The rain put in an appearance for the first time on Day 4, but it didn’t stay for long. A little bit more mud perhaps, but nothing that would prevent the seasoned four day festival veterans from their plans to hear some amazing music.
By all reports, Kate Miller Hiedke put on a great show, bringing her quirky brand of show tune pop – audiences were thoroughly amused and entertained, with her cover of Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady”, delivered in her characteristic, classically trained operatic voice being a highlight.
Irma Thomas is known as “The Soul Queen of New Orleans”, and she brought a small piece of Bourbon Street to Byron tonight, with an amazing backing band, and dazzling soul tunes that harken back to an earlier time, when things were perhaps less complicated. The crowd were amazingly into her show, as she belted out some of her classic tunes – When she called for people to wave their handkerchiefs for “Iko Iko”, I thought that there might be a shortage of handkerchiefs, in this disposable age – but no – handkerchiefs were produced en masse, and flag waving began across the crossroads tent in earnest, as Irma sang with amazing passion. After a heartfelt rendition of “Time is on my side”, she confessed that she had always refused to sing that song, because she felt that perhaps she wasn’t as young as she used to be. “Then I realised”, she told us, smiling, “That it’s true – Time is on my side, because I’m still here!” I was glad I was there, too.
Missed:Trinity Roots, Jeff Lang, Phil Jones & The Unknown Blues, Jackson Firebird
When I think about the word “Fusion” in terms of music, I’m reminded of Jazz Fusion – of bands like Weather Report, or Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew double LP. But I think what happened when that term became commonplace was that people were trying to describe a sound that was a fresh mix of old and new, of the familiar and the foreign. And fusion describes Grace Barbè Afro Kreol perfectly. Led by Grace Barbè, a charming,beautiful islander woman from the Seychelles, the band puts on an intricate, fun and engaging performance full of island reggae, creole rhythms, and complex, intense vocals in French, Creole and English. (Just for the record, I have never seen anyone play a more awesome triangle solo.) The whole tent was jumping and grooving to the thumping bass as the band played selections from their new CD, Creole Daughter, and made their way through a tribute medley of reggae songs from the islands, including Bob Marley and Musical Youth. An amazing, uplifting experience.
Missed:Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Washington, Blind Boys of Alabama, Melbourne Ska Orchestra
Gurrumul, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu hails from Elcho Island, off the coast of Arnhem Land in Northern Australia. Blind from birth, his natural talent as a musician saw him join another Bluesfest act, The Saltwater Band, where his incredible singing voice was revealed. His solo show tonight was deeply reverent and intense. Singing in his native island dialect – a language few Bluefest patrons will have ever heard before, he sings with an achingly beautiful voice that soars high over his acoustic guitar – putting these ancient words into a modern context that makes them even more accesible and precious. As the set drew to an end, with Gurrumul’s last note drawn out over the enraptured crowd, there was a brief moment of almost transcendent silence as the beauty sank in to us all, before the tent thundered to life with applause and appreciation for this gifted, incredible musician.
Missed:Robert Randolph,Public Opinion Afro Orchestra, The RedEyes, The Snowdroppers
Man, did the crowd go crazy for The Cat Empire tonight. This Melbourne based band has become an institution at Bluesfest, and there were certainly some folks in the crowd whose dancing may land them in an institution at some point. The Cat Empire may be the only Prog Ska band in the world, and I have to admit, that, well – I didn’t get it. Was it supposed to be fun, funky ska songs we could dance to? Or was it more like a Grateful Dead style, jam band thing, with extensive indulgent solos over ska beats? Or was it a kind of singalong, showboat kind of a grown up Wiggles concert? To me it seemed to be all of these, randomly segueing from one to the next without any rhyme or reason.
Regardless of my confusion, folks around me seemed to be relishing the band. I snuck out past all of my new mates (“Sorry Mate!”,”Excuse me Mate!”, “Thanks Mate!”) to go take in the last part of the Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi Band’s set down on the Crossroads Stage. Holy Blues Explosion – these guys play with a ferocity and authenticity that is incredibly powerful. Sporting two incredible guitarists, and two equally formidable drummers, this band is a high intensity affair. Susan Tedeschi sings with the power of Three Dixie Chicks, and plays the most soulful lead guitar I have heard in a long, long while. Added to the mix, her husband Derek Trucks – the youngest musician to make Rolling Stone’s “Top 100 Guitarists of All Time”, who plays on the road with Eric Clapton and The Allman Brothers, in addition to his own band – and what we have here is a guitargasm the likes of which I have never heard before. Makes me want to go practice. Or quit. Amazing.
Missed:Cecilia Noel, Barrence Whitfield, Little Bushman
[Each Easter Weekend, the most easterly point of Australia hosts a 5-day blues and roots festival that attracts some of the greatest names in music. Dubbed “Bluesfest“, the acts that are performing this year are amazing in their diversity and their talent. The biggest problem with a Festival this size, is determining exactly what to see, and more painfully, what to miss out on!]