“You had me at music festival in a brewery” I said at the offer of covering the Byron Bay Guitar Festival at Byron Bay Brewery. The added bonus was, of course, attending a festival dedicated to keeping the flag flying for my my favourite musical instrument, the guitar.
Day one, albeit a wet and miserable day outside, offered a smorgasbord of genres to demonstrate the diversity of contemporary music’s most beloved tool. Punk, rock, roots, blues, gypsy, latin, and a mixture of any of the above, were on display. From nine year old prodigy Taj Farrant to stalwart rockers Dallas Frasca and British India, the brewery pumped.
Two stages, both thankfully undercover, were clearly delineated to deliver very different moods. Outside, acoustic artists kept the mood more sedate, while inside the decibels rose to accommodate louder, bigger bands pumping out all sorts of rock. The recently gentrified, wealthy residential surrounds of Byron Bay couldn’t possibly complain.
While a little more sedate outside, the performers were certainly no less meek. The excellent shredder Minnie Marks showed exactly why so many of her contemporaries are in awe of her playing. Opal Ocean know how to entertain, and the duo’s unique gypsy latin flamenco, with acoustic to electric sound manipulation is a treat to watch. However, the standout performance on the Garden Stage for me was a cover. Seeing Tullara play John Butler’s ‘Ocean’ so passionately and skilfully literally brought a lump to my throat. The girl from Grafton is one to watch.
Inside on the main stage, Flying Machine’s punk rock was sublime, all female Perth band Legs Electric delivered a powerful performance with their hard core 70s riffs, and British India never disappoints. But the most mesmerising of the lot was Dallas Frasca. With a big voice and captivating presence, Dallas, well, rocks. I could feel the band’s guitar riffs pulsating in my feet before even entering the room. Getting Minnie Marks and Aurora Jane up on stage with her to sing ‘All My Love is Gone‘ along with the audience, her praise of her contemporaries, the song ‘You Are Beautiful‘, and acting as saleswoman for her own merch, shows that this is a generous rocker who cares about her industry and her audience.
The first day of daylight saving is always a difficult one for this Queenslander. I always turn up an hour late on that day if I have something on in NSW. The second day of the Byron Bay Guitar Festival was no exception for me. I missed The Tea Party’s Jeff Martin’s performance and had to settle for Blank GC photographer Simone’s account: he was brilliant. Da-yum!
I did catch the last half of El Dorado’s 1940s inspired old time Western steel guitar and fiddle, and managed to give myself confirmation that the Murray Cook in the band Soul Movers with Murray Cook on the Main Stage, was in fact the Red Wiggle himself. Lead singer Lizzie Mack’s deep soulful voice was, however, the real star in that band.
Sunday’s draw cards at the festival were the Byron Music marketplace and masterclasses with Lloyd Spiegal, Jeff Martin, Opal Ocean, Angus Marshall and Mike Edwards, making this very much a musicians festival. I had difficulty pulling my partner away from the drool-worthy Fenders, Yamahas and Vox amplifiers, and neither of us could resist going back to the stalls to take one more peak.
Onto the extraordinary tragi-comic performance of Nathan Kaye on the Garden Stage. This man’s talents would have to have been the most eclectic mixture at the festival. Combining didgeridoo and acoustic and slide guitar with beat-boxing was refreshing enough in itself, but his ability to entertain and connect with his audience emotionally was fearless. All this whilst having to guzzle what looked like a couple of litres of ginger nectar to ward off the flu and help him get through an emotive slide guitar rendition of U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’.
Lloyd Spiegel is a master of blues guitar and I’m convinced he is an old soul whose most recent past life was as a dirt poor slum dweller in New Orleans. He is a travelling blues troubadour with some hilarious stories to boot. Recently while playing a gig in Belgium in a venue with a brothel on the premises, the audience weren’t allowed to clap because it was putting the brothel’s clients off their game. Punters obligingly raised their hands in the air in a surreal show of appreciation at the end of his songs. The festival audience showed no such restraint. Spiegel pulled Minnie Marks up on stage and threw the simple directive “F sharp minor” at her. Before long Minnie Marks was leading in a song she’d never heard before and the audience loved it.
Ash Grunwald was equally generous at the start of his set sharing the main stage with the brilliant nine year old Taj Farrant. The Red Wiggle introduced the set, but it was obvious that this nine year old has never had much interest in kids’ entertainers. His short life thus far has clearly been imbued with blues from day one and he easily kept up with Grunwald onstage.
Outside Hussy Hicks took to the Garden Stage as the final act for the festival. Julz Parker is the gold standard in blues guitar in our region and Leesa Gentz connects perfectly with her powerful soulful vocals. Julz’ dad Greg came up onstage with his harmonica and it’s easy to see how the love of music connects family.
Guitar is a hard instrument to learn. It’s heartening to see a festival devoted to the love of the instrument and to see so much young talent sharing the love in so many diverse genres. To paraphrase Dallas Frasca at her Saturday performance, the future of guitar in Australia is in good hands.
IMAGES (c) Simone Gorman-Clark