BluesFest Monday 22nd

‘Are you coming back next year?’, is the question everyone asks. I won’t be but many are and even buy their ticket for the pre-early bird price on the final day. It was my shopping day in Byron Bay town to get bottles of my favourite local hot sauce. Lunch at the hard to find vegetarian restaurant, it’s tiny and tucked away down a little alleyway. Brunswick Heads is one place the local people talk about, ‘better than Byron’, and I wanted to catch a bus there but I had a date with Samantha Fish on stage at 3pm. She was worth it too; a fab blondy hair style, a SG Gibson like mine but white, and a voice – she totally owns it. Julia Stone next, an Australian, was once part of a duo with her brother, but it didn’t grab me. Lukas Nelson again, and so good, he played Paul Simon’s Diamonds On The Soles Of His Shoes, really well. The big sing-along is the song he wrote with Lady Gaga with a killer hook I can’t get out of my head, ‘I hope you find yourself before I find somebody else to love’ – so catchy, and kind of corny too I guess. Caught a few songs of David Gray, Paul Kelly, and Jack White’s Sabateurs band – what a noise, basically a guitar constantly feeding-back – but for those that like their rock loud and grungy – he’s your man.

BluesFest Sunday 21st

This Is Not A Clothes Optional Beach – is the sign that greets us as we arrive at the coast of Tyagarah Reserve an hour’s walk from the Festival. Even though the fest site is alongside the coast there is no direct access to the beach. Andreas, the keen German hiker who’s my age, said he tried to crash through the bush once but it’s thick and swampy, I take his word for it, he’s climbed Mt Kilamanjaro, been to Everest base camp and likes a challenge. The lifeguards have set up flags way down the beach where the ‘clothes optional’ people are, ‘Why there?’, I ask, ‘Because optional lives matter, ha ha’, they reply. There are powerful rips and undertows alright, but the sea is gorgeous.
The RockWiz is a telly show they’ve transferred to the live stage, it’s crass Aussie humour at it’s best, talk about laugh. Lukas Nelson is Willie Nelson’s son, has inherited the same voice, it’s honest country rock and really good, I like him. Nathaniel Rateliff has a similar sound and very popular, but . . nah. I was encouraged to see the Melbourne Ska Orchestra – freakin’ incredible, what a crazy fun show. For example, the whole 20 piece band suddenly stop and all freeze for a few seconds – then we all do it, again and again . . it’s hilarious. Larkin Poe are two young women guitarists and singers in a band from the Joan Jet school of rock, but even better! Jack Johnson packs the room and weaves his understated magic with a small band and an acoustic guitar. Last, a bit of hard funk from the original funksters, George Clinton and the Funkadelic and 118db on my decibel app, it’s pumping, shouting, tribal mayhem – and way too loud.

George Clinton and the Parlaiment Funkadelic pumping up the volume.
Lukas Nelson has written songs with Lady Gaga and tells us he had a girlfriend called Georgia, but she’s not ‘on his mind’ anymore, apparently.
Don’t shoot the pink piano player, he’s doing his best.
Waiting in the crush for Jack Johnson.

BluesFest Saturday 20th

Exercise?, I thought you said ‘extra fries’. The best T-shirt slogan so far. The day started with Vintage Trouble, never heard of them but they’re a slick band of pros with an energised lead singer. Tommy Emmanuel is totally brilliant solo virtuoso acoustic guitarist playing impossibly complex medleys of Beatles songs and using the instrument as percussion, he is surely the best in the world, just staggering. Kurt Vile, a young alternative folk-rocker in a checkered shirt, I admire anyone who can write songs that don’t rhyme and just tell long stories. Kasey Chambers is a big country star in Australia apparently, but one song and I’m gone. Snarky Puppy for the third time right up front, intense jazz-jamming – woah man!
Ben Harper for two songs playing his slow numbers. Exhausted and music’d–out I head off to camp and catch the end of the The California Honeydrops and just stayed there enjoying the good times – they’re the ultimate party band, they bring the party and they don’t play covers because their own songs are so infectious.

Steampunk was the theme this year I guess with the stree-theatre performers, it’s the welders goggles that give it away.
Tommy Emmanuel
Definitely the best donuts in the world, they serve them hot, they’re big and sugary and mine had hot ‘Russian Caramel’ filling, $7 each and the line is 20 metres long all day, one is quite enough and two is just going too far.

BluesFest Friday 19th

The rain buckets down then the sun comes out then rain again but it’s warm and tropical.

An exhausting day standing watching bands for 6 hours and no way am I sitting up the back in a camp chair looking at the big screens, no way! First up, I’m With Her, beautiful three part harmonies, St Paul And The Broken Bones, awful front guy so walked off, Snarky Puppy, pure jazz brillance and plan to see all 3 shows. The rain comes down in a massive deluge here pouring down the sides of the marquee like a river. Norah Jones, too low energy for BluesFest, one slow song after another, walked off to get a good spot for Gary Clark Jnr in the other marquee and saw the end of the hot-rocking Imelda May from Ireland, now that’s more like it! Clark is on another level, no standard blues here, it’s all gnarley, edgey and raw. Then Iggy Pop, the last real punk left on earth, still shirtless and skinny with two thrashing guitarists – can you handle it!

I’m With Her
Melody Angel from Chicago playing serious guitar blues, of course.
Last song tearing the house up with ‘Teenage Kicks’ by The Undertones.
Gary Clark Jnr plays an Epiphone similar to my Riviera, this is a Casino with a Bigsby arm.

BluesFest Thursday 18th

Afro time – Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, backing singers and his 12 piece band sound much like The E Street Band, playing with homage to all the great American soul and blues music from Motown to New Jersey – lots of paisley shirts and guitar solos.
Little Steven’s big band – that big fat wall of sound, sound.
I never thought I’d see Arlo Guthrie sing Alice’s Restaurant all the way through, word for word just like the album released over 50 years ago. He reminded us this year is the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, where he played. He’s a real trooper, tells some great stories and sings Bob Dylan just like Bob, he’s also a pretty fancy guitar picker – this is one of the reasons I go to BluesFest.
This is the ideal way to rough it at BluesFest, a double axle caravan with the pop top roof.