The 30th anniversary of Byron Bay’s Bluesfest, held the Easter long weekend, was a grand celebration of the festival’s long-standing legacy: love for music.
The line-up felt like a get-together of headline acts who have played and befriended Bluesfest over the years. Some who have created cornerstone moments in their early careers. While for others, Bluesfest symbolises a stronghold where the fire of the blues, rock & roll, soul, punk and funk is still being celebrated and kept alive.
Safe to say that all the artists who came from across the world to play at and celebrate Bluesfest’s 30th birthday, came because they have as much love for the old festival as the old festival has for them.
Iggy came out of the gates like a crusty, old bulldog. The kind that is half blind, old and withered, has a limp in every leg and yet still manages to bark like a rabid animal when you come to the door. It was fantastic.
The first thing you notice as the 72-year-old Iggy pop sprints onto the stage like a lunatic, jeering and giving the middle finger to the crowd, is that time has given a whipping to his body. His skin is leathered and scarred, his hip is in a strange place and his skin is on the sag.
The second thing you notice is that Iggy does not give a single f... about time or its whips, let alone its demands for him to slow down.
Iggy Pop - image © Creation Saffigna
He had the crowd wrapped around his finger immediately, launching into the show with a powerful and inescapable trinity of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, ‘Passenger’ and ‘Lust For Life’. Everyone was moving and screaming; Iggy would not permit it otherwise.
He stalked the stage leering down into the crowd and moving like a young, sexy Adonis with the microphone shoved down his pants, taunting, seducing, prodding the crowd until he pulled that spark of life out of every single member of the audience.
Iggy and the Stooges wrapped up the show with ‘Wild One’, which was the last note in a performance that proved Iggy Pop is an inexorable force of life who absolutely still has it going on.
Gary Clark Jr
Gary Clark Jr is a heavy hitter who has played Bluesfest a number of times.
A prodigy of the blues, rock and soul masters who have come before him, Gary has done well to prove himself as the next notch in the generational belt carrying the old fire down the line.
His visit to Australia is part of his tour for his new album ‘This Land’.
Gary Clark Jr - image © Creation Saffigna
The new music is a testament to Gary’s evident desire to constantly evolve and develop his music to new and higher places.
Gary is mostly known as a ridiculous guitarist (which is undeniable), but in his new work he also shows his capacity for Marvin Gaye-like soul, Ramones-like punk, plus hip hop, funk and his undying capacity for the blues.
His performance at Bluesfest explored and nailed these different genres while still making time to pull out the powerful songs that placed Gary where he is today.Click here for more photos from the festival.
Burning through songs like ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘When My Train Pulls In’ where Gary shows – with eyes rolled into the back of his head and mouth twitching to each little note in his jaw-dropping solos – exactly why he has earned his position in the music world.
Yothu Yindi and the Treaty Project
Yothu Yindi and the Treaty Project made big waves at Bluesfest, playing at the Boomerang stage and Jambalaya stage as well as having a powerful involvement in the festival’s closing ceremony.
Yothu Yindi have been bringing their own blend of Indigenous rock and traditional language to the world since 1985, and their message and music still stands strong today.
The band is now composed of some of founding members – such as Witiyana Marika, Stuart Kellaway – and members of a younger generation eager to carry the legacy on such as their sons Yirrmal Marika, Roy Kellaway and the late Dr. Mandawuy Yunupingu’s daughter, Dhapanbal Yunupingu.
Yothu Yindi & The Treaty Project - image © Creation Saffigna
At the peak of the performance, the team invited more family members and friends on stage (including Baker Boy and Mojo Juju) to perform the anticipated ‘Treaty’. Yirrmal was leading the charge and had worked the crowd into a frenzy.
By the time the song kicked off, with a crew of at least ten wild musicians onstage, the crowd had lit up like a house on fire.
It is inspiring to see younger generations teaming up with older generations in order to keep the message and movement toward a reconciled future alive.
Baker Boy has developed a lot of momentum since I saw him last year – having released a number of hit songs and announced as the winner of the Young Australian Of The Year award.
Baker Boy has a lot of hype around him, but the fact is when it comes down to the live show he lives up to it all. His skill as a rapper is up there with the greats. But to top that, his poetic flow is actually bi-lingual, moving seamlessly from English to his own language with rhythm, style and lyrical depth.
Baker Boy - image © Creation Saffigna
He performs with an energy that always activates the entire crowd into madness and awe. His music is laden with catchy hooks and juicy drops that make it impossible not to dance to. Baker Boy even makes sure he sets the example by busting into choreographed moves with his dance team during songs.
Baker Boy has the whole package and he is evolving at rapid speed to become one of Australia’s most important artists. I was stoked to catch the drum stick at the end of the set!
Mavis Staples is the grandmother of gospel, soul and the blues. As warm as she is terrifying, she commands the stage with an authority of experience alongside that grandmotherly tenderness.
Her voice breaks through the air with all the rust, grit and depth of a woman who has lived through both the pain and sweetness of love; with all the power of a woman who has found her way through the world by her unshakable faith and the fire of her soul.
The band behind her were all incredible musicians and it was tangible how much love she still has for the blues. She was shaking away up on the stage with her face scrunched up to oily guitar solos and beckoning the crowd to join her with wild screams and hallelujahs.
Mavis Staples - image © Creation Saffigna
Mavis was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1999 and the Blues Hall Of Fame in 2017, and it was a privilege to see one of the old-soul angels of the blues alive and busting it out in the flesh.
Above all artists, Mavis reminded me what it was all about. That a musical howl from the soul can communicate something essentially human across the borders of language and culture that can be understood and felt by us all.
My mind was blown time and time again throughout the five-day festival. The calibre and diversity of artists was truly an incredible privilege to witness.
That being said, I have never seen anything quite like The Saboteurs. They were explosive and definitely stood out as the most impressive performance of the festival.
It was my first time seeing the infamous Jack White in action. I knew he would be good. But I didn’t know he would be such a jaw-dropping freak of nature. His guitar work left me absolutely speechless. He rotated through a collection of five guitars throughout the show, and with each one he went to the corners of sound that I had never seen or heard before.
The Saboteurs - image © Creation Saffigna
The impressive performance was undoubtedly also due to the all-star cast of Brendon Benson on extra guitars and vocals, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler of The Greenhornes on bass/ drums and of course Dean Fertita of Queens Of The Stone Age/ The Dead Weather on keys and guitars.
The support of the band, and especially the tightness of the rhythm section that persisted in its intensity for the two-hour set without missing a beat or dropping the pulse, allowed Jack’s guitar work to shine like a hot blade and burn a hole into the collective mind of the audience.
Brain frizzling and electrifying, The Saboteurs were an awesome end to an incredible five-day celebration of music.Click here to read part 1 of our 2019 Bluesfest review.
The 30th anniversary of Bluesfest was a remarkable gathering of musicians, from both old and new generations, who worked together to prove that rock & roll, blues, soul, punk and funk are far from dead. To prove that those musical roots are sunk deep within the earth and will continue to bear fruit for generations and generations to come.
Till next year Bluesfest.