It was the start of the Easter long weekend and many, including myself, were making the journey to Byron Bay for Bluesfest 2016.
I call it a journey because travelling to Bluesfest is all part of the experience; you arrive after an exhausting and possibly stressful road trip to enter into a world of calm and coolness.
Once there, the prospect of spending five days within these gates surrounded by food, markets, live entertainment, dreadlocks and camper chairs is superbly appealing.
Day one was spent exploring. But first, I weighed up all the possible food options I had to consider for the next five days and played a game of elimination to decide what I would feast on first. Once fed, it was time to take out my schedule, organised days in advance, to find out where I was heading first. Game on!Click here for photos from Day One.
The first band I laid eyes on at Bluesfest 2016 was Tweedy. Tweedy is a group lead by Wilco’s frontman Jeff Tweedy, who has teamed with his son, drummer Spencer Tweedy. The pair were joined by a band who provided easy-going folk-rock, which was pleasant background music to ease into the evening.Tweedy - Image © Lachlan Douglas
The on-stage banter was entertaining and the group looked very comfortable together. Jeff went solo for a time in the middle of the set, which dulled the mood slightly but showcased his effortlessly strong voice. Tweedy were a good sundown act to relax to after a long trip to get to the festival.
As the sun set and exhaustion was passing, excitement was setting in and the crowd was buzzing with delight at the night ahead. Only a few years after returning from hiatus, D’Angelo took the stage at Bluesfest 2016 for the very first time.
He strutted on stage wearing a black feather coat, which was soon discarded and replaced with various other black accessories. He scatted and grooved his way flawlessly through the performance and had the crowd eating out of his hands. There was not a still body in the tent as everyone got down and dirty.
It was a tight performance and D’Angelo showed great talent and ability swapping between guitar and keyboard; even throwing in a glissando here and there.
To finish off day one was the King himself, Kendrick Lamar. Before Kendrick had even stepped on stage, festival officials were asking the crowd to take two steps back, delaying the show until the audience settled down. Kendrick soon stepped on stage wearing a simple flannelette shirt, but had the audience in an uproar at the very sight of him.Image © Lachlan Douglas
He teased the crowd with false starts and a smile that melted hearts before finally kicking off the show with: “this Dick ain’t…” and the crowd answered: “FREE.” His rapping and freestyle was mesmerising and effortlessly artistic. The crowd sang word for word from track to track.
He took time out to give an inspirational speech saying “turn bad shit into good shit” and followed up with ‘King Kunta’. The performance had people literally climbing and swinging from the tent poles before Kendrick asked them to get down. It was an intense show but may not have appealed to the larger, older audience.
Heading into the second day of Bluesfest we were lucky enough to wake up to beautiful weather with promises of an even better day. After a labouring journey to and from the festival – I definitely recommend camping – it was time to pack in as much music as possible.Click here for photos from Day Two.
NAHKO AND MEDICINE FOR THE PEOPLE
Nahko And Medicine For The People performed a positive show with a socially-conscious message. Although their message of good will is present in their songs and live show, poor songwriting let them down as most songs were often clichéd. They were energetic and individually talented with an amazing electric-violin solo and fantastic bassist. It was an engaging and fun set.Nahko And Medicine For The People - Image © Lachlan Douglas
CITY AND COLOUR
Dallas Green took the stage later that evening under the name City And Colour and performed a polished and pleasing set. Dallas displayed evident influence from Jeff Buckley, almost mimicking his vocal style with a chilling voice and very high range.City And Colour - Image © Lachlan Douglas
It took a little while for City And Colour to settle into the set and the audience often lost interest in less popular (new) songs. Dallas performed solo part way through the set and pulled out crowd favourite ‘The Girl’.
The National finished the night and were one of the few bands to suffer from sound issues. Obviously experiencing problems with their fold back, they looked somewhat distressed but eventually got it together.
Frontman Matt Berninger had me on edge as he stumbled around the stage seeming displeased with how the set was sounding. I wasn’t sure if he was going to walk off stage, throw a drink, yell at someone or carry on; it was all part of the emotional rollercoaster ride of the performance though.Punters @ Bluesfest - Image © Lachlan Douglas
With so many great hits under their belt, The National had the audience singing along to almost each and every song as they constantly switched between instruments. It was seeing this band live that the complexity of their music became evident and human error snuck in here and there.
Matt crowd surfed on multiple occasions and eventually did actually throw a drink into the audience. He broke at least one microphone stand and tripped several times. His unpredictable behaviour meant he didn’t need to talk too much and left the audience breathless from all the excitement.
They ended with an acoustic and unamplified version of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’ as the audience sung along. It was a heart-warming and unforgettable experience.
The third day of Bluesfest started out as another beautiful but scorching hot day in Byron Bay but unfortunately ended with heavy rain after dark. It was on this day that I discovered the amazing trend of Tipsy Nachos and also tried an iced chai latte with chai ice cream: worth it.Click here for photos from Day Three.
I stopped in at one of the smaller stages to check out Pierce Brothers. I was captivated and ended up watching their whole performance. The twin brothers were performing at Bluesfest for the first time and weren’t afraid to show their excitement. The enthusiasm was pouring out of them and they became immediately lovable.
They had the audience engaged and pulled out all the stops. They could have done well to pull back a little bit because they were often playing extremely fast and over singing things but the audience were loving it. It was evident they were having some trouble with their echo microphone, but it didn’t affect their overall performance too much. With politically driven songs, a high-energy performance and massive passion, these guys should go far.
While jumping from stage to stage I managed to catch the second half of The Decemberists set and I’m very glad I did. Another hugely talented group with a massive set-up on stage including an accordion, slide guitar, double bass and more they still managed to have a great overall sound.The Decemberists - Image © Lachlan Douglas
With not a whole lot of movement on stage, The Decemberists were able to get the crowd interested but not moving, even trying to talk them through a two-step dance, to which Colin Meloy said: “That’s the worst two-step I’ve ever seen.” They ended the set being eaten by a large whale cutout.
This was my second time catching Kamasi Washington at 2016 Bluesfest. Kamasi is a multi-instrumentalist jack-of-all-trades and was joined by his outstanding band. Their set featured tracks from each artist on stage and paid credit to their mentors, including Kamasi’s dad, Ricky Washington.Kamasi Washington - Image © Lachlan Douglas
They were incredibly soulful and talented and even had a Keytar on stage. It was a set made up of solos from each musician and offered plenty of opportunity to boogie. Vocalist, Patrice Quinn, was captivating as music oozed from her body in the form of silky notes and movements.
Entering the festival on day four, the grounds were very muddy from the rain on the previous day and although many were wearing gumboots to combat the mud, many had given up on the idea of shoes before they had even started and abandoned footwear altogether.Click here for photos from Day Four.
Within two minutes of hearing Sahara Beck sing, I had chills. She performed with ease and grace and projected her strong, smooth voice that filled the tent. Her band wore matching outfits and she donned bright red pants to match her big, bright red lips emphasising her huge smile.Sahara Beck - Image © Lachlan Douglas
At just 19, Sahara recently landed her second QMusic award (Folk / Singer Songwriter) this year and after seeing her live for the first time, I now know why. She’s sweet, honest and enchanting but also strong and talented. With a very basic performance, her voice and well-written songs were all she needed to wow the audience.
As an old Ash Grunwald fan, I was eager to see him perform because I hadn’t really kept up with him in recent years. The first thing I noticed was the missing signature dreadlocks and the addition of a full band on stage with him. A few songs into the set I concluded: he’s a rock star.Ash Grunwald - Image © Lachlan Douglas
With a silky voice, aviator sunglasses hooked over his button-up t-shirt and plenty of sex-appeal, Ash drew a massive audience for a band playing in the afternoon and not on one of the main stages. He also had a surprise visit from Kasey Chambers who joined him on stage to sing (scream) for one track before Ash took over.
THE CAT EMPIRE
No strangers to Bluesfest, The Cat Empire took the stage playing like it was the last show of a farewell tour pouring their heart and soul into it. The crowd was locked in well before their set began and excitement was evident. Their show was sprinkled with solos and wrapped in energy.
Vocalist, Felix Reibl, almost missed his cue in ‘How To Explain’ but other than that there were no major errors or issues. ‘Still Young’ and ‘In My Pocket’ were definitely highlights as The Cat Empire drew energy from the devoted audience.
The stage was set-up with rainbow pinwheels resembling the artwork of newest album, ‘Rising With The Sun’. They worked well with the stage lights and were also sometimes spun which added colour and movement. The audience were left wanting more when the set came to a close.
On the final day of Bluesfest I was greeted with the overwhelming stench of mud that resembled that of a piggery. Although hard to ignore, it didn’t seem to bother anyone else and with that I sucked it up and spent the day immersing myself in bands I hadn’t heard of before; I also found time to check out some of the market stalls.Click here for photos from Day Five.
THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA
The first band I saw were The Blind Boys of Alabama. They’re a group I had never heard of before the festival and I had become very interested in their remarkable story. Sitting on stage in a line wearing golden suits, ties and aviator sunglasses, they really looked the part. Jimmy Carter lead the group telling the audience: “The Blind Boys love you” before they had even started the show.Blind Boys Of Alabama - Image © Lachlan Douglas
It wasn’t until they all sung together in four-part harmony that I was really blown away and swept up in their rich, gospel sound. Their timbre as a group was undeniably good. They were incredibly loveable and entertaining considering they only stood to sing and dance on the spot.
In complete contrast to The Blind Boys Of Alabama was Fantastic Negrito. AKA Xavier Dphrepaulezz, Fantastic Negrito put on a theatrical performance full of dancing, anecdotes and sex. The set started with the smallest audience I had seen at the festival so far, but soon grew to a decent sized crowd.Fantastic Negrito - Image © Lachlan Douglas
Xavier was overly enthusiastic and gave his all to the performance. He ran around the stage, popping and locking and directing the audience as he saw fit. There was a moment of silence for the victims of Pakistan and Xavier shared personal stories before the show continued with him declaring: “there is only one Fantastic Negrito.”
I was reluctant to see Tom Jones initially, but figured it would probably be the only time in my life I would be able to see him. So I couldn’t pass off the opportunity. By the conclusion of the set, I was left telling everyone how cool the 75-year-old pop star is. Once you found your way through the sea of camper chairs and made it into the tent, it was a really good time with a very mixed audience.
With hit after hit including ‘Delilah’, ‘Green, Green Grass Of Home’ and ‘Sex Bomb’, the crowd were going crazy. Tom often slowed some songs down, whether it was to showcase his golden voice or to give him a bit of a rest, I’m not sure, but it didn’t affect the energy in the crowd.Tom Jones - Image © Lachlan Douglas
With a small amount of feedback creeping in the overall show was pretty flawless. Tom invited The Blind Boys Of Alabama to join him on stage and also paid tribute to Elvis Presley. He even stripped off his jacket in ‘Leave Your Hat On’! It was a well-structured set that kept the audience engaged, although they were considerably less interested in his newer songs. All things considered, he’s still got it.
It was a wild and exhausting five days packed to the brim with endless live entertainment. Bluesfest offered me so much more than I thought it ever would. I flew solo and still managed to have the time of my life.Boomerang Festival - Image © Lachlan Douglas
From the music festival staples including drink tickets and port-a-loos, to Bluesfest signatures like the Boomerang Festival and high-quality big screens, Bluesfest 2016 took me on a journey and showed me experiences, people, places and music I’ll never forget.