy pop hits, I was fortunate to catch a happy couple interrupting proceedings with a marriage proposal on stage, followed by Kim Churchill joining Franti on stage for “The Sound of Sunshine”.

Moving on to Ernest Ranglin, the Jamaican reggae guitar veteran, who some call the ‘Godfather of Reggae’. Having been one of my Bluesfest highlights back in 2007, I was itching to see him again, and I was not disappointed. This was the perfect way to start the festival. Hit smooth rolling guitar, floating over the super tight stab and bounce of the rhythm section. Dabbling in sweet latin jazz, and the trademark reggae, ska, and rocksteady rhythms filling the cool night air, there was not a drop of rain in sight. The band even ventured into dub territory, and it was great seeing Ranglin work along side a sound which he was instrumental in forming.

Bluesfest Friday

Next up, the driving Orleans funk and blues of Funky Meters (the current form of The Meters), part of the original New Orleans funk scene, featuring original members Art Neville and George Porter Jr., joined by Russell Batiste on drums, and Brian Stoltz (of the Neville Bros. band) on guitar. Playing a mix of their classic instrumental tracks such as Look-ka Py Py, and their more lyrical tracks such as Fire on the Bayou, People Say, and a drum heavy version of Chicken Strut. Unlike a number of their contemporaries, the band were having a ball playing live, with stage presence, interaction with each other, engaging the audience, and even the occasional false start. You don’t want a performance to be too perfect, but finally seeing the (Funky) Meters was just right!

From the history of funk, I stumbled upon the Juke Joint stage and Ray Beadle, undoubtedly the future of Australian blues, funk, and roots driven guitar music! Only four hours into the festival, and I knew this set was going to be one of the highlights. A versatile musician, Sydney based Beadle dabbles in blues, rockabilly, funk, and hard hitting, rough and tumble rock and roll, with calculated finesse and skill. Moving into moments of Zappa-esque experimentation, his guitar oozed smoke and sex. It was almost indecent! A little over the top? No way! I love when an artist induces from you involuntary shouts and hollers.

From this musical high, next up was the newfound raw energy of Ben Harper & Relentless 7, until when turning the corner, I swear I just walked through a time warp back to 2006. On stage was not Relentless 7, as advertised, but Harper’s Innocent Criminals lineup. What followed was the inevitable string of crowd-pleasing hits and sing-a-long’s, and Harper in classic mode. But was he enjoying himself? I’m not sure. He seemed to be going through the motions. As for me, excited, and then let down at the prospect of another Relentless 7 set, I opted to postpone the remainder of Harper until his Fistful of Mercy set (which was worth the wait!).

Day two kicked off by way of folk/soul/funk/gospel singer Ruthie Foster, with a huge voice, and smile to match. An artist that makes you believe that they’re enjoying every moment on stage. Backed by an equally dreaded all girl band, Foster comfortably, and with all Texan power, charges through songs and stories that reflect the personal nature of her performances. She takes the crowd through a journey of her life, her music, faith, and politics, offering her songs in hope, and not just as an emotional outlet. A modest and admirable artist who deserves far above the recognition she already receives.

A quick detour to the Mojo stage found C.W. Stoneking, in all of his understated muttering splendor, spouting stories of railroad tracks, African fertility dances, and lazy day conversations on the porch.

Eric BibbA ragtime interlude before moving on to Eric Bibb, now a regular of the Bluesfest trail. The quintessential blues and folk artist, Bibb holds his own on stage, engaging the crowd with that certain something that you can’t quite put your finger on.  Acoustic guitar in hand, Bibb recalls a true American style, in a genre that is constantly calling to other continents for inspiration. With dedications to, and inspiration from BB King’s cousin Booker (Bukka) White, Bibb resurrects the delta blues on stage, and in his new album Booker’s Guitar; his performance revealing that ‘certain something’… soul. To have soul is to reveal something deep, and here Bibb reveals not just himself, but the deep soul of American blues and folk singers decades past. And as if his company on stage was not enough, he was later joined by good friend Ruthie Foster, complementing Bibb through two more songs to the end of the set. Though in the largest tent of the festival, there was an intimacy about his set, and look forward to hopefully seeing him in more naturally intimate surroundings in the near future.

After a quick pit stop, next up was Trombone Shorty… the missing link between Kanye West, and Fishbone’s Angelo Moore. A brass fueled funk party that demands your attention, taking the tradition of the New Orleans street band, Trombone Shorty (aka Troy Andrews) is the among the new breed of Orleans talent rising from the disarray of the city’s recent turbulent history. TS and band prove that Orleans funk aint dead, being reborn with a bout of rock and urban jazz, morphing into it’s own unique sound. And he refuses to let the crowd get too used to one sound, trading his trombone for a trumpet, singing one song, and slipping into a hip hop track the next. The traditional sound of New Orleans is the sound of the people, as it was. With a new era comes a new sound, but in a place like New Orleans, you can never forget your past. Both the history and the future of Orleans can be heard in Trombone Shorty’s music, but there’s one thing that will never change, and that is that New Orleans, and Trombone Shorty, know how to party!

Fistful of Mercy at Bluesfest on FridayNow, finally, it was time for Fistful of Mercy. For me the most anticipated set of the festival so far, FoM are a unique addition to the festival lineup, in that they have barely been together for a year, have just one recording, and have been given an hour to feature barely 40 minutes of recorded material. Enter Dhani Harrison (son of George), Ben Harper, and Joseph Arthur, joined on stage by violinist Jessy Greene. Of course, together, their time has been short, but separately they are each well accomplished. Finding their feet through the first couple of songs from the album, this ‘super group’ gradually transformed into their own legitimate entity, with Harper taking a back seat to the overall sound of the trio.
Missing only one song from the album (30 Stones), FoM cruised through their own material, with the addition of Bob Dylan’s Buckets of Rain, Harper’s own Please Me Like You Want To, and Joseph Arthur’s In The Sun. The unity of the group strengthened as the initial three-part jam session progressed into the joining of three musical spirits. Three separate voices became harmonies, and a good set became a great one! For one last song, the trio (along with Jessy Green) stood around one mic, unplugged at first, singing With Whom You Belong, a fitting warm end that really did leave me hopeful for more to come from this unconventional super group.

Day two was coming to a close, but I couldn’t miss a repeat performance (after 5 years) of Mexico’sRodrigo & Gabriella. Catching them at the sadly defunct Great Escape festival in 2006, Sydney’s then leg of the Bluesfest tour, I was instantly captivated, and looking forward to this day. The duo revealed that they had not toured for the past six months, so it was indeed a treat to have Rodrigo Sanchez ‘y’ Gabriela Quintero back in Australia for Bluesfest. Deciding to do without a set list, the duo proceeded to deliver a collection of pieces from across their catalogue, along with the odd song yet to be released. Despite performing sans set list, there was not hesitation in delivering their trademark mind-blowing display of lightning speed strumming, plucking, and effortless synchronization. A noticeable change in their on stage performance is that they’re much more physical on stage. Dancing, moving, smiling; this is a welcome addition!  Opting to avoid a number of their well known covers, Rodrigo y Gabriela show much of their South American heritage in their purely instrumental routine, but never sacrifice that ‘acoustic metal’ atmosphere that thrills the audience.

Leah Flanagan playing at Bluesfest on SaturdayDay three, and the sheer length of this year’s festival is starting to dawn on us. Almost half way there, but still a whole day of music to get through. So, taking a deep breath, we venture to the Mojo stage for Darwin based singer/songwriter Leah Flanagan. Having been discovered by festival organizer Peter Noble in a Darwin club, Flanagan brings with her the tropical flavor of the coastal north, as opposed to that of the dusty central Australian landscape that so many before have done. Sharing stories of people and places, old Darwin and new Darwin. Her songs reflect her surroundings and experiences, often trading her guitar for a ukulele, which seems to evoke the salty air and warmth of the top end. It’s not surprising that Jimmy Buffet personally asked Flanagan to be the opening act for his most recent Australian tour. Her strong connection with not only her indigenous heritage, but also her Irish and Italian descent makes for a striking combination of Australian indigenous folk, country, and rock, with the occasional upbeat Caribbean-tinged ragtime song on the ukulele. When Leah Flanagan plays, she brings home with her, giving every listener a taste of the north, and presenting an invitation to visit as soon as possible.

One of the great recent additions to the festival is the busking tent, providing a stage for a wide array of local acts who may otherwise not get a chance to be heard beyond the streets of Byron Bay. One artist I stopped by to check out was Mick McHugh, an Irish folk artist who has called Byron his home for the past 5 years. The accent and occasional mandolin accompaniment helping to draw a fine crowd for a local folk artist, McHugh sung and told stories of people, life, and the comparisons of his current, and true home in Ireland. An authentic Irish sound rarely heard amongst the mostly continental, long established high profiled artists featured on the 2011 bill.

Mavis Staples at Bluesfest on SaturdayNext stop was the Crossroads tent for, frankly, one of the world’s greatest gospel and soul singers, from the most successful gospel group of their time. The sun was shining, the air was cool, and Mavis Staples (of The Staples Singers) was about to well and truly take the Bluesfest congregation to church! Supported by her highly skilled band of backing singers and musicians, each one of whom shone in their own way, the energy and joy displayed by Staples and co. soon infected the crowd. No matter what your beliefs, the spirit of Gospel was in the air, and the crowd had little alternative but to discard their troubles, and throw their hands in the air! Performing a set full of memories, classic gospel, and new songs, this was a much more celebratory Staples than when I last saw her at the 2008 festival. But, you can’t have a Staples set without the straight talking singer herself speaking about life, politics, faith, and tellin’ it like it is. Highlights of the set included a version of Freedom Highway, written by her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples, originally performed by the Staples Singers, and the final song, the Staple Singers’ hit single from 1972 I’ll Take You There, joined by none other than Trombone Shorty to complete the 7 piece party, wrapping up what would be one of my favorite performances of the entire festival.

After a recharge on Byron Bay Donuts, I made my way to the Mojo stage, not quite sure what to expect from the next performer. I had heard her early work, heard a bit more of her reputation since, but knew that I should by any means miss this set. On arrival, I was met by an on-stage set up that would cause anyone to expect at least a 5, maybe 6 piece band . . . two stands covered in a wide array of key and percussion instruments, a Perspex grand piano filled with fairy lights, a drum kit positioned next to a collection of other percussion instruments, and finally a cello, positioned next to a small keyboard.

Imogen Heap at Bluesfest on SaturdayEnter English singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Imogen Heap, accompanied by two band mates who positioned themselves by the cello and drum kit respectively… where’s everyone else!??!  This question only lingered for a moment as the surprisingly tall Heap proceeded to move gracefully from instrument to instrument, appearing less made scientist, and more Flashdance. With wireless ‘Madonna mic’ and two stereo mics strapped to her wrists for those smaller ‘unplugged’ percussion instruments, she proceeded to sing, play, pluck, and loop sounds with ease and precision. During each song, Heap would find a moment or two to dance and sing directly to the crowd, and between songs her amusing and captivating banter would lead her to apologise for talking so much. Playing mostly songs from her two most recent albums, she also threw in the Frou Frou song Let Go, some new material, and to the pleasure of the fans in the audience, the vocoder driven Hide and Seek, which brought her name out of obscurity in 2005 thanks to the popular TV program The OC. For the closing song, Heap played Tidal, complete with rocking keytar solo, and wrap-around shades. An engaging stage presence, and performance unlike anything seen at Bluesfest surely since Sigur Ros in 2006, she mixes performance art with ethereal pop, rock, folktronica. I don’t know why it’s taken this long for her to come to Australia, but much thanks goes to those responsible, and I’m confident she’ll be back soon.

(Soon to follow – Bumper Bluesfest Review: Part II)

Bluesfest: First Impressions

Photo by KT Bell

Now, I used to live in close proximity to Byron Bay for most of my teenage life but never went to the Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival, it just never interested me. But as I traversed my twenties, I discovered this brilliant music style and cursed that I’d never taken advantage of being just down the road from the festival. Finally, at age thirty, I’ve made it to Bluesfest!

Having now been to a couple of major festivals, I had started to develop some ideas as to what to expect. The drive from Sydney on Thursday had a bigger toll on me than I thought and I found myself unable to face the festival that night. A friend who attended told stories of the long wait to get in to the festival, of the need to wash festival mud from her hair and the necessity of Gumboots – however her description of Ben Harper and Michael Franti’s sets, complete with guest appearance by Kim Churchill, did leave me a light shade of envy green. Gladly I had packed my trusty gumboots which have seen Peats Ridge and Woodford, so I felt well equipped. Bright and early Friday morning, I drove the last 40mins to the blues Mecca of northern NSW, Tyagarah. I thought for sure the traffic would be heavy and that the back roads would be the smartest. Surprisingly, the traffic was easy and my trip in to the site quite pleasant and quick.

Festivals like this require a lot of man power, and the only way to get such assistance is through volunteers. I have to say Bluesfest has done a sterling job of finding volunteers. They were plentiful, helpful and generally cheerful in guiding the constant flow of cars in to the site (here’s a tip, it’s polite to thank your volunteers – they make more things happen than  you ever realise). Getting through the gates was an equally easy task, a benefit of arriving at the start of the day no doubt. The new site, in it’s second year of festivalling, is nothing short of fabulous.

It feels purpose built, open and easy to navigate and very sensible in it’s layout. The mud was apparent but not overwhelming and people flowed freely between stages with no real hassles. A quick survey of the stalls showed a bunch of delicious food tempting me – clearly the diet is off this weekend – from gozleme to crepes, churros and waffles to organic doughnuts filled with your choice of dark chocolate or Blackberry Jam, food is most definitely covered here.

The crowds were thin at the start of the day but even as dusk settled and the crowds were swelling, the site never felt too full and getting around was not a problem. I had a chat to a lady in the waffles line (told you, diet is off) and she commented this year will probably be her last as the festival had grown too big and lost it’s vibe. Sadly it is the way of many festivals that become so popular – but it is not necessarily a bad thing, just a different appeal.

So for those wondering if Bluesfest is your thing – if neat, ordered camping and parking, excellently laid out and easy to navigate site and large but not obnoxious crowds plus an unfalteringly brilliant line up year after year is your thing – you can already buy pre-earlybird tickets for the 2012 at the gate 😉

You know you want to, BB King endorses it

Photo by KT Bell

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