Happy Easter! Great Big Sea, Dubmarine, The Audreys, Angelique Kidjo — Pogue Mahone!
I woke the morning of Day 2 with a little bit of a hangover, and a sore neck from dancing. I wasn’t really sure that I was going to be able to get through the whole of Day 2 – especially looking at the awesome lineup. But, after spending some time in the surf, I found that missing energy, and ended up pretty excited to hit the tents (and the mud).
The Crossroads stage was host to Los Lobos, the Mexican/US rock band (The Wolves) – they performed a hard rocking, blues-laden set that was tinged with salsa, accordion and varied wildly, culminating with a cover of The Who’s My Generation, much to the delight of the crowd.
Missed: Ernest Ranglin, Bayjah, Jack Thompson & The Original Sinners, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
The Blind Boys from Alabama have been playing for near on seventy years, and they brought their inspiring gospel blues to the Crossroads Stage, to the cheers of the crowd. I didn’t get enough of chance to really check them out, being busy getting food for the crew – but from all reports they were great – lots of happy twitter fans out there.
Missed:Fistful of Mercy, The Dingoes, Osibisa, The U Blues Band
From there, the audience began to pile into the stage to see the King of the Blues, B.B King. While the roadies were busy preparing the stage, I headed up to the Juke Joint to see Californian “Dirty Reggae” band, The Aggrolites. Their tight, high energy groove had the crowd really jumping – and with a bit of room to move, (as everyone was piling into the Crossroads Stage to see B.B King) I was quickly swept up into an enormous conga line, and before I knew it I was high-fiving my fellow newly discovered Aggrolites Fans as we all danced to the pulsing beat – without a horns section, the 5 piece rely heavily on their keyboardist, who was working hard. I wanted to get on back to see The King, but I found myself with a problem – I couldn’t actually stop dancing – eventually I managed to dance my way out of the hypnotic lure of the band to return back to see B.B finish his set. At 85, B.B King is a legend of the Blues Guitar, his career spanning over 50 albums, 14 Grammy Awards, and numerous other accolades. After a few technical difficulties, things got underway with the enormous crowd cheering as B.B played the blues. Sitting down, he delivered some tasty blues licks – although it seems that age has slowed him down a little – It must be strange, having so much experience as a musician, having to chose between which notes you should play, and which notes you can play. Regardless, the guitar virtuoso that made No.3 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Guitarists of All Time was clearly on display, and his backing band were also incredible.
Missed:Toots & The Maytals, Ray Beadle, Luciano & Jah Messenjah Band
Up next, Rodrigo y Gabriela, the famed Mexican born, Ireland-bred, acoustic metal flamenco guitarists. As Gabriela herself intoned, they had been on the road for “about 10 years”, and they were looking forward to leaving the festival circuit behind to retire to Mexico to recharge, and work on their next album, following their self-titled debut, and last year’s 11:11. With the energy of a big farewell show, they played with ferocity and intensity that was astonishing. Every time I see these guys play, I can’t believe they are real. With Gabriela’s whirlwind flamenco strumming and percussive use of her instrument, and Rodrigo’s deftly-timed sweet-toned picked notes, these two musicians generate the most enormous musical sound you have ever heard fill a festival tent. Dressed both in black, and with nothing on the stage other than a couple of amp crates, they played without a setlist, just playing whatever they liked from their long tour. The crowd clapped along until their hands were sore, and their voices hoarse from cheering – but we did manage to get them to come back for three encores before the evening finally drew to a close.
I also managed to check out the last few songs from Fishbone. This LA based group has been playing it’s peculiar blend of funk/ska/punk/rock/hardcore for years – I remember encountering their records in the early 90′s as a teenager. At the time, I was never quite sure where I stood with them, because they seemed so frenetic and crazy. As I found myself sucked into the moshpit (at bluesfest?) I couldn’t help but think they were frenetic and crazy. They also were having the most insane amount of fun. Trombone, Flugelhorn, Clarinet, Trumpet, Bass, Keys – everybody in the band seemed to be able to play all of these things – and sing – and stage dive, all at the same time. It was like somebody spiked Duke Ellington’s Big Band with methamphetamine. An incredible show – and one that has to be seen to be believed.
Missed: Grace Jones. Lowrider
And with that, we filed out of the venue, staggered through the car park and made it back home to collapse into bed, reggae rhythms, blues licks and flamenco metal ringing in our ears.
[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.