Bluesfest Review 2024

Jack Johnson © Clea-marie Thorne


Storm clouds roll thick over Byron Bay Bluesfest, soaking the landscape in humidity.

After traversing the muddy carpark, Day Two kicks off with Clayton Doley’s Bayou Billabong. Doley frenetically bashes the keys of his organ as the band ebbs and flows behind him. The sound seeps into you, as a wry smile rises. It’s good to be back. The set climaxes with the brass section soaring. The trumpet climbs high, bringing our expectations with it.

Over to Crossroads, where Yirrmal’s sultry sound moves through the crowd. His shirt, dripping with sweat, clings to his body, telling you everything you need to know about his performance. He introduces Dami Im, their voices blend as one, powerfully piercing the air. The crowd roars in ecstasy. The band take solos, and it becomes apparent that Bluesfest stands alone in showcasing live musicianship talent. Musicians, their instruments and lifetimes of passion and sacrifice.

At Jambalaya, Velvet Trip stands in brown leather pants, a sparkling white singlet and black shades unleashing his soothing, sentimental vibe. Drive-by Truckers’ country brings up the beat, but we’re heading to favourite Lisa Hunt’s ‘Forever Soul’. Hunt stuns in a white and gold sundress with matching headband. ‘Can’t Get Enough of Your Love’ ends with sexy sax notes spinning around our ears, as the crowd goes mental.

On main street, a large pirate ship manned by multiple scallywags and a terrifying Davy Jones encounters a fateful moment, passing two runts dressed as treacherous pirates themselves, their smiles beaming as they wave they inflatable swords.

At Jambalaya, Bluesfest exclusive Erja Lyytinen shoots out of the gate. No time for hellos here. She shreds electrically, an insane talent. She then incites a dance along supplying the moves in advance for a grungy line dance.

More shredding ensues as Lyytinen stands in front of the stage fan which lifts her hair, giving the appearance of spider legs around her head. It is very rock. Shred after shred ensues like we’re at a Metallica concert. It is easy to see why Lyytinen is one of the world’s best guitarists. Her guitar cover of ‘La Vie En Rose’ will stay with me forever. An absolute treat.

L.A.B bring more soul to Crossroads, with infectious vocal licks and dual guitarship, but it’s over to Delta.

women of soul collective
Women Of Soul Collective © Clea-marie Thorne

In keeping with the trend of talented female guitarists/ singers, another exclusive, Jackie Venson plays. Bluesfest is serving up, and it hasn’t even hit 7pm. Taking a moment from her sultry and sexy guitar playing, Venson takes a sip of water, declaring “I love those 808s you know what I mean. I need that boom boom”.

“I’m a millennial I used to burn cds for my friends in the '90s,” Venson awakens dormant memories. “It would start off with The Lion King – ‘Circle of Life’, then go into Lauryn Hill ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’, then Metallica – ‘Master Of Puppets’ and straight into Phantom of the Opera. That’s why I am the way I am.” Venson finishes her set with a flurry of hard-hitting notes. She is an unmissable act.

The crowd seeks shelter from the downpour in a packed Mojo, as the man Elvis Costello takes to the sparkling microphone. He dons a red and green kilt, black vest, orange shades and a Scottish hat. “You’re wondering if I’m wearing this kilt in the traditional fashion,” he jests. “That’s for me to know and you to find out.” His fretboard features his full name in silver, very handy for the roadies.

“You’re wondering if I’m wearing this kilt in the traditional fashion”

The heavens unleash their furious tirade. Water gushes from the sides of the tent, and you are exceptionally grateful that Blues is held undercover. The stage turns dark as Costello strums angrily. Perhaps he also dislikes the weather. The pianist plays a melodica for the crowd’s enjoyment. “I see you looking up my kilt!” Costello toys with the crowd.

The rain subsides enough to duck over to Matt Corby. A full tent necessitates standing outside, but hearing Corby’s long notes from ‘All Fired Up’ waft out with the drizzle coming down creates a magical memory. ‘Resolution’ is always an unmissable moment, Corby’s gutteral vocals breaking open your soul and smothering it in balm. Golden beams light up the roof of the tent. “Everybody ok?” Corby asks. “That made me a little bit emotional.”

Brotherhood Of The Blues © Clea-marie Thorne
The stage explodes in light for ‘Ordinary Life’, a song that reminds you there is beauty in the world. And it’s happening right here, right now. The set ends too soon, and over at Mojo The Dead South are dark and brooding under orange and red lights.

God has smiled upon the gigantic crowd swarming Crossroads for the biggest act of the day, Mr Jack Johnson. He whips out classics early on, offering ‘Taylor’ and ‘Sitting, Waiting, Wishing’ straight away. “Often we tour for a couple of years,” Johnson says mid-song. “I don’t say this to everyone. This is the nicest crowd we’ve had in two years.” The crowd sings even harder for their charismatic man.

He blows into beer bottles and the crowd swing and dance with beaming smiles. He brings Ziggy Alberts out to graciously play his own song ‘I Won’t Give You Up’ in a match made in heaven. ‘Banana Pancakes’ is pure festival joy, as an accordion joins, before ‘Good People’ sweeps the crowd.

Johnson feigns an exit before a rare festival encore ensues. Do artists do that? Johnson does. He takes fan requests that he “can remember the chords” for in a medley style. ‘Angel’ then leads into ‘Better Together’.

Do artists do that? Johnson does.

A perfect festival day, if this is what Bluesfest has in store, it’s continuing its legacy of supplying an A Grade, unrivalled treat.


Day Three couldn’t be more different at Bluesfest, with the sun beating down on the shredded fields of the carpark, forbidden to patrons today. 

The mood is rising with the temperatures at Crossroads where Playing For Change band are infectiously alighting the afternoon. They are tight and smooth, and the crowd are enjoying it.

Over to get our Mojo on with Tommy Emmanuel, a solid all time favourite. He starts with furious blues, racing up and down the neck as only Tommy can do so well. He turns the guitar into a bashed conga drum, ending with a deep hit right on pick up. The crowd laughs, enjoying his pure talent.

“We need to send a message of peace into the ether,” Emmanuel says. He plays a stunning rendition of ‘Imagine’, leaving room for the crowd to sing all the words, helping where required. It is an emotional moment. Emmanuel is a must see guitarist.

Meshell Ndegeocello
Meshell Ndegeocello © Clea-marie Thorne

At Delta, Blues Arcadia are simultaneously intense and smooth, a masterful balance not easily achieved. The crowd are almost hypnotised. Yirrmal is picking up Jambalaya and turning it on its head, screaming and jumping around. He is always an energetic and engaging act.

At Crossroads, Lisa Hunt whips out banger ‘Simply The Best’ and the energy is sky high as her saxophonist blasts away smooth as honey while guitarist Mark Mulder makes the guitar sing.

Time for some more Mojo with Ian Moss. Moss rocks across the expanse of the stage. He still has it and has it good, showcasing his skills, switching between fast and slow with a deft touch. ‘Bow River’ has the crowd off their feet, boogeying like their lives depend on it. I real pleasure to watch.

At Delta, Pierce Brothers' gentle, soulful folk is perfection accompanying the setting sun. The notes awaken deep feelings, for some joy, for others anticipation. He thanks the crowd in a sentimental moment. “It’s because of people like you I get to have the greatest and best job in the world.” He plays his song, a tribute to John Butler’s ‘Ocean’, and the crowd is blown away. Perfection is the word that springs to mind.

Brother Jack holds a harmonica in one hand for the guitar-playing brother Patrick to blow into while Jack simultaneously plays the didgeridoo. The crowd bursts. He then hits Patrick’s guitar with drumsticks while he plays. What a family this is.

L.A.B © Clea-marie Thorne

Sweet Talk treat Mojo to some slick blues, as smells fill the air. But it’s Crossroads for us, where Taj Mahal swings and jives. “Get behind me,” he incites the crowd, who yell a feeble ‘hey’. “No, no. That simply will not do. I said get behind me!” Mahal roars. The crowd erupts, to Mahal’s pleasure. He ends with the assistance of some stunning gospel singers – his own daughters – donned in red flowing dresses, backed by the sweet sounds of steel pans. A beautiful, slow set.

At Jambalaya, Hussy Hicks unleash in classic fashion. “This one’s about six centimetres a minute,” guitarist declares, referring to head bangs. “Did anyone get bogged yesterday?” Singer Leesa Gentz asks to confirmations. “It’s embarrassing isn’t it,” she laughs. Guitarist Julz Parker absolutely shreds, as Gentz sings ‘Same Boat’, shaking her head passionately. “Playing here is just the icing on the cake,” Gentz says, “and everyone loves cake. Except Julz.”

“It’s true,” Parker confirms. “I only love getting arrested. It’s like cake. It keeps happening. So we better sing a song about that. I’m going to welcome my dad back for this one.” Dad enters sporting a harmonica, which he plays wonderfully. The band erupts in an elongated ‘Wipeout’. In case you were wondering, yes, Hussy Hicks are incredible.

Allman Betts Family Revival are heating up Delta with no less than three guitarists. The organ blares away, and the crowd swings for this family affair.

Mojo is where it’s at. Snarky Puppy present their last set of the festival, and this is an act that has been worth waiting for. Never has music without lyrics been so moving. Every foot in the house is shuffling. No break between songs, Snarky Puppy push on through, no moment of relent, and none needed, as the organ kicks into your heart. They dedicate a song to tragically lost band member and musical wizard Bernard Wright in a touching moment. They end with fan favourite ‘Lingus’. A delectable set that flew by.

Fiona Boyes & The Fortune Tellers demonstrate fun musicianship, as Here Come The Mummies offer a relentless, frenetic set, literally dressed as mummies. But the bulk of the festival have understandably headed to Crossroads for Tom Jones or Mojo for Tedeschi Trucks Band.

Jones comes on fashionably late, but boy that voice. Still strong and talented, Jones commences with ‘I’m Growing Old’, a tasteful selection. ‘Not Dark Yet’ follows, before a laid-back version of ‘It’s Not Unusual’ is a treat. But ‘What’s New Pussycat’ tears the roof off.

‘What’s New Pussycat’ tears the roof off.

‘Sexbomb’ drifts out under orange lights, and the crowd get down. Jones’ voice is outstanding, remarkable for a man his age.

The Blind Boys of Alabama join for ‘Didn’t It Rain’ and the result is auditory heaven. ‘Green Green Grass of Home’ is a wonderful sing-along, and all is right in the world. The crowd waits for ‘Delilah’, a cry erupting as the first words are sung out by Jones. The stage floods red, and the music is hip-shaking. Jones ends with an impressive long note that shakes the tent. ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On’ keeps everyone dancing, while ‘Kiss’ pays homage to another sex symbol, Prince.

The bus lines are bearable, and day two complete. A fast and furious day full of special moments, Saturday set the tone and anticipation for a glorious Sunday in the sun.


Day four of Bluesfest is sneering at us through the humidity. Will it rain? Won’t it? We’re going to find out.

Dirty Honey are an exceptional way to start your day. Frontman Marc LaBelle’s soaring vocals emanate from his fully unbuttoned chest. It’s good ol fashioned rock & rock, fast, sexy and with an outstanding vocal performance. It’s over too soon, and it’s time to head to a packed Jambalaya where WILSN is delivering. She covers Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)’ in a stunning display of vocal prowess. Boy are we glad we came here.

Taj Mahal takes to Crossroads for a second time, offering a bluesier set. He is a quality performer, the packed tent adores him. Back to Mojo and Brad Cox is kicking off heavy and hard. Sporting a floral shirt with butterflies and a backwards cap, he’s straight into some catchy tunes.

Hairy, bared chests are the flavour of the day, with Cox’s guitarist Hunter Beasley donning a floral white suit and no shirt. The jacket doesn’t last long. The crowd is vibing, it’s a great place to be, as Cox gets sentimental, singing about a red dirt summer. ‘Remedy’ is one of the most powerful moments of the day, as he duets with second guitar Jesse O’Neill. Outstanding. The band sport an array of earrings ranging from pineapples to dinosaurs. Sunday is funday, and Cox and band are an amazing act.

Theh Dead South © Clea-marie Thorne

It’s time for a Bluesfest staple, Steve Poltz, the most wonderful raconteur I have ever seen. He tells hilarious anecdotes of shaving escapades gone wrong and how to generate drugs within your body. He welcomes Australian Imogen Clark to sing ‘Squinters’, a song they wrote together. Clarke has a beautiful, dreamy voice, one to watch.

Poltz continues the fantastic stories, this time finding dad ‘strangling’ mum on Easter morning, before he begins the “government assistance that pays my bills so I can write other songs”, ‘You Were Meant For Me’ written with Jewel. Poltz is always great, a reminder that crowd interaction is an important element of performance.

The sun begins its descent as Jimmy Barnes kicks off in classic fashion hitting the vocals we know so well. He invites Tommy Emmanuel for ‘Brother Of Mine’. The tent is throbbing, as Barnes hits you in places inexplicable. What an honour to see a man so mighty, a true servant of music. His performance is truly spellbinding.

He brings out Bernard Fanning for their song ‘I’m Still On Your Side’, before ‘Stone Cold’ brings all the feels. ‘You Can’t Judge A Book’ gets the crowd off their feet, as the saxophone blasts. More guests arrive, this time Josh Teskey for a memorable cover of ‘The Weight’. “Fifty years ago I auditioned for a band called Cold Chisel. Fifty years,” Barnes says, reminding us all. “So I better bring out Ian.”

“50 years ago I auditioned for a band called Cold Chisel. 50 years”

Ian Moss joins in a blessed reunion. His guitar cries gently. Is there anywhere better in the world right now? ‘When The War Is Over’ rings out over the crowd and there is a tear in more than one eye. Moss remains for ‘Flame Trees’ in a life-altering moment. Barnes feigns an exit and hope is almost lost until he returns for the one and only ‘Khe Sanh’. Will life ever taste so sweet again?

A dash over to Jambalaya affords catching the end of Jackie Venson’s set. This woman. If you haven’t seen her, I feel sorry for you. “I’ll do my best to follow him,” she sings, her guitar roaring in unison with her vocals. She shreds effortlessly, the lights pouring down upon her. She beams out at the audience. “If you want me back next year, call your representatives,” she says. “I’ll see you next year,” she gives the crowd one, last broad smile.

Straight to Ceossroads for another life-altering moment. Derek Trucks and the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Two words. He’s good. Really good. He makes the guitar sound like it never has before. I don’t think my heart can handle much more today. Life complete. Second vocalist Mike Mattison takes the next song by the throat with grit and power. It’s Susan Tedeschi’s turn to shred her guitar, overlaid with multiple signatures. The most prominent – BB King. The set is simply indescribable. Seeing Trucks in the flesh is a life changing experience.

Another dash to Delta just in time to catch Rickie Lee Jones play ‘Horses’ – famously covered by Daryl Braithwaite. “I haven’t done that song for so many years for rhyme and reason,” Lee Jones shares. “Then I saw Harry Styles do it.” She continues: “I like to make up imaginary people to sing about. I’m very good at saying, ‘I love you, you love her’. It’s easier for me.” Lee Jones is sentimental and stunning, her voice rising above the band with the sensual smokiness of age. A wonderful songwriter.

At Mojo, The Teskey Brothers are smooth like whiskey, bringing out Kasey Chambers for a number, before the gentle organ and blasting brass section carry us out. A delicate set pumped along by Josh Teskey’s skilful vocals.

The centrepiece of the day, whose image has featured on an art piece near the festival’s entry all weekend, takes to Crossroads. Ben Harper whips out ‘Diamonds On The Inside’ early, followed shortly by ‘Kisses’. The sizeable crowd isn’t going anywhere despite the minutes ticking closer to midnight.

Alone onstage, Harper delicately strums his slide guitar for a Leonard Cohen cover, the ineffable ‘Hallelujah’. Can today get any more magical? ‘Burn One Down’ features the return of the band, and a swanky guitar solo, before ‘Say You Will’ carries the mood into the stratosphere. ‘Faded / The Ocean’ closes a set that seals a wonderful festival day to remember.

Bluesfest has done it again – quality musicianship, acts and a festival run really well. Bluesfest invests in artists in a beautiful way, and it allows memories that will last a lifetime for many people. A year is simply too long to wait for another event of this calibre.

Photo gallery to come.

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