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Here's my Bluesfest 2015 Review All!!!
Bluesfest 2015 – Day 1
Awesome turning up at Bluesfest yesterday afternoon at Media HQ with the soulful voice of Emma Donovan onstage with Diesel and Dub Collective powering through the breeze from the nearby Mojo Stage... a very soothing and grounding introduction to the vibe of this years Bluesfest, as The Moon revealed itself from behind the clouds overhead. Diesel and Dub, (featuring Radical Son, Emma Donovan, Frank Yamma, Alex Lloyd, Declan Kelly, Pat Powell and Tony Hughes) play everyday across an array of different stages except Saturday. Great to see the support of the STOP The Forced Closure of Aboriginal Communities movement on their stage shirts too. Inspirational and Powerful!!!
A great Aboriginal presence featured on the Mojo Stage kicking off with the annual Arakwal Welcome to Country, followed by Frank Yamma and of course Diesel and Dub. Considering the uncertainty of Boomerang Festival’s future (and the loss of The Indig Stage at Bluesfest), this gesture was at the same time heartfelt and powerful.
Out of the other acts I grazed on (Boy and Bear, Hozier, Augie March, Playing for Change, Jurassic 5, Playing for Change and SOJA), whilst all inspiring, it was definitely the artists on the Jambalaya Stage that touched my Spirit and captured my attention last night.
Playing for Change, a collective of souls from all over The Globe (Netherlands, South Africa, Israel, Congo, Italy, Cuba, USA and Japan) entertained the energetic crowd with masterful and uplifting renditions of soul, reggae and civil rights classics. PLAYING FOR CHANGE supports music schools and programs that are created and operated by the local community and then purposefully connect those communities around the world. Returning to Bluesfest for their third time, Playing for Change certainly connected all those enjoying the vibe last night. A definite must see for those wanting to groove and sing a long en masse. You can catch Playing for Change every day on various stages.
An unexpected highlight for me on the first night was Bluesfest virgins, SOJA. Collaborators with Michael Franti, and stage fellows of the likes of Dave Matthews Band and Damien ‘Jr Gong’ Marley, these guys hit the punters with the kind of pure raw energy that few can equal. Socially conscious in lyric, the group traversed almost every possible rhythm on the planet with complete ease, even throwing in some Lovers Rock and a touch of Crowded House too!!! Displaying superb vocals and killer percussion shared throughout the band, SOJA are one act you don’t want to miss out on seeing. See them today and also Monday (when they team up again with Michael Franti and his Soul Shine Yoga and Acoustic Jam).
Bluesfest 2015 – Day 2
2nd Day In… Into The Groove
Day two of any festival one always finds themselves hitting their strides and getting into the groove. It’s the day that the site layout starts making sense and venues, gates, car parks, food stalls etc no longer herald confusion. The punters all fall into their blissful pace and even making tracks through thousands of festivalgoers becomes a breeze, all start moving as one. The beautiful Moon that blesses the Bluesfest once again also brings a certain sense of wonder. Even the rain seems to be in sync as the intermittent showers only fall once the live acts are jumping and most people are under cover grooving, chilling and embracing the all round positive vibes of Bluesfest 2015.
Day two also allows you to get to enjoy some full sets of artists, and of course the usual grazing of acts that comes hand in hand with a festival the size of Bluesfest and the massive amount of artists to try and see. Good Friday allowed me to catch glimpses of, SOJA, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Paolo Nutini, Beth Hart, Hunter Hayes, and Playing For Change.
From the inside compound, SOJA could be heard without a doubt leading the crowd into a frenzy at The Crossroads Stage. These guys are definitely one of the unearthed highlights of Bluesfest 2015.
Beth Hart at The Mojo Stage had everyone in the palm of her hand, sweating, belting her heart out, and cussing away profusely in her beautiful raspy voice. She reminds me of that favourite Aunt everyone has, the one that lets you be yourself and do the things no one else lets you do. And man, any woman that gets up and stage and swears like a true trooper wins me over at the first “mofo”. Her special blend of ‘gutter blues’ fit really well with the punters, and seemed to relax the crowd as we all realised that yes, we are all human. Bluesfest, you did it again!!!
In between sampling food stalls, checking out the non stop parade of eye candy, fashion (and lack of), lantern parades and that Beautiful Moon, day two also brings about the opportunity for random conversations with fellow festival goers. There is genuine care and interest when being asked, “how’s your Bluesfest going?", “are you having a good time…” etc. People stop and gladly offer their assistance if they hear in passing your queries about where a certain stage is, who the act is performing there, where the best café is etc. Even the ladies relax on the second day and start cueing up with the men outside the portables, and conversations here are as real and hilarious as you can get. Perhaps by festival end we all won’t be able to contain ourselves any longer and there’ll be a funky little spontaneous free for all lovefest right there in the mud puddles (more rain is expected). Fingers crossed!!!
Two Words – Alabama Shakes. One of many most anticipated Bluesfest act, this triple Grammy Award nominated quartet formed in 2009 in Athens Alabama, and has been going strong ever since, made their Bluesfest debut in 2015. Bringing their sensual style of Rock and Roll, magnetic guitar wielding front woman Brittany Howard (a cross between Jill Scott, Skunk Anansie’s Skin, South Africa’s Sibongile Khumalo with a touch of Mavis Staples) had the mob warmly embraced. Hanging onto her every note, she in one moment took us all to the heavens with her angelic vocals, then in the next had us all balls to the wall head banging as she let loose with her axe. Awesome is an understatement. The crowd was spellbound.
The two full live sets I was blessed to have experienced on day two were of course, Bluesfest favourites, Ruthie Foster and Jimmy Cliff. Both these artists (and their first class bands) brought us back to the true and pure roots of Blues and Reggae. While many of the emerging artists on this years bill sometimes feel the need to soapbox, bandstand and prove their worth, Ruthie and Jimmy both just gave it to the punters as they always do, with supreme love and total abandon.
Ruthie Foster opened her act with a heartfelt “if you don’t mind, I’d like to began with some Praise, if that’s ok with you all…” From the first note, she carried us away with her soul-filled voice honed in Texas churches, and moved the audience to tears of ecstasy and kept us enthralled for the whole time. Ruthie’s rendition of the Johnny Cash classic RING OF FIRE, reworked in an r’n’b slow jam style was pure bliss, and even for those single guys and girls in the crowd, she made all feel the beautiful essence and wonder of true and real love. Her combustible blend of Soul, Blues, Rock, Folk and Gospel invited all ages to let down our guard and experience the full force of her Holy Spirit.
The anticipation at The Crossroads Stage was totally tangible for all waiting the onstage arrival of Uncle Jimmy Cliff and as he bounced on stage and proclaimed, “this is not work for me, this is a labour of love…”, the audience fully opened their hearts and began to get down in earnest. This Reggae phenomenon played all his classics, like‘Many Rivers To Cross’, ‘Wonderful World, Beautiful People’, ‘Vietnam’, ‘Sitting In Limbo’, ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’ and ‘The Harder They Come’. Never missing a beat and step, all dressed up in a deadly shiny silver tracksuit all at 67 years of age, The Honourable Jimmy Cliff set the pace for a nonstop Funky Reggae Party that left everyone uplifted and feeling like anything and everything is possible. All Hail Planet Earth’s 1st Global Reggae Superstar!!!
Bluesfest 2015 – The Only Place To Be
Day 3 - Saturday Night
There is definitely no better place to spend a Saturday night then at Bluesfest. For some reason it was the night to also bump into and catch up with family and friends. Such a good time, the vibe was chill, and it was awesome having the chance to hear some great music, share some great food and yarn with mob from Lismore, Ballina, Tweed, and of course the usual local suspects from Mullumbimby and surrounds.
Being the chilled Saturday night that it was, I only got around to seeing 3 live acts, The Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Hozier and The Gypsy Kings. Not bad, not bad at all.
The night started off with the party sounds of The Melbourne Ska Orchestra, led by former Bomba frontman, Nicky Bomba himself. Assembled from some of Australia’s pre-eminent names in Ska and Reggae, the soaring popularity of the Melbourne Ska Orchestra is fast cementing the group as a fixture in Australia’s musical landscape. The 26 (often stretching to 34) piece multi-ARIA nominated collective has acquired an impressive, ever-growing overseas fan base, playing iconic gigs including Glastonbury Festival and Montreal Jazz Festival, to name a but a few.
Joining the group onstage was a host of guests. Up first was Bluesfest Director, the ‘Bossman’ himself, Peter Noble, helping out on vocals for a rousing rendition of The Specials ‘Message To You Rudy’. For many it brought back memories of when these Ska legends played Bluesfest themselves back in 2012. Pat Powel, one of the vocalists from Diesel ‘n’ Dub also made an appearance, as did emerging Torres Strait Islander singer/songwriter Chris Tamwoy, who gave a supreme and honest statement about the forced closure of Aboriginal Communities, to a totally supportive and vocal crowd. I first saw Chris at Homeground last year at The Sydney Opera House, and it was so inspirational to hear him now up on stage at Bluesfest 2015 with just his words, which ended with, “It’s not a lifestyle choice for us mob to live on our traditional lands, it’s our birth right”. Respect!!!
Nicky Bomba also invited a representative from the Green Rangers to let the audience know that there were collection buckets being passed around to raise funds for The Thing Green Line Foundation. The project raises funds to purchase mosquito nets for rangers who protect wild animals from poachers in Africa. At the end of the act, from the 4 buckets that were passed around, the beautiful punters of Bluesfest 2015 donated $3000. Once again, for Nicky, and for the festivalgoers, one word – RESPECT!!!
There’s one more word that needs to be said as well about Saturday night at Bluesfest 2015 – Hozier. The Irish singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist accumulated a strong underground following through Spotify, You Tube and radio success, gathering momentum and rapidly burgeoning into international stardom. He made his Bluesfest debut on Thursday 2nd April 2015. I only caught the first few songs of his first gig so made sure I was there on Saturday to see his whole set.
It was here during Hozier’s performance that the true beauty of Bluesfest was realized, and that is the memories that are made, the emotions that are felt, and the union that is created with all. Everyone has a story…moments that make Bluesfest, the communal, to memories made with lovers, and friends and also the deeply personal, and the deeply private…this element, this precious gift is what keeps us all returning year in and year out.
From the folk I talked to before and during Hozier’s gig, all mentioned that they were waiting to hear ‘that song’, and 24 year old Hozier kept us all rocking and waiting right until the end of his set to take us to church. When he played the first few notes of his signature hit, the whole crowd went absolutely crazy, and that energy, combined with the lighting and the song itself, blew the roof right off the capacity filled tent and it felt like a full blown religious revival. Definitely one of many magical moments of Bluesfest 2015.
From Ska to Rock, my night then finished off with a big luscious hit of Flamenco with The Gypsy Kings, who let us in on the celebration of their 25th Anniversary. Not one word of English was spoken, yet that didn’t stop us all at The Crossroads Stage feeling the vibe and tradition of these magical maestros. Lucky for me, I had my own personal translator shaking his hips right beside me, and was blessed to have some of the songs explained to me, and if that failed due to the sound and screaming crowd, I just had to watch him and the many other groovers dance to know that this was pure ecstasy we were all feeling, especially so when they pulled out their hit ‘Bamboléo’. Pure magic, and as my mate put it simply, they put the Flame in Flamenco!!!
Oh, and that Stunning Moon...
Thankyou Bluesfest 2015!!!
Bluesfest 2015 Day 4
If Saturday night at Bluesfest 2015 was the night of one word descriptions, Day Four goes down in history by being the day of four words – Oh My F*%king Goddess!!!
Where else in Australia can you see the following live acts all at the same festival, all on the same night?
Here’s a quick roll call;
Diesel, Watussi, Nikki Hill, Blue King Brown, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Angelique Kidjo, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals and Mavis Staples.
We woke up the afternoon of Day 4 a little later than expected as Nanna Naps sometimes fool you when you don’t set the alarm. This set the scene for the rest of the evening as it was more a matter of just going with the flow (and really, what else does one do at Bluesfest?). With this in mind, the night laid out an eclectic and mesmerizing smorgasboard of musical taste sensations to once again graze on and that nourished and sustained the very core of us all. If only there were seconds available. Yum!!!
So here goes Day 4 in no particular order.
By chance, I had to head back to the car to grab some jackets and on the way out heard this amazing vocalist as I walked passed The Delta Stage. I kept on going to the carpark, and when I returned and stopped for a moment , I realized it was Diesel, up there on the stage all by his gorgeous self. Everyone’s favourite American-born, Australian music legend did it all one man band style last night, with just his guitar/s, harmonica, drum machine and of course that honey coated husky voice of his. Swoon…
After bursting onto the Australian live scene in 1986 as ‘Johnny Diesel & The Injectors’ and a subsequent solo career from 1991, Diesel (Mark Lizotte) still continues to bring it everytime, and the crowd was loving the trip down memory lane. I caught Johnny Diesel and The Injectors at The Arts Factory/Piggery, Byron Bay back in my early highschool days, so I, along with everyone else at The Delta Stage, was reliving times past when he broke out “Soul Revival”. With a career spanning more than 25 years, over 35 singles, 13 albums, 6 ARIA awards and record sales edging 1 million, Diesel is a journeyman of music. With blues music in his DNA, Diesel has blended styles to come up with a unique sound, punctuated with his distinct guitar playing and soulful vocals. Amongst all the spectacular international acts on hand at this years Bluesfest, it was also refreshing to be able to catch one of the last true pub circuit live Aussie acts. Wow!!!
Nikki Hill hit The Delta Stage just as I was chowing on down into a big juicy chicken burger next door at the Burger Yard. Often coined the new queen of soul, Nikki hails from North Carolina, and was influenced mostly by Little Richard. Nikki comes by her Deep South soul honestly. This blues shouter and growler is a bona-fide rock’n’roll diva that has audiences wrapped around her finger. As I was grooving in the Burger Yard, I thought to myself, imagine if Bluesfest secured Tina Turner one year. It must have been the burger, mixed with Nikki’s rock chick sweet soul style that made me wonder. We listened to Nikki’s cd on the way to Bluesfest on day 4 so it was great to be able to catch her live.
I fully love me some Watussi, the more live the more better too. I met these guys somewhere back in 2005 at Koori Radio 93.7fm Marrickville when they were just starting out on their musical journey, so I have a special spot for them on my insides! These Sydney based Afro-Latin-rockers, led by Colombian born compadre Oscar Jimenez, with their unmistakable distorted riffs and funked-up percussive rhythms brought to Bluesfest 2015 a dance extravaganza with new exotic South American rhythms to celebrate the band’s 10 year anniversary. The last few years have seen the group support performances with acts such as Santana, Earth Wind & Fire, Seun Kuti, Manu Chao. These brothers need to be booked for Mardi Gras and have their own float!!!
Mavis Staples shared on stage, "We must all work towards peace, because without peace and equality society cannot move on and become better,". This really set the scene for her live set. It made me think about all the acts at Bluesfest, and that while many of the younger generation of groups sprout peace, unity, freedom etc, profusely, sometimes even stopping their set to explain the virtues of the struggle, other acts such as the legendary Mavis Staples was there in the frontline and embeds her music with the very essence of what the youth Bluesfest acts very rarely encounter. Grammy Award winner MAVIS STAPLES was voted as one of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll, and Rolling Stone listed her as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. MAVIS STAPLES is the real deal. In her 67-year career – from her ground-breaking family gospel group – THE STAPLES SINGERS ‘I'll Take You There’, ‘Respect Yourself’, ‘If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)’ and on her own, MAVIS STAPLES is responsible for blazing a Rhythm & Blues trail, while never relinquishing her Gospel roots and it is now that her star is shining brightest. Mavis Staples has publicly stated that Bluesfest is her favourite festival of all time. The crowd went wild (in a very self respectful way) when this inspirational 75 year old Aunty belted out the her song ‘Respect Yourself’. The lady don’t lie!!
It would not be a real Bluesfest experience without the next act, BKB, another band with a strong social message who started their career jamming in the streets of Byron Bay over a decade ago. Lead singer Natalie Pa'apa'a offered a clear message for her audience.
"Our music is dedicated to the Aboriginal people of this country and of all nations, because they know what is like to be alienated by a system that does not work for us, that needs to be changed," she said.
The message '#sosblackaustralia' was projected into the stage's background during their show a number of times, referring to the campaign against the possible closing of remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.
"Australia is the only country in the world that did not sign a treaty with its Aboriginal people after colonization," said Pa'apa'a.
BKB also invited Yirrmal Marika up onstage to perform Yothu Yindi’s Djapana and Treaty, which made the crowd go absolutely wild. For a local (my Grandfather was born at Tyagarah, where Bluesfest is held), Aboriginal South Sea Islander like myself, it always blows my mind when Aboriginal culture is embraced by the masses with such Respect and Love. Awesome!!!
I have been blessed to see ANGÉLIQUE KIDJO, Grammy Award winner, tireless campaigner for women’s health and education in Africa, a UNICEF Peace Ambassador and also, with a 20 year discography, 12 albums and thousands of concerts around the world, a gifted performer and prolific songwriter, many many times (in South Africa, Sydney, Melbourne and at Bluesfest 2 or 3 times). This woman never fails to impress me live, and as always gets the mob up and dancing. Her no nonsense style of interacting with the punters whilst on stage is very old school, and her pride as an African woman is undeniable. Last night at The Crossroads Stage, Anjelique had the tent packed and up dancing all the way through her act. Even the lantern paraders couldn’t help but come in and proceed up and down the aisles. Such is the magnetism of this amazing woman.
Rodrigo y Gabriela, the internationally acclaimed Mexican acoustic rock guitar duo who have won the hearts of many Australians music fans (including all of us at Bluesfest) are returning with their unique instrumental blend of Rumba Flamenca including elements of Rock, Metal, Jazz and World music. Rodrigo y Gabriela will also be bringing their latest release and first studio album in five years with them; 9 Dead Alive.
Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero have been playing together for more than fifteen years. First as young Thrash Metal fans in their native Mexico City, then as innocents abroad and street musicians in Dublin, Ireland at the turn of the millennium, and finally as the globe-straddling, film-scoring, record-breaking artists they are today including career sales in excess of 1.5 million albums, and sold out tours worldwide including headlining at London's Wembley Arena, just two weeks before they played Bluesfest 2015.
Rodrigo y Gabriela are known for their exhilarating live shows, the extraordinary interplay between Sanchez’s fiery lead lines and Quintero’s phenomenal rhythmic battery, creates a sound which is truly universal. It was liberating to be able to experience music without lyrics, and it was so cool to see the capacity filled Mojo Stage audience getting right behind this dynamic duo. Their appeal is boundless, their scope limitless, and the music timeless, we were all wowed by Rodrigo y Gabriela at Bluesfest. Footstomping galore was going down at this pefomance, in and out of the mud. Big Fun Indeed!!!
The much anticipated reunion of BEN HARPER & THE INNOCENT CRIMINALS at Bluesfest on Easter Sunday (April 5) went down into history as one of the major events on the 2015 Festival calendar. It was the bands ONLY performance in Australia. When brother Ben hit the stage, there were still people coming into the greater Mojo compound. An artist such as Ben Harper and his music needs to be heard as far and as wide as possible.
Another amazeballs evening of great music, vibes and company.
After a beautiful night under The Moon and experiencing great live music, beautiful hearted people and awesome food, as I walking out of the festival site proper I turned and said to my mate, “wouldn’t it be good if the world was like this all the time”, then quickly shifted focus and added, “in fact I take that back, ‘cos if the world was like this all the time, we wouldn’t appreciate it’.
Oh, and did I mention that Stunning Moon...
Bluesfest 2015 - Day 5
One word – SOULSHINE
Day 5… what a trip, what a party. Speechless, but here goes.
James T, Diesel, Declan Kelly presents Diesel ‘n’ Dub feat. Emma Donovan, Radical Son, Pat Powell & Tony Hughes, Blue King Brown, Paul Kelly presents The Merri Soul Session feat. Dan Sultan & Vika/Linda Bull + Kira Puru, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Michael Franti & Spearhead + Michael Franti’s SOULSHINE feat. Yoga/ Acoustic Jam and Sahara Beck…
The Sun certainly joined the party on the final day of Bluesfest 2015, coinciding with my first experience of the day, Michael Franti’s SOULSHINE. Kudos to Bluesfest for including this in the schedule. While I only made it on time to experience the last OM and acoustic jam, the message transmitted on the highest possible frequency from Michael and crew was priceless. Namaste.
James T at The Juke Joint. This fulla is the kind of guy you’d feel right at Home having a yarn to out the back of The Nudgel Pub on a Sunday arvie. Being given the opportunity to learn a bit of Blues History was awesome. James Thornbury, dubbed "James T" in his coffee house days, is an Ohio-born blues and folk journeyman and Bluesfest favourite, returning to Bluesfest after ten long years! Widely known as the front man for ten years with Canned Heat, James’ blues/folk career spans over an impressive forty years. It was a rare opportunity for dedicated blues fans to see one the greats with a truly inspiring story and legendary blues catalogue. He explained and played a 100 year old song, and took us all on a journey of discovery and heartfelt good old down home emotion. Stunning.
At The Delta Stage, I was lucky enough to catch up with some Cuzzies and enjoy some Diesel again. People of all persuasions were up and grooving in their very special personal styles, especially so when he pulled out “Right On the Tip of My Tongue”…hmmmm, indeed.
I finally got the chance to catch a bit of Diesel ‘n’ Dub as well which was a blessing. Man, that team really brought it all Home, and the power, strength and unity of the message hit us all. Being able to dance and sing to that message at the same time made it all the better. Power to The People!!!
Paul Kelly and The Merri Soul Sessions took us all to our happy place, even for us all watching from outside the tent on the video screens. There was a real family feeling outside under The Moon, partly due to the fact of Paul’s laidback vibe. His guests, especially Vika and Linda, Kira Puru and Dan Sultan was an added bonus. An awesome set.
After all that relaxing, it was time for me to hit Funky Town, and man, did I ever. I must have danced non-stop for close to 2 hours to George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic. As I entered the enclosure of The Mojo Stage, I made a commitment to myself to not let this opportunity pass, and came out the other side like I’d been for a dip in The Pacific. One guy even came up to me mid-krump and said, “man, you really hit the Spirit hard Brother…” What else could I do? Dr. George Clinton is one of the most sampled musicians on the planet (or off it !!!) and has worked alongside Tupac, Primal Scream, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Snoop Dog, Outkast, Wu Tang Clan, Carlos Santana, Redman and so many others as collaborator or producer….George and crew kept going until festival close and from later news I heard they had to be dragged off stage right at the end. That’s The SPIRIT!!! 2 days later I’m still limping from dancing. Awesome.
My Bluesfest 2015 experience was made whole by the final act I saw this year, Michael Franti & Spearhead. By this time, I was spent and open to all that Michael had to share. The mix of Soulshine and Moon Shine melded perfectly. Such a beautiful man, inside and out.
All up over five days, the amount and diversity of acts I saw is unbelievable, the Spirit ignited indescribable, except if you can see inside my heart and consciousness. Bluesfest is one festival I highly recommend everyone get to at least once. Leave all your problems behind and enjoy yourself!!! You are all so worth it!!!
Here's to #Bluesfest2017