Very wet in Byron Bay but on with the show, with a quick look at the Bali Blues Brothers who despite the corny name played some pretty good tunes, including a tasty version of The Watchtower.
Next up Elephant Sessions, who hail from Scotland and are led by a very capable fiddle player. Actually the whole band was great, which made me question why they needed a whole heap of sequenced material behind it! I know some bands around do it, but it puts me off every time, and for these guys was completely unnecessary.
Rag n Bone Man was the find of the day. Backed by a great band stood this big fella with a voice to match. The songs touched on a lot of styles, but they were all “Big”. What I listened to prior to coming, led me to write him off and we only ended up there by chance. I was wrong and really impressed with his songs and his stage presence.
Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real was a mixed bag of almost cliche country to impressive guitar soloing, which would be at home on far heavier genres. I didn’t know what to make of it and moved on.
Leon Bridges received big publicity when they added him to the lineup, and after reading same I was expecting some sort of new Soul Messiah. This wasn’t the case, and while he was a good performer and surrounded by a good band, for me it was just too clean and sugary.
The New Power Generation were today’s highlight. Prince was unforgiving about what he expected in his musicians and it showed. These guys were absolutely killer, not just musically brilliant but they put on a show, a full on in your face show. Just great, Purple Rain to close out was huge.
We were here for The Original Blues Brothers Band in 2016 and tonight was a bonus to be able to see them go around again. Sure the Belushi and Ackroyd parts are a bit cliche but this band is so much more than that. It’s Steve Cropper and Blue Lou, the Stax originals, the band that launched hundreds of hits. A great way to close the night.
In other day one news, my feet hurt. There’s more water on this site than flows down the Murray on a good day and I’m looking forward to a sleep in.
I could hear Josh from The Teskey Bros running vocal scales 100 metres away before they started the show with 2000 people in the tent already. Such is this bloke’s commitment to producing an authentic soul voice in a world full of imposters who cover their lack of development with vibrato and other vocal gymnastics. The band was on the back foot with a sick bass player minutes prior but the Hammond player covered brilliantly. A great band, hidden in the back locks of Melbourne for so long and now on a national stage. My only complaint was the horn players had no solos.
We had seen Con Brio before and only planned to do a half set to see Newton Faulkner. Suffice to say, we didn’t get to Newton today as the singer from Con Brio is the love child of Micheal Jackson and James Brown and what a show these guys put on. Con Brio, in musical terms, means “with vigor” and these guys have it in spades. Big songs, big band and big attitude, outstanding stuff.
Canned Heat copped possibly the poorest scheduling and location error today, having been put on one of the smallest stages on the campus. The place was overflowing with punters and the big surprise was the amount of kids under 25. If you’ve played Woodstock, you either fade into obscurity or you get pretty bloody good at what you do. These guys were spot on, good performers having a great time and some top-notch blues guitar solos.
After yesterday we had to return for New Power Generation who put on a slightly different set and included a top version of “Nothing Compares to You” which Prince wrote for Sinead O’Conner. I raved enough about this show yesterday and tonight it was even bigger on the huge Mojo stage. Purple Rain again in the encore was nothing short of magnificent.
A quick venue change saw us catch Jimmy Cliff deliver “I can see clearly now”. I read somewhere this was his last tour, and that’s sad. While not in the same voice we heard here in previous years, people saw past that and enjoyed it all the same.
To close out day two, Robert Plant and the sensational Space Shifters were where we would end the night, as I had zero interest in Laryn Hill. As it turned out, she was 30 minutes late anyway. I will be controversial here. A lot of people bag Bluesfest for the lack of “roots and blues” which is its heritage. They carry on about it and get all purist of the contemporary artists and sometimes it’s fair, often it is not. The sensational Space Shifters are just that, a band that morphs through styles seamlessly and in terms of “roots” there were fiddles, banjos, lutes and all sorts of guitar shaped objects and hand held percussion instruments that I can’t name. The tunes went from alt country to atmospheric metal. It was a hazy journey of folky metal magnificence which morphed in the encore to a very Zepplin “Whole Lotta Love”.
The rain stayed away today, we’ve had another great day and once again, Bluesfest delivers.
I planned to laze around this arvo, but we are camped close to the Juke Joint stage and the voice of Benny Walker got me in there early. This guy is a star on the rise, shades of John Mayer, really enjoyed what I saw of his set.
The California Honeydrops were on my list before we got here and did not disappoint. The New Orleans second line is strong in these guys. Two tenor players didn’t step on each other once. The horn lines were flawless and the second tenor doubles on clarinet for some trad washboard tunes until the party starts up again and finished somewhere between Louis Jordan and Allan Toussant. Going back tomorrow, loved it.
Chain are an Australian Blues institution. We had a lesson on the Bo Diddley rhythm and all the songs it has spawned. Phil Manning was in top form on the Telecaster.
We saw Jackson Browne in 2016 and I remarked at the time, his band sounded just like the recordings. There’s something effortless about this band and I suspect it has everything to do with a low on stage mix so they all hear each other perfectly. It’s a masterclass at live performance, watching them play.
I’d seen Dumpstaphunk on YouTube and was looking forward to them, unfortunately two bass players didn’t translate live tonight. The mix was muddy and for funk, you really need clean kick and snare. It sounded loose, and the jam format of some tunes seemed to get lost and then, so did we.
On to Michael Franti and Spearhead who I knew of initially from the MaxTV “Live at the Chapel” series. He started big with his hit “Everyone Deserves Music” which is his signature closer, so I was interested in where he would go from there. Franti writes pretty basic 4 chord tunes a lot of the time which delivered by others might fall flat, but there’s something about this big unit of a man who loves everyone in the room and the way he performs that is a thing to behold.
If Franti was the UN, there would be no crisis in the Middle East or Syria for that matter. He roamed the big Crossroads tent through the crowd only to pop up on strategically placed podiums. He drove security and stage crew alike completely nuts, following him around to spread his unique brand of peace with every single punter. Just when you think it’s over, he brings out Juanes, Valentina Brave and Jackson Browne to do a singalong of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It was epic stuff with the big man in the crowd high-fiving every person he could while the stage crew couldn’t even give him the hint by rolling the drum riser out.
Did I mention the mid-set wedding proposal? This set had it all. See this guy if you have the chance.
A top day once again, two to go.
Sold out, literally tens of thousands here!
I had to have another look at the California Honeydrops today. Not just because they have two Tenor sax players but because there is so much New Orleans in them that every gig is a party.
Also another return was The Teskey Brothers who had their bass player back after a dodgy pizza. His return filled them out nicely and I don’t know if it was my cheeky post on their Facebook page or not, but both horn players got a solo today, good players both of them too.
Next up was Eric Gales who put on a blues guitar clinic of pretty large proportions. Many guitar players I know would have loved this show, I’m sure. They did some Freddie King tunes that ended up somewhere in the Stratocaster stratosphere. Good times and an overflowing Jambalya stage of keen punters.
Someone really should have called in the Sea Shepherd guys, because what I saw of Seal needed some serious rescuing. I had no idea he had such a limited range and for someone who judges others on TV he had serious pitch issues at times. It indeed seems they will let anyone judge those shows!
We had seen Melissa Etheridge on exactly the same stage previously and I raved about her then. Tonight she was even better. Big vocals and significant guitar chops coupled with great songs blew the roof off the big Crossroads stage. There’s a lot of talk about women in music and one all-female band in particular, complains a lot, but they could do well to see Melissa perform. The fact remains that if you have a great voice, big chops and write good songs, your undercarriage is irrelevant. Etheridge demonstrates this tonight to great effect. She is a powerhouse, it was huge.
We also caught some of Sheryl Crow and if it’s your thing, it was good. It wasn’t my thing, but she was good.
Just now I’m listening to Bobby Rush whom at 82 is funking the living daylights off the Juke Joint right next to our camp, when most people his age were asleep hours ago.
Hayley Grace and the Bay Collective kicked off our day. This band is good and has the potential to be great. An awkward sound check and ongoing “can I have some more of blah” into the mikes was distracting. Their first and last tunes were their strongest with really good horn lines, but at other times the unison tenor and alto lines stepped on each other and I’m not sure unison clarinets is a good thing. It’s like they need to choose a genre and they aren’t quite there yet. The singer is great, the rhythm section is great, a band to watch.
Walter Trout nearly died a few years ago and had to learn how to play guitar again. Pretty impressive, given he could take it up to most modern day guitar practitioners. Walter presented his songs from his life experiences really well and you couldn’t help but feel everything he has gone through in his songs.
Chic and Nile Rogers blasted a two song disco opener just to get the room moving and then pointed out that the local journo who tagged them as a cover band, was a bit of a dick, as they are all his songs. We had all of the big ones including Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” and Daft Punks “Get Lucky”. In three trips here I’ve never seen dancing behind the desk, Chic had them dancing right to the back of the tent, 100m from the stage! The Studio 54 Tribute closed out the set and the spontaneous Madison dance with under 30’s dancers, like what? It was groovy baby. I read afterwards that someone in an article that said something like “in 17 years coming here I have never seen the Mojo tent lose its shit anywhere near as much as Chic’s set”. Indeed lose it they did!
I must confess I was a bit flippant about Lionel Richie, so I wasn’t expecting anything special. He opened with “Easy”, then went into a lot of funky Commodores tunes including “Brick House”. While his voice is not what it probably was 30 years ago, he put on a pretty good show and while he lost points for fake horns on the sequencer, like some cheesy Adelaide cover band, he had a real sax player who was pretty bloody good.
I discovered Morcheeba in the late 90s when I was pretty sick and tired of grunge. Tonight they did all the hits of that 98 album and some new material. Skye was a delight to watch as her dress gave all sorts of photo moments and then some not so much, in her cheeky cockney accent “can you see my bum?” The band were spot on, then, the one in a million thing happened, she mentioned the day she met Nile Rogers and wanted to do a song for him. You guessed it, “Let’s Dance” got another run, on the same day, at Bluesfest. Bowie was big here today, it warms the cockles of a Bowie fan’s heart.
On the way back to camp we dropped in to Rick Estrin and the Nightcats and I am so glad we did. This is what a real blues band should sound like. People who go to jams should be listening to this band, they really are a reference standard. Rick is a master harp player and in a world of “interesting” harp players, shows how it’s done melodically. The guitarist was awesome and I have since been told he has quite a following among guitar players. They were the best blues unit I’ve ever seen, had the place jumping, loved it.
The California Honeydrops are closing out the Juke Joint right next to us, as I write. A fitting end to our third time here in five years. Each and every time a new high bar of live performance is set. It’s inspirational. It’s challenging as a player to watch, and it just makes me want to go and play.
Once again you have delivered Bluesfest, we’ve had a great time.
Loved it, get here if you can, it is an experience that every music fan should get to do once.
Photography by Bruce Davis, Lachlan Douglas & Nigel Bourn