Skip to content

This Is Northern New South Wales

Rapping up The Blues – Bluesfest 2016

  • Music

Inevitability there’s always going to be a differing of opinion around the subject of festival line-up protocol and appropriate context. This year’s Bluesfest gave ample subject for debate amongst those who have sought refuge in the music of the Blues over its 27-year history.

Whilst organisers can never be expected to please everyone, the addition of artists including Kendrick Lamar, D’Angelo, The National and The Cat Empire gave rise to the argument that the lines were perhaps starting to blur between The Blues and other major festivals in our area like Splendour and Falls.

PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast--3 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-9788

This might be true to some extent, and fans could be justified in feeling somewhat aggrieved by the  Blues’ evolution into a more expansive, ‘youth-attracting’ repertoire of artists. However, on listening to Peter Noble address the media assembly, he sighted his role as Festival Director as being one which sought to secure and provide a line-up of artists that are by definition ‘World-class’.

Touting Kendrick Lamar as potentially one of the ‘Greatest rap artists of his generation’ Noble seemed unwavering in his pursuit of Blues’ festival status as being one to rival the likes of Glastonbury in the UK.

On passing further comment on the Blues’ musical ‘tangent’, Noble went on to simply state that ‘For those people that don’t like or want to see ‘those acts’….it’s not like there’s nothing else to do!

And who can argue fairer than that?

Having emerged from Blues 2016 with as great a level of music-induced, late-night fuelled, happy delirium as any previous years, it felt as though the critics could be appropriately silenced.

As with every year at Blues, the variety of acts on offer left no opportunity for the “nothing else to do”  argument.

Showcasing not only an array of exceptional Blues derived artists and musicians, the festival repertoire also now includes the excellent Boomerang Festival, which has become home to a wealth of indigenous cultural performances.

Boomerang is set to expand over the coming few years, into its own stand-alone festival, but in the meantime, its place at Blues is not only appropriate but also a great break into the richness of cultural tradition that our area and the wider Pacific region has to offer. We were honoured to witness a selection of performances including the local Byron Arakwal Dancers and Fiji’s Malu Kiai Mura Buai Dance Troupe. Humble recognition was owed to the latter group who made their appearance in spite of recent tragedy in their homeland, where storms devastated the region, killing members of the local community.
PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-9220 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-1501
Back within the main stages of the Blues, the quality of the acts on offer from 12 noon up until midnight was as consistent, if not better than ever. Opening acts over the five days included Hendrix /Prince reincarnate Harts, Canadian-based singer-songwriter Irish Mythen, local Gold Coast based Blues and Country duo The Hussy Hicks and the young Icelandic group Kaleo, who delighted the crowd on no less than 4 separate occasions throughout the festival.

New acts to Blues included the spectacular Con Brio, whose front man Ziek McCarter performed an array of Michael Jackson inspired dance moves and left an astounded crowd in raptures. Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real made their Australian debut at the festival. Expectations didn’t get the better of the group, with their front man being not only Willie Nelson’s son but the band also being no less than Neil Young’s backing band. The young group did not disappoint and held the stage with an impressive display of Texan-born, ‘Youngesque’, weighty guitar riffs and rock n roll energy. A definite Bluesfest highlight in any year.
St Paul & The Broken Bones generated a justifiable frenzy amongst the crowds as well as the media crew, with three separate soul-filled, gusto sets and a performance that left onlookers exhausted from simply observing the efforts of flamboyant front man Paul Janeway.

A similarly exhausting experience, but one which provided a measure of Blues/ Rock satiation that would put most bands to shame, came from lead guitarist Shawn Kellerman of Lucky Peterson. Introducing Peterson with a guitar solo that virtually blew the smaller Juke Joint stage roof into oblivion, Kellerman was equal parts sensational and amusing to watch as he pulled some of the best guitar facials (probably) know to man. On joining, Peterson rivalled his bandmate with his exuberant gestures, eventually removing himself from the stage altogether and reseating himself in the middle of the crowd,  insisting that everyone sit in a circle around him. A moment few will overlook as being one of the great Blues 2016 experiences.

Rhiannon Giddens started a murmur running with her two angelic performances over two days, as well as other Delta stage performing songbird Frazey Ford, whose heavenly tones couldn’t help but have touched even the weariest of hearts. Steve Smyth produced a healthy juxtaposition with his band, with his animalistic, growling tones and powerful performances proving a highlight for both new-comers and existing fans of his music.

The main stages provided a less intimate scenario with the performers come evening time, but as ever, one which took the musical experience on to another level.  Big band sounds from the likes of the amazing Joe Bonamassa and The Tedeschi Trucks Band couldn’t help but delight punters who had wanted to experience the more ‘traditional’ element of the Blues. Taj Mahal gave punters a chance to experience some old school tunes while Vintage Trouble gave an outstanding funk/ soul performance and emerged as one of the most high-energy credited groups of the festival.
PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-4488 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-3280
Brian Wilson drew the Mojo tent to full capacity, delighting fans of both his and the Beach Boys with a Pet Sounds repertoire that was steeped in memories for many.

The Blind Boys of Alabama have become something of an institution at Bluesfest, bringing with them a blues/ gospel royalty that hails from as far back as the 1930’s. The Blind Boys graced the crowd with over an hour of lively performance to rival artists of more than half their age and brought a taste of Easter worship to the weekend proceedings.

Kendrick Lamar and D’Angelo generated an inevitable crazed foray, with a notably younger demographic. The response from all who saw Lamar’s performance was consistently excellent and  as the Blues’ opening night performance, statistically ‘rivalled the highest ticket sales for any day sold in Blues’ history’.

Tom Jones left both young and old, local and international onlookers elated with his performance. After sharing stories about singing gospel songs with Elvis Presley in a suite in Vegas – Sir Tom Jones welcomed the Blind Boys of Alabama back to the stage to sing gospel with him.

Noel Gallagher was mind blowing and threw a few Oasis songs into the set including Champagne Supernova and Wonderwall and the crowd went nuts.
PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-5051 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-4559
After last years fortune with nice weather, festival-goers were prepared for a wet Bluesfest this year, with the Sunday and Monday forecast for rain. As fortune had it, the sun shone for the first three days and gave room for basking in the glory of what Bluesfest ‘should’ feel like, if the gods of festival fortune had their say. Despite a hefty downpour on the Sunday evening, Blues avoided becoming the inaugural mud fest that it has the potential for and although there was some momentary sludge to contend with, it did little to dampen the spirits for the last 2 days.

When you stop for a moment and break down the composition of Bluesfest, you’re faced with what amounts to 12 hours of near non-stop music, multiplied across the five main stages over five days.

That’s approximately 300 hours of quality, heartfelt, hard-worked musical performances. And that’s not even accounting for the smaller Buskers stage and Boomerang Festival contributions. Re-posing the question – do ALL 300 of those hours have to be pure traditional ‘Blues’ music? Or is there some room for some diversity in amongst the status quo?

We’ll let you be the judge of that one, but one thing is for sure….we’ll all be back there enjoying the Blues for many years to come. And if this year is anything to go by, that suits us fine.
PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-1315 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-9281 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-3593 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-4223
PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-6466 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-6712
PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-2281 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-2530 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-2583 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-2657 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-2883 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-1678 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-1395 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-1382 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-0403 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-9 PhotoCredit_KirraPendergast-12