Its been hailed as one of the best music festivals in the country and having recently won a string of awards, its easy to see why. The longest running music festival in Australia celebrated a whopping 29 years this year, bringing with it a stellar line up of big stars and a few smaller acts to delight patrons with a massive five days of music.
Rain bucketed down for most of the opening day, but it wasn’t much of a deterrent for crowds crammed under tents to witness their favorite musicians in action. Steve Smyth got things kicked off under the Jambalaya dome, quickly followed by Triple J darlings Holy Holy.
Always a festival favorite, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real delivered yet again. Proving he is a stellar guitarist Lukas impresses with his ability to captivate an audience. Rag N Bone man brings deep soul to the stage, with an impressive set of pipes.
For the serious music lovers Gomez delivered music at its finest whilst Newton Faulker made a return to the stage after a long absence. Leon Bridges paced the Mojo stage like a hungry tiger looking for prey. Now if it was dancing you were after the New Power Generation were in the house to make that happen. If cool vibes were more your thing then The Wailers had everyone covered as they played tribute and kept the legend of Bob Marley alive ( amidst a cloud of smoke).
Tash Sultana the Triple J fan favorite sets up her huge solo ensemble and rather aggressively tells fans her rules of attending “her” gig. What she sadly fails to realize is that this is Byron Bay, the most accepting crowd in the world and her aggression and anger are somewhat superfluous. Drop the anger and play some music, stop forcing your beliefs on others and let whatever music talent you have speak for itself is the general consensus. Its disappointing to say the least and her attitude and use of foul language needs adjusting. The love of music has no place for anger at Bluesfest.
The Original Blues Brothers Band rounded out the evening to bring home a rather wet, muddy yet enjoyable opening day and we are all ready for the music tomorrow.
By Friday afternoon the rain had cleared up, and whilst the mud lingered guitar aficionado Harts set the stage on fire, seemingly channeling both Prince and Jimmi Hendrix simultaneously.
Latin American heartthrob Juanes thrusted his way into the hearts of thousands of screaming fans over at Crossroads, the man didn’t even need to speak and there were screams galore. An impressive display of guitar and Latin American soul on display for fans and lovers alike.
Under the Delta Stage Newton Faulkner the charismatic Englishman displayed some very impressive finger work on his acoustic guitar, flashing a killer smile at the audience and encouraging participation from everyone. His rendition of Massive Attack’s ‘ Teardrop’ a show stopper.
Africa’s finest Youssour N’Dour entered the arena in colorful Senegalese dress, the most famous African singer amazing audiences with not only his voice, but the traditional dancers that back flipped onto the stage to a collective gasp.
When Ms. Lauryn Hill failed to enter the stage, keeping fans waiting for over half an hour the crowd became restless with anticipation and booing rang out across the grounds. The singer seemed somewhat distracted during the set, yelling at back up singers and angrily gesturing at the band whilst mopping her face with a towel. Nobody on that stage was having fun, but the crowd seemed to be. It was the only low light in an otherwise perfect day of music.
The sun rose over the tents for the third day and we were once again treated to an incredible day of music as the mud began to dry and the clouds had all but gone.
If you’ve never heard the music of David Bowie sung in Brazilian Portuguese then you’ve never heard anything like the incredible Seu Jorge. Its mesmerizing and poignantly beautiful all at the same time. Its a pity more Australian’s don’t know of the singer, this is a moment to be remembered.
Up on stage for their set Con Brio make things look flawless lead singer Ziek McCarter is the embodiment of soul, his moves captivating and his charisma infectious. He takes flight on more than one occasion, his moves expertly times yet seemingly effortless – this guy was born to fly.
Rounding out the evening Michael Franti & Spearhead whip the crowd into an almost cult like frenzy as the singer invites children to the stage to participate, he walks among the crowd, people religiously following his every move.
Sunday hails more encore performances from Seu Jorge, Steve Smyth, Lukas Nelson and Yirrimal. If you had missed any of them the previous day then today is the day to catch them or just revel in greatness once more. The beauty of Bluesfest is that each day you might see someone again, however its always guaranteed to be a fresh performance, different to the previous.
By the time the sun sets Seal is more than ready to wow audiences with his amazing voice. Before the Tv Show ‘ The Voice’ made him a household name Seal was better known for his beautiful renditions of swing music and his number one hit ‘ Kiss from a Rose’ which he sings beautifully. He’s got the moves and the suaveness down pat.
Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow represent two amazing women that also happen to be exceptional guitarists. With careers that have spanned several decades respectively the women both show no signs of slowing down.
As John Butler Trio wows audiences with his impressive set, he also manages to turn the performance into a chance to use his voice to speak for those who can’t. Inviting a slew of performers on stage including Lukas Nelson, Steve Smyth and Michael Franti they unfurl a massive banner in protest of the proposed Adani Mine. Its a moment that will go down in history when musicians came together to use their platform for the greater good and help save Mother Earth from the destruction the mine would create.
Not to be missed, Morcheeba is breathtaking in red, her angelic voice the perfect way to round out the evenings events. Captivating and resembling some kind of ancient Goddess, Skye Edwards is perfection on stage.
Its down to the final day and Haley Grace and the Bay Collective open the afternoon’s events on the Crossroads stage. A collective of local musicians each bringing a unique skill to the set.
Later in the afternoon Dan Sultan rocks out, his guitar getting a good work out. There isn’t much to mention other than this guy knows how make a Gibson sound good.
Jamaican royalty Jimmy Cliff is the undisputed King of reggae, the 70 year old seated for the first few songs, including a beautiful rendition of ‘ Rivers of Babylon’ with not much more than a djembe to accompany him. When he stands its clear to all that he is enjoying the performance and soaking in the love from the crowd, and its rather endearing. He runs a little over time, but its easy enough to forgive when it may just be the last time he graces the Bluesfest stage, so the crowd let him enjoy the moment. Dressed in black and gold, he is a King among men.
Lionel Ritchie brings Vegas feels to the Mojo arena with his sequined jackets and dance moves. He’s here to entertain ‘All night long’ if need be. Its a little bit of Vegas showmanship right up on the main stage, with glitz and glamour.
Once again Morcheeba close the evening and dressed in a different yet equally as breathtaking in red. Skye Edwards proves that beauty, grace, a voice of an angel and a splendid wardrobe are what it takes to make a performance memorable.
For 29 years Bluesfest as bought some of the biggest acts to the coastal town of Byron Bay. What makes the festival so amazing is not only the music, its the atmosphere, the queuing in line for the best damn doughnuts you’ll ever eat, the dancing, the making of new friends whilst waiting for your fave band to start. Its the mud, the food court where everyone gathers for a feed and most of all its about discovering new music that you might not have listened to before. All of these things and more makes it not only the best festival on the music calendar, but one everyone can’t wait 365 days to attend again.
Words and images by Amanda Lee Starkey