Blues, Bog, Beers and Beards – al niente

Time to re-string that guitar and wind down with the coda to my Bluesfest review. For those that want a refresher here are the Crescendo and Fortissimo Possibile.

Day 4. Slip Slidin’ Away

One of my favourite newbies were the King Cannons. With a raw and edgy sound and a style reminiscent of early Bruce Springsteen, they were the perfect way to start our Sunday. Lead singer Luke Yeoward kept the crowd enthralled for over an hour with soulful stories of hardship, interspersed with a little fun and frivolity. Backed up by a brilliant ensemble of musicians, the King Cannons were one of my favourite bands at Bluesfest.

Grey Ghost kept the vibe alive with his unique sound. A fusion of Aussie hip-hop, blues and rock, Grey Ghost was fresh and inspiring.

Next we parked our butts at the Crossroads stage to catch three highly recommended artists in a row. Firstly we mellowed out with Allen Toussaint and his special brand of R&B. According to his bio Allen Toussaint has worked with legendary musician such as Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Paul Simon – the list goes on.  After listening to him singing and playing the piano for half an hour I could see why.

Following Allen was Jon Anderson, the former front man from the band Yes. Unfortunately he was awful. A large stage such as Crossroads deserved more than a high voice and acoustic guitar. Bacon and egg gossip the following day centered on how bad his performance was to use the words of one ex-fan,

“How dare he show up at a venue like this and not bring a band!”

Fortunately Roger Hodgson from Supertramp managed to rescue the evening. With classics such as ‘Give a Little Bit’, ‘Breakfast in America’, ‘Dreamer’ and ‘The Logical Song’ part of his repertoire Roger was always bound to please. However, it was the opening track of ‘Take The Long Way Home’ that caused my eyes to well up.

I was standing around the shower block the next day with a bunch of guys waiting to wash and we were discussing the bands we had seen. One fellow with a Chopper Read mustache, the scarred and battered body of a street brawler, and a huge collection of skull tattoos, admitted to everyone there that he had tears streaming down his cheeks when Roger Hodgson played. One by one the rest of the men that saw the show confessed to the same feelings. It was truly a sublime performance and a touching tale of male bonding 😉

The Bamboos entertained us over dinner but it was Xavier Rudd’s didgeridoo that got us back in the groove. The Lumineers had everyone singing ‘Ho Hey’ by the end of their performance and The Australian band, Cat Empire sent us to bed hyped for the final day.

Day 5. Right Next Door

One of the best things about this particular festival is that the stages are within such a close proximity to each other and the campsite is right outside the entrance. So when it rains, which it inevitably does in a part of Australia with an average April precipitation of 188.5mm, its nice to be able to move around with getting permanently soaked. Our transparent plastic ponchos also aided in maintaining dryness, until the sun came out and you started to sweat, then it was like wearing your own personal sauna.

One thing no one could avoid though was the mud. It’s amazing how much muck can be made from the incessant trampling of over 208,000 feet. In the paddocks you could hear the sucking vacuum of people desperately trying to extricate their limbs from the tar pit. On the road kids with gumboots splashed in the dirty puddles, spraying bemused passers by in diluted sludge.  With a thick, pungent aroma of livestock and farmland, the sticky black glop coated fellow festivalians from the soles of their feet to the tip of their dreadlocks.

After a quick shower and a breakfast of locally grown fruit we hit the festival for our final hurrah. The Mason Rack Band set the Apra Stage on fire with driving guitar, energetic rock and a percussion piece performed by three band members with drum sticks and beer kegs, we could tell that Bluesfest was not going go quietly into the night.

The gentler soulful surf music of Current Swell and the raunchier tunes from London siblings Kitty, Daisy and Lewis, helped us digest a late lunch of Yemeni vegetarian curry.

The Royal Southern Brotherhood raised the tempo several notches with some savage slide guitar. Soldiers of Jah Army, SOJA for short, introduced us to a bluesy form of reggae that was as unique as it was impressive but the best was yet to come.

Headline act Paul Simon strolled onto the stage at 8:15pm to rapturous applause. It had been twenty-five years since I first heard the album Graceland but when Paul sang ‘Diamonds on the Soles if Her Shoes’ it felt like only yesterday. For almost two hours he entertained us with hit after hit that not only saw Julio go back to school, but also discussed his mother’s kleptomania when she decided to steal his Kodachrome away. Even ‘The Boxer’ made an appearance, bringing sniffles from the crowd. My only disappointment was that Chevy Chase didn’t reprise his role as Betty and call Paul Simon Al 😉

It was late in the evening when Paul Simon finished his set and we were now on the downward slide. Time for one last band so we selected the Melbourne Ska Orchestra to finish the festival. These guys were epic! Horns, keyboards, bongos, double bass, and a stage with about a million musicians on it, sent the crowd home on the right note.

It was over. We were exhausted! And we were very, very happy.

Day 6. Big Yellow Taxi

Actually it was a rickety old bus with squeaky breaks and spongy suspension that drove us to the airport on Tuesday morning. We were tired and the post Bluesfest blues were just beginning, so I was thankful that we managed to fold the tent up and fit it in its miniscule carry bag in only four attempts.

Unfortunately the cloning of human beings is still banned in Australia otherwise I would have had three of me at the festival. You see, for every great band we saw there were one or two we missed. Counting Crows, Jason Mraz, Jimmy Cliff, Bonnie Raitt, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Mark Seymour and the Undertows – to name but a few.

I had forgotten to shave for the duration of the festival and had a face full of fuzz to contend with. With black, grey, red, brown and ginger whiskers I looked like I had sucked on a sticky sweet and kissed a molting tabby cat. But as the Beards always say, if your dad doesn’t have a beard, you’ve got two mums.

It’s been three weeks now since my first Bluesfest experience and my feet are still dirty. Some mornings I wake up wondering whether the sparseness of the foliage on my face means I should keep my goatee or go back to baby smooth. I guess that’s what they call a first world problem 😉

Oh well, peace, love and mungbeans gang.

Blues, Bog, Beers and Beards – Fortissimo Possibile

Grab your capos and lets go allegro for part two of my Bluesfest review! For those that missed it, here’s the crescendo.

Day 2. It’s Raining Again.

One of the problems camping on site with no mode of transportation is that you become somewhat marooned and reliant on the venue organisers to provide early morning vittles. The Bluesfest General Store served hot coffee, fruit juices and scrumptious bacon & egg rolls to hungry campers every day. Sitting in the sun with other bleary-eyed members of the great unwashed was the perfect way to meet people and pass the time waiting for the show to begin. We received some excellent recommendations for bands to see, and offered the same back. Other topics of discussion were the inevitable Bluesfest rumours. Would Bruce Springsteen show up? What about Neil Young? In the end they were only that – rumours, but we had fun pondering the possibilities.

When the gates opened at midday we were first in line. I headed straight to the Berocca tent for a free pick me up before checking out the local vendors. Hats, boots and clothing in leather, hemp, and cotton, the styles ranged from urban cowboy through laid-back vegetarian and onto steam-punk aficionado. We even sampled some of the locally produced beef jerky, which provided both a chewy chili flavor explosion with exercise for your jaw.

With a drink in hand we wandered in to watch ladies favourite, Seth Lakeman, set female hearts a-fluttering with boyish charm and a mean fiddle. The stage bounced high. The girls bounced higher. After an hour of dancing we crept off to slow our afternoon down with some contemporary blues from the Taj Mahal Trio. Soulful, mellow and brilliant are the best words to describe a polished performance from the elderly statesman of blues. I left the show early though to go see a young Hawaiian kid called Jake Shimabukuro who promised to play a version of The Beatles ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ on ukulele. He did so after covering The Eagles ‘Hotel California’ and it was pretty good.

FeetsIn the evening we caught up with Joan Armatrading, the Steve Miller Band and Santana. Joan’s voice was as powerful that night as it was early on in her career and Santana fingers glide along the fret board in such an effortless manner it almost looks too easy. But my personal fave was the space cowboy. Steve Miller played all his old hits from the seventies, note perfect, and had the crowd pumped. Everybody sang from the tone deaf to the happy drunk.

The rain arrived in time with Steve Miller and Bluesfest became bog-land. That didn’t quench the fun though. People splashed and danced in the puddles, often losing their thongs in the mud as they squelched from one stage to another.

Fred Wesley’s trombone was the last sound we heard as we headed back to the tent.

Day 3. Trampled Underfoot

On Saturday we awoke feeling somewhat stodgy and decided to take a run into Byron town. A four kilometre jog to the beach ended with an ominous incoming tide, but we figured we could make it. We were wrong. With the township in sight we were forced off the beach by hip high waves that were not getting any smaller. Thankfully the people whose backyard we invaded, didn’t own a ferocious dog.

After doing the typical touristy things like visiting the lighthouse, looking for dolphins and wandering the provincial markets, it was time to head back to Bluesfest for some mellifluous tones.

We stretched out our picnic blanket at the back of Mojo stage and began the afternoon with white wine and Wilco. With a catalogue of alternative rock classics stretching back to the mid nineties, Wilco had something for everyone. And everyone enjoyed them, in spite of the fact that not many new the words.

StoogesStatus Quo got the older hippies pumped and bopping. They were ok, but Australia produced better rock in the 70’s thanks to bands like the Angels, Billy Thorpe, Daddy Cool and ACDC, to name just a few. The best thing about Status Quo’s performance is you could guarantee there would know at least one song to sing along to. I knew several, yet was disheartened to hear them play the Coles supermarket tune 😉

The Blind Boys of Alabama were….well….not good. But Robert Plant was exceptional. Not much in the way of Led Zeppelin in his playlist, but tons of good tunes nonetheless.

Iggy and the Stooges rounded out the evening and I have to say, for a withered old Egyptian mummy, he sure can belt out a song. I don’t think the audience was quite ready to open up a vein as Iggy suggested though 😉

Come back Friday for the espressivo encore to Blues, Bog, Beers and Beards!

Blues, Bog, Beers and Beards – Crescendo

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.

koalaI’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.

Event Site MapSitting 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.