Thirty years ago , the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival had its birth at the Arts Factory, Byron Bay. In that time the festival has changed address from Red Devil Park, and Belongil Fields, to Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm where it has had its permanent base since 2010, and has morphed into a behemoth known as Bluesfest.
The 30th anniversary always promised to be ‘HUGE’ as any good behemoth should. Choosing just a few artists each day to include in these highlights is near impossible and seeing all the artists I wanted to has been exhausting. But my feet couldn’t stop walking and dancing so here are the acts I stumbled across on Day 1:
I started the day drawn to the powerful voice of Irish Mythen in the Jambalaya tent. A beautiful, tragi-comic performance of ‘55’ was followed by ‘Jesus’, a song that embodies her baleful relationship with the dominant religion of her home country. Jesus is a woman in Mythen’s world view and she sings to her like a boisterous angel.
Next up at Jambalaya, Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody and Woodstock alumnus, kicked off with his Motorcycle song; “just wanna ride my motor sickle”. “I just wanted to get that out of the way” he said following up with folk songs sung with Bob Dylan-like vocals. It’s the 50th anniversary of the film ‘Alice’s Restaurant’, however, so a song from the soundtrack of the 1969 movie and original 1967 album was a mandatory inclusion in his set.
Mama Mihirangi & the Mareikura is a trio of proud Maori women combining traditional and contemporary music and dance in a visually stunning performance. With pitch perfect harmonies, their ancient spiritual roots combined with contemporary electronica R & B were delivered with political missives to a small crowd at Mojo.
The big sound from The War and Treaty at Delta meant I could go to the famous DOMA café stall opposite the stage and listen to their soulful blues from there. I picked up a brown rice salmon sushi because I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere near the counter in the next three days. I also managed to score a free Bluesfest canvas bag on the way (thank you Spotify girls!).
Onto Ruthie Foster at Juke Joint where the Texan chanteuse played her easy version of southern blues to a huge fan base.
Nahko and Medicine for the People didn’t disappoint at Mojo. Nahko Bear epitomises the term ‘stage presence’ delivering a highly emotionally charged performance. Watch for my interview with Nahko Bear tomorrow.
Snarky Puppy returned to Bluesfest after a two year absence. The instrumental jazz / R & B fusion band throws in a bit of electronica to defy genre pigeonholing, and gave Crossroads the feel of a New York jazz bar. They are playing three shows at Bluesfest and promised a different show each day.
Russell Morris attracted his faithful fans to Jambalaya. While most are a little elderly and sitting down in camper chairs these days, there was still a lot of sing-a-long to covers and old Morris favourites from a bygone era.
The seventies was a popular era in the Byron Music tent jam sessions too where musos performed a faithful rendition of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ to a respectable appreciative crowd.
Back at Mojo, Kurt Vile and the Violators were channeling 70s Lou Reed with a 90s grunge aesthetic. I hung around Mojo to see the hugely popular New Zealand outfit Six60. Most of their contemporary soul, alt-pop set had the adoring crowd singing along to lead singer Matiu Walters and favourites including ‘Purple’, ‘Rise up’ and ‘Rivers’.
I managed to duck over to Delta to catch the mesmerizing, powerful and hugely entertaining performance by brilliant blues musician Fantastic Negrito. Admittedly, I was drawn to the chai tent opposite Delta and was blessed with the bonus of top blues music while having a cuppa and a sit down.
Triple J hottest 100 superstars Ocean Alley were the last act at Mojo for the night and proved they are just as good live as they are in the studio.