Bluesfest has long held a special place in my heart. From the ‘come one come all’ mentality to the stellar line-up of musicians featured every year, this festival is home for many people. This year the Byron Bay Bluesfest celebrated its silver anniversary, twenty-five years, and the line-up reflected this. With headliners like John Mayer, Jack Johnson, John Butler Trio, Erykah Badu, Dave Matthews Band, Matt Corby and Buddy Guy, there was no way this festival could disappoint.
Mingling with these shining stars were newcomers and old favourites like Passenger, Gary Clark Jr, Michael Franti & Spearhead (pictured), Joss Stone, Tim Rogers and the list is almost endless.
Bluesfest is definitely one of the best Australian festivals in regards to organisation, facilities, green thinking and atmosphere. The festival is all ages and it’s not unusual to see families strolling along next to the gaggle of twenty-somethings, who’re racing between the bar and the stages. All manner of stalls are strewn along at convenient points to peddle everything from clothing to food. One standout this year was the ever-present Byron Bay Organic Donuts stall, which was being praised by punters and artists alike.
This year there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the winds cooled down the wandering hoards, and as the sun set over tents and the strains of music filled the air there wasn’t a place I would rather be for Easter. Everyone who attends Bluesfest, whether it is as an artist or audience, feels like family and this was evident with the amount of last minute guest performances that occurred. Friday saw D-Kazman from Dubmarine jump up with local lads Tijuana Cartel, Saturday Joss Stone graced the stage with Jeff Beck and Sunday had Bernard Fanning making music with Kasey Chambers.
As an aside, the list of artists (both on the lineup and in town as punters) who left Bluesfest to visit the Bentley Blockade, just an hour down the road was also astounding. John Butler, Mama Kin, Nicky Bomba, Nahko and Medicine for the People, Declan Kelly, Hussy Hicks, Nat from Blue King Brown and Luke Vasella all threw their weight behind the Bentley Protectors during the Bluesfest weekend.
But back to Bluesfest. Every year I find myself surprised by an artist, discovering something new to treat my ears with and happily impressed with a true favourite; and this year was no different. Slipping through the thousands of people packing out the Mojo tent Sunday night I found myself at Passenger. Anyone who has been to Bluesfest knows that this is the main and largest stage and at 5:45pm on a Sunday I could barely get myself near the front. This single man with his guitar managed to silence the entire audience as he performed and was so effusively thankful it was beautiful. His crowd interaction was hilarious, tailor-made to Bluesfest and entirely endearing!
I was lucky enough to catch Devendra Banhart on Saturday, never having heard any of his music, I found myself carried away in the sweetness of his lyrics. His songs were heartfelt and beautiful and this is one act I am so grateful to have discovered, with a little help from my friends.
Someone whose music I am no stranger to, but who impressed no less, was Matt Corby. The man has had his detractors, and a lot of people questioned why I was going to see someone ‘commercial’. Well to you I say ‘you missed out’. As one doubtful person put it, after being converted by his performance, ‘I get the hype now’. He is a true singer/songwriter and the control he exhibits over his voice is astounding. While I may have had to fight my way through a throng of screaming seventeen year olds, there were plenty of other people who were there to witness his spectacular performance.
With such a stellar line-up choosing a highlight is too difficult. From the smooth crooning’s of CW Stoneking, to the jaw-dropping performance by Erykah Badu, Bluesfest outdid itself this year!
While there may have been a slight amount of bleeding between the stages, you come to expect that with festivals of this size, and thankfully this year the lines for the bars and toilets were manageable. While controversy circulated in relation to the wearing of native headdresses as sport by punters who couldn’t claim the history, overall this was one of the best experiences I have had at a festival in a long time.
Bring on Bluesfest 2015!
Photo: Gina Martin