I went to Bluesfest over Easter, in the glorious beachside settings of Cape Byron. We managed to see thirty-six bands over five days with only one dud amongst them. It was a fantastic experience.
Fly Like And Eagle.
I’ve always felt a spiritual attachment to Byron Bay, ever since a trip with friends one summer in the mid eighties. Mellow afternoons on the beach playing football, drinks with the locals at the Railway Bar, even the busloads of camera clicking tourists crowding out the lighthouse on the most easterly point of the Australian mainland contribute to the relaxed and carefree atmosphere. Needless to say, the town has changed a lot during my absence of almost thirty years and is now a thriving, bustling community of residents, surfers and visitors. Yet still the peace remains. Hippies run market stalls; buskers play sitars on the sidewalk; indigenous arts and crafts are everywhere, as is the smell of incense 😉
Mercifully, Bluesfest was situated outside of town on a farm halfway between Byron Bay and Brunswick Heads. This meant that the bands could get boisterous and the only creatures to be inconvenienced would be the magpies, kookaburras and dopey koalas. However this posed a problem for the would-be traveller – how to get there? Cape Byron is roughly eight hundred kilometres north of Sydney, which is a good days drive each way. So we weighed up the potential cost of petrol against the cheap airfares on offer and elected to fly.
Jetstar were very kind and let us out of Sydney airport with our tent, and all the other camping paraphernalia, as check in luggage. We’d paid for thirty kilograms but left with thirty-five, with no problems at the counter. Coming home was another story.
Sitting in the airport at Ballina rearranging our packed luggage for the third time was beyond ridiculous. After remonstrating with the fool on the counter that they had let us fly up with the same luggage and being told that, “Sydney shouldn’t have done that. It’s their fault and I can’t let you on the flight unless you either reduce the luggage weight or pay $150 shipping cost…” I realized that Jetstar were onto a pretty good racket.
Firstly, with a big cheesy grin like the Cheshire cat on ecstasy, they graciously allow you to leave with slightly heavier bags than you paid for. This gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling that only serves to lull you into a false sense of security, for when you try to return home they pick your pocket quicker than one of Fagin’s street urchins. Perhaps that’s how they bolster their profits from the cheap flights they sell?
If you choose not to pay the grossly over inflated shipping price then you are left with having to throw out some of your items. Hmm, perhaps the belligerent twat in Ballina was just trying to supplement his income?
Regardless of their apocryphal logic, I figured they could stick their fees in a dark and smelly orifice and chose to wear most of my clothing home. The funny thing is, Jetstar actually carried the same amount of weight home as they would if we had been allowed to leave our belongings in our bags. It was a hot trip back, but not entirely uncomfortable.
Being no stranger to music festivals I thought I knew what to expect, but I was absolutely blown away by the show.
I’m not going to review every band for you, as that would be too long and boring. Some of the music was a case of ‘you had to be there’ to get the real feel for it, but there were classics in both the old established artist category as well as the up-and-comers.
Day 1. Somebody’s Cryin’.
Upon arrival the odious task of tent erection begins. Thankfully the rain stayed offshore so we had dry ground on which to pitch our canvas Taj Mahal. Schlepping our gear from the airport to the venue was less difficult that anticipated and after a few swear words, sunburned shoulders and a mild thumb concussion from the rubber mallet, we had our accommodation for the duration.
The venue opened around 2:00pm and our senses were immediately assaulted by a cacophony of delicious aromas from the mixture of international kitchens. Cajun spices, Brazilian BBQs, Yemeni curries – saliva drooled from the corner of my mouth. We ate at a different part of the planet every day and still didn’t taste it all.
Eventually the music began and we spent the remainder of the afternoon mixing it up with Shaun Kirk, Robert Cray, Ben Harper, the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Chris Isaak. The highlight for me on day one was Trombone Shorty. Jazz, funk, rock and more horns than you could poke a tuba at, this guy had it all and shared it with the crowd for over an hour.
Finally, as the last note flew across the reed-plate of Charlie Musselwhite’s harp, we headed off to bed. Aurally, visually and digestively stimulated like a six year old who’s got stuck into the sugary soft drinks at Christmas, sleep was going to be tricky.
Tune in tomorrow for days 2 & 3.