Another day of perfect blue sky weather – the swell was up, the wind was off-shore, the water was warm, and the Byron BluesFest was in full swing as we fought back Festival Fatigue for another round of amazing performances.
Imogen Heap is one of those unique artists who’s medium happens to include music – one of those art-first artists. Although she’s very much herself, I was reminded of other like minded weirdos, such as Amanda Palmer, or Kate Bush. As she played us some of her eclectic tunes full of lively arrangements, cello, piano, and some fantastic new age synth sounds, the crowd was kind of stunned – in a good way. It’s clear that Imogen has some incredible musical chops – and she has an equally incredible pitch perfect voice. A strange choice perhaps, for Bluesfest – but a good one – aren’t we all here for a new experience?
I also snuck over to the Jamablaya stage to catch the opening few tunes from Tim Robbins & the Rogues Gallery Band. Once you get past the fact that yes, that is totally the guy from the Shawshank Redemption, what you find is some genuine easy going laid back folksy blues with heart and a social conscience. A cover of Tom Waits “All the world is Green” featuring the singing saw was really impressive.
Missed:Trombone Shorty, Phil Jones & The Unknown Blues, Hank Greens Blues
Hanging out at the Mojo Tent, I could hear Robert Randolph going off, big time over at the crossroads stage judging by the cheers of the crowd, and I was sorely tempted to scoot on over and join them – but then Wolfmother returned to the Bluesfest Mojo stage. I don’t know what this band would actually be doing if somebody hadn’t come up with music festivals. Wolfmother are a band that are made to play to big sweeping crowds, stadiums. The other thing that springs to mind whenever I see Andrew Stockdales mega-fro, is the question: Am I really supposed to take this band seriously? The hair, and the big, sweeping RAWK sound – long vamping solos, crunchy stompy distortion pedals. Wolfmother are the most cock-rock band I have ever seen – so much so that they are almost a parody of themselves. And the whole thing leaves me on a critical level, somewhat puzzled – but on a more primal level, I find myself punching the air, doing air guitar solos on my knees in the mud. Go figure.
Missed:Robert Randolph, Raul Malo, Grace Barbe Afro Kreol, Nat Col & the Kings
The Indigo Girls have been singing together for 25 years, and it’s clear that they are both still in fine voice. The duo sang their beautiful, inspirational tunes to a crowd of adoring fans – with just a couple of acoustic guitars and perfect harmonies, they were a long way from the preceeding act – back to campfire roots.
I also managed to take in Trinity Dub – a reggae/soul outfit from New Zealand – in fact one of NZ’s most successful recording artists of the 2000′s. There were more than a few Kiwi fans in the audience, cheering wildly as they busted out some huge dirty reggae grooves – the awesome fat basslines reverberating across the tent had the crowd enthusiastically bobbing their heads and smoking weed. (Actually, I don’t think that was really the band’s influence, folks probably would have done that anyway). With soaring three part harmonies, and tasty guitar licks, these guys are alright, bro.
Missed:Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi, BB & the Blues Shacks, Victor Valdes & the Marin Brothers
Having been blown away by Michael Franti and Spearhead’s Thursday night show, I was never going to miss a chance for a second. This longer set had all of the hallmarks of the first – bursting with positive energy, amazing musicianship, audience participation, and Michael Franti working the whole massive Crossroads tent, everyone jumping and waving and singing along. “The Sound of Sunshine” featured giant yellow balloons tossed around by the crowd – “Hey, Hey, Hey” saw Franti again disappear through the crowd to turn up in the center of the tent. All the while, the outpouring of love from the crowd was growing and growing. As one bare chested sweaty fan yelled at me “Can you feel the Franti-Love?” Oh yeah. We can feel it.
For the closing finale, Michael dragged all the young kids out of the audience on to the stage to dance as the whole tent danced and sang to “Say Hey” – a stripped back, acoustic, barn-stomping celebration of love:
I say hey, I be gone today
But I be back around the way
Seems like everywhere I go
The more I see, the less I know
But I know one thing, that I love you
I love you, I love you, I love you
If there is anything in the world than can make you forget your troubles, and lose yourself, to harness the power of music to transform your life, and to leave your soul refreshed and renewed, A Michael Frante & Spearhead concert has to be pretty close to the top of the list.
Missed:John Legend, Melbourne Ska Orchestra, The Bamboos, Blackbirds
[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!]
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!
I started Day 1 at the main stage to see Xavier Rudd. Having seen him play earlier in his career, where he was playing everything – stompbox, didgeridoos, harmonica, kick drums, in addition to singing, it was great to see that he had brought along a few buddies (bass, drums) and to have him out from behind the kit, dancing, singing, and geeing the crowd up. The opening harmonica blasts of ‘Let Me Be’, sent the first big wave of cheers through the festival, as the impending sunset added a little gold to the lights from the stage. Xavier put on a great, high energy show,full of the charm and positivity that everyone was feeling.
Missed: Grace Woodroofe, CW Stoneking, NGA Tae, Mojo Businessmen
The next act of the day was the Arakwal People’s Opening Ceremony – bringing the tribal history of the original custodians of the land to the fore with traditional dances and music that has echoed through the region since long before the blues was discovered.
After a wander around the (increasingly muddy) grounds to grab some food, we settled into the Mojo tent to see Michael Franti and Spearhead. I had never seen a show live, although I’d heard some of the live shows.
To put it bluntly, I was completely dumbstruck, floored and amazed. The musicality and charm of the band – the swelling massive positivity from the crowd – This show had everything. A young couple appeared from the wings, and then just before The Sound of Sunshine, Michael offered him the mic, he went down on one knee to propose to his blushing girl, as the crowd exploded. She uttered a tearful yes, to further huge cheers, as Michael kicked into the song, and we all sang along while they both stood there, shellshocked. Any moment like this on stage has to be a highlight right? I mean, how were they going to top that?
Somehow, they did. in addition to the infectious, funky, high energy music, delivered with an intensity that echoed right through the huge Mojo stage, we saw two people plucked from the crowd, and handed two guitars, as the music slowed to a dramatic close, as we’re all waiting to see what happens… The last snap on the snare drum… This anonymous kid, without missing a beat blasts out the opening chords to Smells Like Teen Spirit. The band doesn’t miss a trick, kicking in with the massive drum blasts, and bass. The crowd went absolutely batshit insane.
After we had (slightly) recovered, Franti then told the crowd of the plight of Sarah Gapp, a fan who had suffered a stroke and become a victim of locked-in syndrome. After a meaningful and heartfelt appeal, he brought Sarah and her mother on to the stage, again to wild applause. Leaving his band on stage, Franti then wove his way through the crowd, singing Hey Hey Hey, to a platform in the center of the tent, as the band watched on from the stage. As he began to close the show with it’s singalong chorus, the crowd bellowing along, the band produced a birthday cake – turns out that it was Michael’s birthday. The crowd sung a resounding, boozy, exhausted and loud “Happy Birthday” as Michael blew out the candles on what was one of the most incredible concerts I had ever seen.
Missed: Ruthie Foster, Ernest Ranglin, The Hands and Bayjah
I first discovered The Meters through reading the liner notes for the Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which led me to pick up a compilation album. Having been exposed to their seminal, defining funk music through my youth, it was amazing to see the band live. (Their name change to “The Funky Meters” came about through a legal dispute involving their drummer and founding member of the original band.) They churned through some catchy, progressive and amazing drawn out funk jams, including Africa (covered by the Red Hot Chili Peppers as “Hollywood”). The skill and expertise of these guys was impressive, as was their ability to structure and improvise inside of these compelling funk grooves. These guys definitely fit into the Musical Legends category. They’ve been playing this kind of unique, genre defining music for over 40 years.
Missed: Los Lobos, Lunicano & Jah Messjah Band, Ray Beadle and Kingfisha
The headline show for the evening was Ben Harper & Relentless 7. Byron has a long ongoing history with Ben Harper – the festival was one of the key launching platforms for his career, so there was a palpable feeling of love in the crowd, as he opened with “With My Own Two Hands”, and followed that with “Diamonds on The Inside” – leading to some speculation about which band Ben had actually turned up with… In a surprise finale, Ben reunited the original lineup for the Innocent Criminals to close the show. I managed to sneak out midway to check out the guys from ZZ Top – the worlds biggest little blues rock band. They seemed extremely tight and polished, churning out the hits to the delight of their fans in the tent. I also breezed past the soulful sounds of the Bamboos at the Juke Stage, as I snuck over to get a quick look at Toots & The Maytals, one of the classic bands in the development of Reggae & Ska music. The tent was jumping with Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, leading the band, “Higher, Higher” with that killer amped up reggae beat – I was sorely tempted to jump in and dance, but Michael Franti had nearly killed me.
Five more days of this? Really? This is crazy. I need to go lie down.