It was an uncertain crowd in the Mojo tent on Bluesfest’s second day, as the banner raised off the back of the stage broadcast the name of a band many wouldn’t expect on the lineup: Switchfoot. Within minutes of the band’s arrival on stage, frontman Jon Foreman, had expressed genuine excitement about being at the festival as well as a deep satisfaction that he’d had a chance to surf the Gold Coast’s famous break at Snapper Rocks.
Cue Australian hospitality. “This guy’s just got out of the surf. He’s one of us.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Foreman vaults the foldback speakers and crowd barriers and proceeds to greet the crowd face to face with high-fives and handshakes, to the delight of unsuspecting punters who’d turned up at 1.30pm (a bit early by Bluesfest standards) to see who was playing “the big tent”. All of a sudden, the crowd is connected.
Switchfoot are multiple Grammy Award winners who made their name, albeit possibly reluctantly, in the contemporary Christian music (CCM) scene. A few mainstream hits along with inclusion on a few high profile movie soundtracks ensured that even when commercial radio decided their tunes didn’t fit the playlist, they connected with their audience in other ways. Like when they nailed over a million YouTube hits for Awakening in only three months back in early 2007, despite the abandonment of the release by commercial radio. Clearly, with nine albums and a hectic several decades of touring, they know their craft, and it’s evident on stage.
Acknowledging the band’s possible anonymity at Bluesfest, Foreman jokes early on in the gig, “I understand if you don’t know the words to our songs, but I want you to know Tom Petty”, as they launch into a Petty classic. The crowd responds encouragingly. Foreman takes a moment soon after to tell a story of his daughter who, twelve months earlier while the band was on tour here in Australia, developed a condition that required a few troubling long-distance phone conversations with neurologists. The tour was cut short and Foreman invites the crowd to share his joy that his daughter is now well and that this time in Australia, one year later, is a celebration. Introducing an acoustic version of Hello Hurricane, as the band huddle around one microphone centre stage, there are tears amongst the crowd.
As the set begins to draw to a close, Jon announces that his little bass-playing brother Tim gets to pick the next song and, to the delight of the now sweaty crowd, encourages everyone to embrace and link arms and sway to Bill Withers’ classic, Lean On Me. Later in an interview, Tim would note that Withers is at the festival, prompting that song selection.
With the audience now fully engaged and anticipating a big finish, Jon doesn’t disappoint, again jumping into the crowd and climbing the tent’s supporting frame not far from the sound desk. Exclaiming “the view’s pretty good up here” mid-song, he eventually finds his way back to the stage and the band finish up with the well-known Dare You To Move, to cheers from a considerable number of new fans.
While an unexpected inclusion on the Bluesfest lineup, Switchfoot adapted to the crowd well and delivered an early surprise with an energetic set in a very impressive Mojo tent schedule on the second day of the Byron Bay festival.