When I was a kid, the Easter long weekend meant two things: Chocolate for breakfast, and no more school. Nowadays, the full moon marks something much more significant – an annual pilgrimage to the Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival, Bluesfest. Nestled in Byron Shire, Australia’s most easterly point, the 5 day festival this year boasts an impressive bill of amazing musical talent from Australia and around the world.
In brilliant sunshine, we arrived early on Day 2 to catch the opening acts. 12 hours of music was a pretty imposing challenge, but in the end it all went by too fast. I know I mentioned it before, but The Byron Bluesfest crowd are just special – so many friendly, laughing and hilarious people of all ages. Good times all round.
We arrived early to see Mat – having seen his last tour of Byron, there was some speculation over which band would be playing at Bluesfest – If he would bring The Beautiful Girls, or just himself. In the end, it was just Mat, along with his loops and sequencers. He put on a great show, to a pretty packed crowd (for 12:30 in the afternoon), working his way through tracks from his new album, Love Come Save Me, and some of the standards from the Beautiful Girls, woven in with some familiar covers – Blackbird morphed seamlessly into The Police’s Roxanne, via Fat Freddie’s Drop – the crowd sang along, captivated. Mat finished the show by telling everyone that he was genuinely humbled and amazed by the path his career had taken – that he wanted to give something back – and so he has! You can download Mat’s latest album, in its entirety for free now at lovecomesaveme.com
Missed: Hat Fitz & Cara, Bobby Alu, Ollie Brown
I’m not entirely sure, but I think the ‘G’ might stand for ‘Guitar. G3 consist of iconic guitar heroes Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, and for this tour, they are joined by founding member of TOTO, Steve Lukather. Each guitarist played a set solo, and then the three guitarists all jammed together. Despite being one of those kids who spent way too much time in his bedroom trying to play ‘Surfing with the Alien’, I didn’t spend too much time in the main tent, preferring instead to hang out at the back of the arena, listening to the intense shredding licks echoing among the tents. It’s a strange kind of sub genre of music, somewhere between free improvisation Jazz and Metal. Satriani’s Always With Me, Always With You was particularly beautiful The G3 Jam cover of Hendrix’s guitar classic Little Wing was melodic, and showcased what incredible musicians these three men are.
I snuck out midway to catch a couple of songs from Steve Earle’s first set here at Bluesfest. Solo, just with his Acoustic guitar, he held the stage to a horde of appreciative fans packed into the Crossroads Tent to see the singer/ songwriter/activist /author /producer. However you label him, He’s clearly got something to say, and he sounded great.
Missed:Harry Manx, Benjalu, Lachlan Bryan, Backsliders, David Bromberg, James Vincent McMorrow
Sublime with Rome
When Bradley Nowell tragically died in 1996, the resurgence of reggae and ska was about to hit its peak – in no small part due to the third album from his band, Sublime. As the songwriter, guitarist and vocalist, Bradley was a huge part of the band, aided by Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson, on Drums and Bass. When I heard that Gaugh and Wilson had decided to carry on with Sublime, 12 years later, I have to admit I was skeptical. The task of filling Bradley’s shoes falls to a young man called Rome Ramirez. And, he is incredible. Vocally he is very, very similar to Bradley – and you can’t help but think that he must have grown up listening to the same CD’s as we did.
Now if you got a whole bunch of hardcore sublime fans, and put them in a tent and gave them lots of booze, and then played a CD at 120 db, I think they would have a pretty good time. And I partially expected a karaoke sort of experience like that. But to Rome’s credit, he made the show his own – playing tracks from their new EP, mixed in with older Sublime songs. Wrong Way and Date Rape were huge hits with the crowd, as were Doin’ Time, and Smoke Two Joints. All in all, It was an amazing show, full of energy, power and that laid back reggae vibe. The crowd was amped and despite the wild mosh pit, friendly and kind, in true Bluesfest fashion. (Did I mention that the crowd at Bluesfest is awesome?)
Missed: Jonny Lang, Candi Staton, Elien Jewell
Trombone Shorty & Orléans Avenue
I just managed to catch Trombone Shorty on his last appearance at Bluesfest, having missed him the previous year. What an incredible show. Backed by the tightest horns section I’ve ever seen, Trombone Shorty leads his band with the most ferocious sonic funkified assault I’ve ever seen. The cover of Nirvana’s In Bloom with horns, was jaw-dropping. This man is a phenomenon. He plays trumpet, trombone, dances, sings, jumps around and just puts on a performance that is mesmerizing, inspiring and musically astounding. James Brown may indeed be dead, but his spirit is alive and well as long as Trombone Shorty is here to take it to the bridge.
I managed to catch the last two tracks of Seth Lakeman, the UK Folk fiddle player and singer. He had the crowd enraptured over at the APRA tent, and with an acoustic band, (including a drummer who appeared to be playing a cardboard box with his hands) played two rousing, barnstorming hand clapping tunes to the delight of his fans, that made me wish I’d seen more.
Missed: Buddy Guy, John Hiatt
The Specials brought their unique blend of ska to the main tent. I make out like I know, but really, I don’t know what ska actually is. It’s like reggae, but with pork pie hats and much shorter notes? And sometimes it gets all spooky, like haunted house music? whatever. As the seven piece band worked their way through the set, the crowd got progressively more and more into it – hits like Monkey Man, A Message to Rudy had the crowd hopping around, so that by the time they came back for an encore to play Enjoy Yourself, everyone was crazy in love with the band, and the hypnotic music. Remarkable.
Missed: Keb Mo, Canned Heat, Kooii, Kim Churchill
Earth, Wind & Fire
The night closed out with Earth Wind & Fire, A band that I don’t know much about, other than that Miles Davis said they were his favorite band in the world. And it turns out, that pretty much every disco/pop tune that you know but don’t know who sings it, is sung by Earth, Wind and Fire. With incredible musical skill and dedication, the band seized the Mojo tent and transformed it into a Boogie Wonderland. Needless to say, there was some serious grooving, getting down, and shaking of booties.
Missed: Crosby Stills & Nash, The Fabulous Thunderbirds,Alabama 3