Day three of Bluesfest 2019 saw us catching a mix of legends and surprising newcomers.
This young Darwin singer is just a beautiful performer. Born into Blues family, she chatted affably with the Delta crowd between her blues-beats-hiphop fusion songs, reminiscing about her days as a child, having the window cracked down for a nap in the carpark at Bluesfest while her parents enjoyed the music (“Can’t do that anymore, can you Mum? haha”). This musical heritage is evident in her to-the-bones talent, as she nailed every note she belted out with a truly impressive range and every beat with her unique and fascinating moves across the stage, where she glided in a sporty red dress and sneakers that could well have been a fabulous Adidas advertisement. I hope their marketing team was watching, because Caiti Baker is a born performer, and is definitely going places. Check out our recent interview with Caiti here.
One of the best parts of Bluesfest is discovering extraordinary talent you’ve never heard of, or in the case of Larkin Poe, have only recently heard of. These southern sisters are another ‘born-to-blues’ act, performing with each other since childhood, and professionally since early adoescence. Now in their late twenties, these foot-stompin’, guitar-slidin’, tune-beltin’ pair have all the polish of seasoned blues musicians and all the energy of young, unbelievably talented women who are living their dream career every day. And they’re super lovely to boot, as we discovered when we chatted to them recently. They have one more performance to go in Juke Joint on Sunday night, and if you miss it, frankly you’re a f*cking idiot.
Tommy has to be one of the world’s greatest guitarists – and given the fact the man is a self-taught prodigy, and Australian, we felt incredibly proud and lucky to catch his performance. Interchanging between four guitars, the show was all about music in its authentic sense. Tommy has an incredible knack for bringing to life the acoustic sound in ways that not many are able to do; as a result, his musical prowess is a true delight for the senses. His soulful and warming rendition of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ had the crowd in awe, as did his new, intricately melodic yet foot-tapping track, ‘Fuel’. ‘Sail On’, dedicated to his recently passed brother, Phil, was a beautiful tune that took the audience on a journey across the sea and the his eye-boggling rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’ made everyone else’s fingers feel redundant. One of the highlights of the show was his Beatles mega-mix, whereby Tommy basically transformed into a guitar himself and left the crowd in absolute admiration for this Australian guitar stalwart.
Blues-country-rock singer and guitarist Samantha Fish stomped out onto the Delta stage in her pink shiny heels, and basically took over the world for an hour. Blonde curls flying, this killer shredder wailed through a classic set of blues rock, layered with horns, epic keys, bass and drums and her signature screaming lead solos. The stage and setup might not have been the biggest at the festival, but they turned it up to eleven and had the crowd jumping out of their skins. One of those acts that spreads through the festival via word of mouth, Samantha Fish is sure to attract a mammoth crowd to her final set at Jambalaya on Monday.
Mojo Juju could be a stand up comedian. The Wiradjuri woman onstage at Boomerang Festival was hilarious. “None of these songs are real, they’re just ones we made up” she quipped before her set. Most songs were from her album ‘Native Tongue’ and were about disconnect from culture. Her powerful voice and sense of humour carried her show. A beautiful trilogy of songs about her grandmother ended after two of the songs with the songstress teasing that if you want to hear more go buy her CD. “you gotta sell records somehow these days.” Her song ‘Bound To’ was about her grandparents love with the title being a reference to Kanye West because “one love song we can all aspire to is Kim and Kanye” (much laughter from the crowd). As for Peter Dutton “He’s a fuckwit”. She encouraged the crowd to send the Spotify link to her song ‘Think Twice’ to Dutton and Fraser Anning. Mojo Juju plays again Monday on the Delta Stage.
Archie Roach is a storyteller and his live performances are as much spoken word as music. His words are just as captivating as his songs sung in his slow, grainy, honeyed voice. Only four country-influenced songs in his set among stories of his birth parents, foster parents and his childhood, were the perfect mix for this legendary performer to transport the audience into his world. He is a true legendary elder.
Kurt Vile and the Violators
Bring out your best Nirvana t-shirt and don those ripped jeans as Kurt Vile and the Violators (what a name!) take you on a countryish-indie style journey back to the 1990s. With four band members, all interchanging between instruments and a frontman who seemed almost awkward on stage, the band had the country-folk sound down to a tee. Kurt’s drawling voice and talent on the guitar make for a unique experience that leaves you drawn to the performance. ‘Suitcase’ and ‘Already Gone’ had his fans singing along and the foot tapping, melodic ‘Bassackwards’ was like listening to a melodic, bittersweet tale of a slice of Kurt’s life. At times resonating with Neil Young or Townes Van Zandt, Kurt Vile and the Violators were something of an enigma and if his wordplay doesn’t pique your ears, his guitar handiwork definitely will.
When you get the opportunity to see someone like Keb’Mo’ perform, you realise how very lucky we are to have the Bluesfest on our doorstep. Not only is Keb’Mo’ an incredible performer and composer, but he is also hilarious and his set was interspersed with plenty of tongue in cheek commentary and wry humour that all had the audience chuckling along. Keb is without a doubt a modern master of American roots music and his soulful voice harked back to moments in American history. From the wry ‘Government Cheese’ to the heart-felt acoustic song ‘Henry’, Keb’Mo’ had the crowd eating out his hands. The touching ‘Life is Beautiful’ had couples holding hands and people swaying along and the song, ‘Old Me Better’ which he proclaimed his wife hated (I would too if I were her!) was a light-hearted, sweet tune that produced smiles all-round. A show with Keb’Mo’ is more than just the music, it’s the man and the fact that although his music doesn’t fit into a genre as such, he doesn’t pretend to be anyone he’s not.
Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real
When Lukas Nelson walked on stage with his long hair and top hat, I immediately thought it was a shorter version of Axl Rose, and after his truly show-stopping performance, my initial reaction wasn’t too far off the mark. From start to finish, the five piece band rocked out and had the Jambalaya tent writhing with energy and awe at their country, blues and even psychedelic rock tunes. Lukas has a powerful and authentic voice that resonated with everyone and the band itself were a well-oiled machine. ‘Die Alone’ had me looking for my cowboy boots and ‘Livin’ It Up’ showcased the incredible musical prowess of the frontman and band. Throughout their music, influences of Neil Young and his father Willie Nelson filtered through, but undoubtedly, Lucas and the Promise of the Real are their own entity. Having co-written ‘Shallows’ with Lady GaGa, which went on to be an absolute hit in the movie ‘A Star is Born’, Leesa from Hussy Hicks stepped in for the challenging female lead and if it hadn’t been for a couple of technical glitches, (as in no sound through her microphone for the first half of the song) it would have been a show-stopper. Nevertheless, the crowd sung along and showed their appreciation with rapturous applause. ‘Give me Something Real’ was yet another highlight of a show that is definitely worth catching.
In his 12th appearance at Bluesfest, Ben Harper reformed his band The Innocent Criminals to pay homage to the festival that helped propel his career. His gratitude for the fans, his career, the opportunities, and to Peter Noble himself was heartfelt and genuine. Ben Harper spent much of his performance looking down at his guitar whether on his lap while seated, or strung over his shoulder standing. But his music and lyrics speak volumes. When he quietly said “America’s got a racism problem” before belting out “Call it what it is”, his message was louder than if he screamed from the top of Mojo tent. He gently teased the chords with his fingers and slide bar, just riding the feedback from the amp Jimi Hendrix style to create his powerful sound. He put in a surprise appearance with Kasey Chambers on her earlier set and she reciprocated on stage with him for ‘Another Lonely Day’. The crowd roared when “my brother” Jack Johnson joined him onstage for ‘Own Two Hands’. The crowd was screaming for an eternity to get him back for an encore and he obliged with three songs, the last of which he pre-empted by saying “Happy 420”. His song about his love of whacky tobacky ‘Burn One Down’ followed. Hopefully this beautiful man will back for another 12 Bluesfests.
IMAGES (c) Danny Santangelo and JD Punisher Photography