In 2018, I visited Bluesfest as part of a small community radio contingent and with the biggish sports carnival being planned up in the big smoke, I unfortunately couldn’t spare the full five days to experience the event’s comprehensive schedule. Bluesfest has always been a wonderful opportunity for a few local Gold Coast acts to build their fan bases and it’s been great to see the programming team cut deals to include SEQ bands, and performers from the Gold Coast in the schedule each year. This year was no different, with Little Georgia, Hussy Hicks, Tay Oskee, the Hanlon Brothers and Harry J Hart – all linked in various ways to the Coast – getting opportunities to show off their latest material and stagecraft at the biggest blues festival in Australia.
But it’s not just about the Gold Coast. So here’s my seven highlights of the event, in ascending order, to whet your appetite for next year’s Bluesfest 30th birthday party. You really do need to get a ticket in advance for at least one day, if not the whole event. Be assured it will be an experience you’ll remember forever.
- Gold Coast artist Rebecca Cunningham paints guitar cases. Really, really well. Amongst other disciplines of course, Cunningham executes her artistic prowess, but at Bluesfest she plied her trade at the Byron music tent and on Delta Stage with the impressive busking comp winners from the Sunny Coast “Sametime”. Mixing art and music was a fun highlight, with a Sunny/Gold Coast sibling twist.
- Hailing from Northern Ireland, Ryan McMullan’s voice knocked my socks off. His Jambalaya Stage set was super, which we checked out on a tip from (Brothers Calling) Ash Perrow’s sister, and I’ve no doubt his melancholy tunes backed by his powerful voice have many a festival yet to play in his yet relatively young career.
- Who doesn’t love the funky vibes that Burleigh boys Hanlon Brothers bring? Their stage show has found new feet, and a few new band members, without compromising their audience engagement. Highlight song of the festival might have been the improv piece “Beer Goggles” from Friday’s performance. Classic!
- I love Prince’s music. You just have to dance and move your body. His band of more than two decades, New Power Generation, delivered an awesome homage to the music and had everyone singing the Samuel L Jackson version of the Bible on Good Friday evening, with love expressed in a variety of colourful and meaningful ways.
- Following on from an uplifting set from the California Honeydrops, Jose Gonzalez was one of my drawcards for the festival and I loved his laid back tunes, many of which everyone knew and they sang religiously along. A few in my row indicated surprise that he didn’t look very Swedish, but as I closed my eyes I found my mind settling and chilling out to his mindful and sensitive lyrical sermons on how the world might be a better place if we focussed on working together, responsibly, backed by his rhythmic guitar picking. I loved his performance.
- I’ve seen the Hussy Hicks play quite a number of times now. But this concert was different. Whether it was the green button Julz lamented she had pressed on the second song, or whether the stars just aligned at that moment, HH’s Sunday set at the Juke Joint was the best I’ve ever seen them play, and if not for the otherworldly performance of Etheridge, would have been my festival highlight. Leesa voice was magic, Julz finger picking amazing, and the electricity on stage was palpable. The Gold Coast stalwarts picked up new fans that day for sure, and a Cairns festival producer standing next to me commented that she’d be in contact to book them for her Atherton tablelands event later this year. Nice!
- Somebody really did need to bring Melissa Etheridge some water by the end of her set. She changed up some dozen guitars, including a few incredible looking 12 strings, communicated energy and enthusiasm throughout her performance and saved the best for last with a passionate performance two hours in of “Like the Way I Do” that had punters young and old wondering what had happened. Melissa Etheridge was the queen of the festival in my eyes. She just nailed it. Or possibly brought the dead to life, given it was Easter Sunday not Good Friday we saw her. If you have an opportunity to see Etheridge, perhaps in the now-twilight of her career, get a ticket. You won’t be disappointed.
See you next year, Bluesfest.
IMAGE (c) Danny Santangelo