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BluesFest 2012 Review

By Mel McQueen & Phil Sheather

(All Photography by Phil Sheather)

Day 1

After hitting the road for 11 hours then a 20 minute circuit looking for our camping site (in the dark), we finally arrived at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, Byron Bay for Bluesfest.

Our first act of the day My Morning Jacket was the perfect antidote for our weariness. Their sound was absolutely incredible and singer Jim Jones vocals were faultless. Definitely raised the roof of the bigtop with a performance that would stay with us for days to come.

Cold Chisel rocked the crowd with endless singalongs the boys looking in form for a tour and finished a short but great evening leaving us revved up for the coming days.

Day 2

We awoke to a blistering sun beaming down on our campsite, this was our incentive to trek into Bryon Bay for an early morning dip.

Now this may sound like a spoilt child eating one cupcake and wanting another —but our only criticism for the Bluesfest is that the bus service didn't begin their scheduled runs to Bryon until 1030—which meant long queues for the first buses and waiting around for taxis bound for Byron. In turn that early morning swim, bit shopping or supplies mission had to wait until 1030. The General Store on the camping grounds isn't really sufficient for all your camping needs, however a great initiative.

Mid-afternoon we saw, at the Jambalaya stage, David Bromberg's first performance for the weekend he played out his soulful mix of blue grass and folk.

Passing by the Crossroads stage I managed to listen in on The Backsliders (Rob Hirst and Dom Turner) thumping out some rootsy beats.

At the Mojo stage, the order of the day was high energy beginning mid afternoon with the G3 showman Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Steve Lukather displaying much dexterity across their fretboards with their jam seesion. Sublime with Rome got the crowd skanking up the party with their California ska—there wasn't a pair of feet in the house that wasn't in joyous flight. Later at Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave blasted some cracking tunes including a cover of  Nirvana's 'In Bloom'.

The tidal crowds ebbed and flowed into the Mojo bigtop for the much anticipated live show from The Specials. The lads bounced across the stage stomping out 'Monkey Man' 'Too Much Too Young', 'Nite Club' and the classic 'Rudy. A Message To You'.

Buddy Guy shinned with some smooth blues showing the crowd why he's still at the top of his game. "I'm gonna play somethin' so funky you can smell it". A truly amazing guitarist  and entertainer. Buddy Guy is the man, an intoxicating performer.


Day 3

Another sweltering morning sent us to bath in the waters of Bryon Bay. We returned, bound for Seasick Steve late in the afternoon.

Although Seasick Steve's first 10 minutes was riddled with sound issues. With wine in hand a cheery face and a good ol' yarn he managed to appease the crowd's appetite for his rootsy sound venturing down into the pit to shake festival goers' hands.

Once the sound desk flicked the on button, infamous bassist John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin)  joined him on stage for most of his set, later he then pulled a young lady (Alisse) from the crowd, and serenaded her with a lullaby. Just when we thought he had reached the heights of entertainment— appearing on stage to close the set, with a jointly written track was Wolfmother.

As the sun set for the evening at the Jambalaya stage, Justin Townes Earl lulled the crowd to songs from his new album and built up the pace in his set to play the popular track 'Memphis in The Rain'.

His father Steve Earl had the crowd mesmerized with his whiskey soaked vocals—a consummate storyteller in song —it was easy to tell the favorites by the cheers from the audience.

Ziggy Marley brought reggae to the main stage and lit up the room with his bright smile, playing a mix of tracks from his latest album Wild & Free.  Ziggy also channelled his father and sang some classics like 'No Woman No Cry'.

Brian Setzer Rockabilly Riot swung into action, although it wasn't the sound desk's day with earlier set backs reappearing however that did not deter Setzer from providing an effervescent performance for the masses. He also brought to the stage some members of the Stray Cats.

John Fogerty promised to play Credence Clear Water tracks, and passionately he did. Playing out Cosmo' Factory entirely on Friday night (and Green River on Saturday) he had the crowd in awe of his energetic performance.

Day 4

Being that this was our last day at Bluesfest we were determined to maximize our listening experience we set out early.

Yann Tiersen started our day off with wandering guitars washing over a dreamy synthesized soundscape—familiar to the french outfit M83 but very much his own flavour.

The timing of his performance the day before was the perfect soundtrack for when the afternoon breeze sweeps the heat away. At times Tiersen's music was thought provoking, sending the audience inward. And, at other times throughout the set, we were disrupted by the melodic chaos of an inspired performance.

Mama Kin lifted the Mojo stage mid afternoon with an adoring crowd.  Setting the mood Mama Kin gave way for the anticipated debut at Bluesfest for Busby Marou. Drawing an expansive crowd with their silky smooth harmonies and blistering guitar solos.The boys elated the audience when they performed their cover of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"  with the audience singing along. A great applause was heard for the lads successful debut at Bluefest. This is one band to watch if you get the chance.

Angelique Kidjo is right when she says "I'm so happy when I'm on stage." Both the times I caught her live act, a glimpse on Saturday, you could feel her warmth through - not only her smile but also her song.

Eagle & The Worm packed out the APRA tent with an enthusiastic crowd bopping to their upbeat live show. Highlights in the set were the seductive track "Too Young"  and the popular carnival of sound that is "All I Know".

Slightly Stoopid gave us a blues/reggae and hiphop inspired show, delivering some fun tracks to a familiar audience as seen at the Sublime set two days earlier....

26 piece Melbourne Ska Orchestra brought the word orchestra to another level. Nicky Bomba (drummer of John Butler Trio) conducting the band and at times the crowd, playing them off against each other. Their live show is a must see with a big band sound and contagious ska classics.

A regular on the Bluefest line up, The John Butler Trio, didn't hold back with a solid two hour performance. The Trio's live act is sharp and very much a family affair with Bulter's wife Daniella (Mama Kin) joining them on stage for a couple of tracks. You definitely feel the Trio's passion for their music as they played out the popular "Better Than" and Pickapart". It was the perfect act to close our festival experience.

One thing you are guaranteed at Bluefest is good times and relaxation. The laid-back atmosphere is probably why families return to the festival year after year.

This year Byron Bay and Bluefest certainly turned on the bright lights, tip top weather, an abundance of old and new music, Kofka balls, organic donuts and free hugs.