Just like many Australian musicians, community radio broadcasters need to have day jobs too and hence our Friday arrival at Bluesfest saw us miss the opening night.
But Friday got off to a cracking start with Young Australian Of The Year Baker Boy (pictured) taking to the Boomerang Festival stage for a set that was both as visually exciting as much as it was aurally pleasing. Rolling out the hip-hop vibes that are already making him a festival favourite, whilst showing off his well choreographed dance moves, it’s no wonder that Baker Boy’s debut album later this year, will be one of 2019’s most anticipated releases.
Ruthie Foster epitomises what is so good about blues and roots music. Hailing from the deep south of the United States, this is music from her veins and her impressive performance left you in no doubt that her comparisons to the recently departed Queen Of Soul are justified.
Austin, Texas native Shakey Graves was next up with his modern take on the blues genre, mixed with a bit of rock and roll. It’s an interesting hybrid, but Shakey has the guitar mastery to pull it off.
One of the big names for Bluesfest’s 30th birthday was undoubtedly the incomparable Norah Jones. Whilst her stage presence and in between song banter was at times brief and somewhat distant, her blues, soul and jazz vibe, together with her impeccable vocals made for a performance worth remembering.
Aussie twins The Pierce Brothers (pictured below) have come a long way from busking on the streets of Melbourne, to playing festivals around the globe in a relatively short time. In fact, their career and that of fellow Aussie Tash Sultana (also from Melbourne, they busked together and have supported each other respectively since) are almost carbon copies of each other, it’s only their music styles that differentiate them. An incredibly energetic performance with percussive skills that are up there with the best, a must see live band!
At 72 years of age, to see Iggy Pop bound about on stage with as much energy as someone half his age, just demonstrates how timeless an artist he is. With an impressive backing band, he rolled through the hits from his back catalogue, from his solo stuff, right back to the work he did with his original band The Stooges, just incredible!
Day two of the festival for Team Aussie Music Weekly and it was the alt-country vibes of Little Georgia that got things underway musically. Frontwoman Ashley Mannix really shines in this band and has certainly found her niche following on from her past more acoustic based solo work.
Echuca singer-songwriter Benny Walker made his return to Bluesfest after his debut in 2018. His guitar work has improved out of sight, his new material continues to impress and with the new work now more well known, he had the confidence to get a few sing-a-longs happening and with tunes as catchy and hook laden as his, who wouldn’t partake!
Like Benny, Caiti Baker from Darwin was also returning to the festival for a 2nd year running. With her unique style that blends soul with jazz and even a bit of funk, the crowd were bopping and you can’t help but be mesmerised by Caiti’s very own dance moves.
It was back to the Boomerang Festival stage for Melbourne’s Mojo Juju, who delivered a powerful, yet uplifting set mainly comprising tracks from her 2018 release “Native Tongue”. Mojo got plenty of love and support from the crowd as she spoke out about racism in all its forms (she is of mixed background, from a Filopino father and Indigenous mother) and told the stories about each of the songs as she played them. Whilst this is often a tough topic to broach, she did it in such an informal way, with even a hint of humour, that you just found captivating.
Tommy Emmanuel is undoubtedly one of Australia’s greatest ever guitarists and whilst now touring a lot less than in his heyday, his status as a guitar virtuoso is unquestioned. His 20 minute Beatles melody a clear highlight of his set, as was his tribute to the recent passing of his younger brother Phil.
Kurt Vile and The Violators may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they do have a certain charm and his recent work with our own Courtney Barnett has endeared him to Australian audiences. His own brand of guitar rock from his solo work and now with his band has seen a promising career develop after he branched out from his former band The War On Drugs.
It was old school, it was huge and it was amazing. Little Steven and The Disciples Of Soul hit you with a wall of sound that signalled that they meant business! With a massive 15 piece band on stage, their set took you on a journey through soul, with a few instantly recognisable tunes including one that our own Jimmy Barnes had a hit with, to one that we later discovered hadn’t been played in this country for 34 years. This was pure entertainment on all fronts, the matching costumes, the musicianship and the pure respect for the audience that they had come to captivate and that they did it in spades.
Bluesfest regular Ben Harper closed out the evening, in a set that included a number of special guests, most notably Australia’s very own Kasey Chambers. With his impressive lap steel guitar picking, all the hits were there and the punters were more than happy to welcome back one of our adopted sons.
By the 3rd day, the feet were getting sore, the mud becoming thicker, but there are people who do the whole 5 day thing, so it was time to toughen up! Chicago’s Melody Angel provided a great afternoon musical backdrop of traditional blues. With her tight band, she played her Fender Stratt with impressive skill and encouraged the crowd to show their appreciation and encouraged them to get involved.
A Bluesfest is not the same without Rockwiz Live and whilst in 2019 we have for now, said goodbye to the TV version, this didn’t stop the music as it were. With a guest list that included Vika and Linda Bull, Sarah McLeod from The Superjesus, Ian Moss, plus the always impressive RockWiz Orchestra, there is still a lot of love for this show and with Julia Zemiro’s parting comment “see you next year”, you just know that there is still plenty more to come here.
Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats were next up and with a mixture of soul, rhythm and blues, this was a very tasty set indeed.
Undoubtedly one of the highlights of the festival was Gary Clark Jr. An incredible guitarist who at times had your draw dropping with just how good a guitarist he is. The set was interestingly eclectic too, with everything from blues to soul, to reggae and even pop sneaking into the sound. Is it any wonder that this guy had a day named after him in his hometown!
Like Ben Harper the night before, Byron Bay’s other adopted son Jack Johnson was always going to make an appearance when it came time for Bluesfest to celebrate their 3 decade existence. This was a set of hits, hits and more hits and the crowd knew every word. It was just the sort of chilled out vibe that perfectly closed the evening.
Aussie Music Weekly thanks Bluesfest Byron Bay & Gaynor Crawford Publicity for having us again this year