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.
I don’t want it to be over. I want to stay and play with the funny crazy people, and tease the guy with the giant indian headdress. I want to eat strange fruits from paper bags from smiling organic farmers with dreadlocks. I want to make jokes about the tall guy who always stands in front of you with the short girl standing behind me, to smile knowingly at the Mums and Dads carrying sleeping children, blissfully unaware of the screaming crowd at the other end of the tent. I want to dance like an idiot, link arms and high five my fellow crowd-members, to shake off the corporate silliness that governs my ‘real’ life , accept random passed doobies from strangers, and revel in the joyful music washing over me, stunned, amazed and overwhelmingly alive in a moment. I want to watch the young girls gossip and fawn over each other, to wink and smile at people I don’t know, to make fun of the drunks staggering over the tent ropes, to shout and play music, and stay up late, and drink and laugh with my friends and family…
Okay, with that out of my system, time to come ever so reluctantly down to reality…
The kids of Byron Bay Steiner Schools (Cape Byron and Shearwater) put on a fantastic show, and the showcase of talent was amazing – there are some really talented and skilled musicians being grown in the hinterlands of Byron Shire. Keep your eye out for a band called Potato, Potato – a rocking bunch of young kids with amazing harmonies, and surprisingly sophisticated songwriting skills. As a parent of four Shearwater kids, I can attest to the fact that music is a massively important part of the educational process, and there is something so inspiring and rewarding about seeing the kids play with such commitment and passion.
In the Adjacent APRA Tent, a bass storm erupted, thanks to the Mason Rack Band. I didn’t get a chance to step in, but from all reports, it was an incredible show. My Brother returned after the show, panting and unable to speak. When he did, his words came to him slowly: “That was… the… best… thing… ever!”
Apparently the band closed their high intensity blues laden slide guitar driven swamp rock set by getting naked, save for a few strategically placed hats.
Not knowing what to expect, we stayed at the APRA tent for the Round Mountain Girls, a high energy folk outfit, who played with amazing musicality and a wry sense of humour. “So, I guess you’ve all seen John Fogerty before…” the singer remarked dryly to a partially empty tent. No matter – once the band started, the audience appeared. Highlights for me were a rollicking Australian bushdance jig, that had the whole audience linking arms and dancing gleefully faster and faster – that band can really play fast, fiddles and banjos frenetically whirring, until we all nearly died. Then just when we couldn’t possibly take it anymore, they slowed down into a delightful rendition of everyone’s favourite one-hit-wonder, Johann Pachabel’s Canon in D, which segued beautifully into The Police’s So Lonely, with spectacular harmonies. A truly amazing band to watch, but even more fun to dance to.
John Fogerty was, as he said to a packed Mojo tent “Gone for a long time” – he refused to play any of these songs from Creedence Clearwater Revival due to what he describes as “Some Really Bad Stuff that went Down”. “But -” He went on – ” I’m Over that now!” having survived his history of feuds with band members, and lawyer crap, it was great to hear this guy in such amazing voice, and his guitar licks sounded fantastic too. He played through the entire 1969 ‘Green River’ album, introducing each song, and as hundreds of nostalgic Baby Boomers joined in the chorus of “Bad Moon Rising”, Their kids (and grandkids) all sang along.
What a curious thing is Tijuana Cartel. Flamenco Guitar, Drum and Bass grooves, Tijuana style trumpet lines along with afro-cuban percussion and rap vocals. The whole thing seems like a crazy experiment, but the result is beautiful. From lilting dreamscape sounds, with resonant brass and amazing tones through to pulsing dance breaks that had the crowd hollering and jumping, these Gold Coast natives put on the most hypnotic and engaging set that transfixed us all.
Having seen these guys play on Sunday, I couldn’t resist going back for another round of dancehall reggae beats. On the larger Jambalya stage, the band was able to spread out more, and we could see everyone in the 10 piece ensemble – allowing D-Kazman and Kat Williams plenty of space to dance, groove and sing the crowd up into a frenzy. As the crowd carried Kazman off as the lights came down, I don’t think anyone could possibly have danced any harder, or had any more fun. Go and see them, you will not be disappointed.
Frank Zappa’ discography totals a massive 91 albums, so when looking back over the catalog, there are a few choices to be made. Regardless, no matter what song Dweezil announced, there was always at least one diehard Zappa fan in the crowd who would hoot or whistle their appreciation. The band sounded fantastic, and delivered the full Zappa experience, including amazing guitar solos from Dweezil. By this stage of the night we were all pretty exhausted, so it was more a case of stand and appreciate the glitzy, slightly deranged fusion of music as it washed over us in the Mojo tent.
I decided to close out the festival with the funkiest man at the festival, Mr Maceo Parker. Maceo is the saxophone player from Parliament-Funkadelic, and from James Brown’s band in the 1960s. He puts on a huge show full of deep funk grooves, that rippled out through the Crossroads tent to close the festival. “I don’t know why they invited us to play at a blues festival… ” He said to the crowd, with a grin – “Seems like the blues is all about making you feel bad. Here, gimme a b flat” – He waved to the guitarist, who obliged. “All’yer” – Maceo waved at the band, and they launched into a sad, cheesy, and note perfect 12 bar blues. Maceo sprinkled some cheezy blues lyrics over the top, before laughing, and cutting them all off. ”That’s not what we do. This is what we do-” The band launched into a massive over the top horn laden jam, Make it Funky, and the weary revelers couldn’t help but be swept up in the groove, as Maceo and his band made it very, very funky.