Byron Bay Bluesfest April 9 to April 13 2007.
Yes I made the trip again this year to join Len and Patrick in the campsite over the road from the festival. The plan was to have a swim/bodysurf in the morning, followed up by a fortifying brekky in the cafe overlooking the beach - eggs benedict on salmon, or beans on toast, then music fest in the arvo and night. Too easy. Usually Byron has Autumn showers at this time of the year, in fact these can develop to deluge proportions - refer my Blog from last year when we were almost drowned and I was bitten by an angry soggy insect.
This year it rained incessantly and started to clear up when we departed on Tuesday. No surf or sun, however the music was excellent as always, and the attendance didn't appear to be affected. Photos I took over the 5 days can be found at my Picasa or Webshots sites.
My top spot (and Len's) went to Kevin Welch, Kieran Kane and Fats Kaplin, with Kieran's son Luke backing on percussion. It was the first time I have seen them and their musicianship, arrangements and songwriting were perfect. The vocal harmonies, textured instrumentation and interplay were stunning, particularly when they appeared to let go and allowed the piece to develop. I saw their two performances and was blown away each time. I recognised a number of tracks from their excellent last CD Lost John Deane, plus the rousing 'Jersey Devil' and the title track from the previous 'You Can't Save Everybody'; the three new songs sound very promising. I think their next offering could be even bigger for them if they continue with a similar song mix to Lost John i.e. atmospheric bluesy pieces, some gospel, hillbilly, sort of Cormac McCarthy in music, a sense of old values being compromised in this modern world, but conversly using a modernistic instrumental approach - percussion similar to Tom Waits', differing string textures, both acoustic and electric. I'm rambling shite. Anyhow, the 'rap' /spoken number from Kevin Welch indicates a willingingness in the group to expand and take risks which makes it all the more exciting. Top stuff, despite some sound probs, which also occured on the second gig - I was starting to think it was part of the act !!
It's impossible to see everyone - unfortunately I'd hoped to catch New Zealand 's Katchafire and Fat Freddy's Drop, and also Bela Fleck, Banawurun, Larry Carlton and Robben Ford, and I couldn't sqeeze through the Paul Kelly crowd, but ya can't do the lot without losing something else. So, my remaining order is :
2. John Butler Trio
No doubt about it, JBT is superb, each member a vituoso, and the new songs sound great. The audience went bananas (as ya do up North) - JB just has a beaut sense of dynamics, and that knack of reaching ever higher to an astounding climax.
My daughter Cara put me onto them back in 1998 I think it was - she had seen them in Melbourne and said that people were dancing on the tables. They were due to play at Tilleys here in Canberra so I went there and they put on a superb performance for about 60 people!! I met John afterwards, and he signed the Cd I bought for Cara, complimenting me for the thought ! A real nice guy. I wrote a glowing review in BMA mag so I now count myself as being responsible in no small way, if not solely responsible, for his success !! "Ah yeah Dad, and how many people read it??"
3. Sierra Leone's Refugee Allstars.
Last year Amadou and Miriam, the blind couple from Mali, were so good that I wondered whether the organisers would make the African contingent a regular part of the event. This year the Sierra Leone's Refugee Allstars, while not having the bluesish raw quality of Amadou and Miriam, were equally entertaining. Hopefully the organisers will continue with an African component - perhaps one of the African superstars like Salif Keita who performed at this year's Womadelaide, or Youssou N'Dour, Baaba Maal, Cheikh Lo or Manu Chao - now that would be special!!. Or maybe the great Malian blues band Tinariwen. They could get Robert Plant and do a double, a la Festival in The Desert. Let's get adventurous, get it happening.
4. Ziggy Marley
Ziggy, like his younger bro Damien last year, went down really well with the crowd, and with me, Len and Paddy. His own stuff plus the obligatory Bob Marley songs, where he sounded like his Dad, were just right on the button.
5. Ben Harper. Unfortunately I didn't see enough of Ben Harper but what I did catch was superb.
The opening number with Bonnie Raitt, "Well, Well, Well" and the following boogie piece were a knockout, and I caught a bit of one of Hendrix's Fillmore tracks - "Who knows" I think.
6. Hat Fitz and Itchy
7. C.W. Stoneking
Both Hat Fitz and C.W. Stoneking are musical anachronisms, seemingly possessed by 1920's bluesmen, so true it's almost unbelievable. Audiences are astounded by the audacity, mesmerised by the performance. We saw Hat with Itchy last year ( he used to have Scratchy on bass) just after midday it was and he made some comment about people being up at that (ungodly) hour, it was a small gathering but he nailed us to the tent. This year we saw him in both the Crossroads and APRA stages and a very sizable crowd was right into him. Image: Ned Kelly/Son House on speed. A flat out boogie rhythm, Itchy beating and banging Hat's driving demon, Hat eyes wide like some blind man roaring some primal roar, head twitching with the emotion of release.
You wonder whether it is indignity, the shedding of some old pain or identity, but the strum is ferocious and the beat won't be denied. Hat is awesome.
C.W. Stoneking, cripes, mumbles to a bemused audience in some halting Delta/A'briginal patois "dis song goes sumptin' like dis" and there you are watching and hearing a late 20s early 30s Hillbilly hocum, reminding you of what you'd read about Dylan's early performances. But he's no hick strummer, he's a fine guitarist, banjo player and a strong vocalist, and a good songwriter using the blues metaphor to hilarious effect.
8. Lee Scratch Perry
Lee Scratch Perry, 'im a legend of reggae dub mon walks among us playing his deep Rastafari groove. Lee's voice not quite up to scratch, and the man is not really known as a singer but de groove is wonderful. You can hear many bands playing the so called reggae beat but this is like comparing Savoy Brown to Son House. About three years ago my eldest son Brendan and I saw Toots and the Maytals and Burning Spear play at Newtown. I was a big fan of Toots but my expection was dashed to Babylon when 'im was as showbizzy as James Brown. Now yer Winston Rodney, the Burning Spear, came out of the desert with fire from 'is lips, a true prophet singin' sackcloth ashes an' apocalypse... to dem 'oo would 'ear 'is word mon. De beat was true deep Rastafari reggae. We exhaulted and were 'umbled.
9. Kev Carmody
Kev Carmody is the most natural and relaxed of performers. He puts himself in with Us Mob, the audience, and tells it as he feels it. He has no pretensions and the man ain't humble, no he's on a par with anyone, as it should be with any bugger, you included. Kev tells his stories between songs, almost as good as the songs. I loved the one about him getting a parking ticket on his bike when as as undergrad he parked in the lecturers' car park at the Uni. Wasn't going to let it go, not Kev. He wrote back after working out the difference in parking fees on his land since 1788 and told 'em they owed him, less the five bucks they'd charged him. Heaps. They dismissed the fine.
10. Xavier Rudd
St Xavier Rudd of The Didge. Jesuit surfer of the Bluesfest. The audience loved him. His sweet voice can rock above his organic rythmic musical soundscape, assisted at the Bluesfest by his brother on drums. Xavier blows through a battery of didges, plings pecussive tubular tones, stompboxes and guitars.
Other noteworthy performers:
The Ghostwriters - great rock attack, good songs, the drinking mens' thinking men
Kasey Chambers - a lovely memorable performance with the added bonuses of her dad and husband, both excellent musicians and Bernard Fanning, who wasn't even in the fest. Nice one.
(smiling) Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience gumbo'd you right into Louisiana
Joss Stone - so sexy and such a rich mature vocal, but when she spoke she could have been my daughter......damn. The kids loved her
The Black Sorrows - Magus Joe still has the power, and the group was great, but for me, Jo Jo Zep when they played Narooma Bluesfest two years ago
The Pigram Brothers - happiest group
Jackson Jackson - innovative mix of cabaret, modern and wierd
Alice Russell - great soul voice and good material
Chris Smither - loved his latest CD Leave the light on, but folky in performance
Fred Eaglesmith - rootsy, great wee bald mandolin player, good guitar from Kasey's dad
Ash Grunwald - fab latest Cd and always a strong performer
Bonnie Raitt - sounded good - but too Americana for me then and I was fested out
I caught Eric Burdon's last four numbers. Tent was packed and it was a huge improvement from last time. The audience all sang House Of The Rising Sun of course with it's improved arrangement.
The Re-mains first two numbers were tops, ragged and dirty rock.
Paolo Nutini, Ayo and Kaki King, Fiona Boyes, Floggin Molly, and Taj Mahal all had good moments.
1. Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch & Fats Kaplin - 10
2. Ziggy Marley - 10
3. Ben Harper - 10
4. John Butler Trio - 10
5. Kev Carmody - 10
6. Xavier Rudd - 10
7. Hat Fitz & Itchy - 9
8. CW Stoneking - 9
9. Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars - 9
10. Fred Eaglesmith -9
11. Bonnie Raitt - 8
12. Paul Kelly - 8
13. Terrance Simien - 8
14. Jackson Jackson - 8
15. Amos Lee - 8
16. Alice Russell - 8
17. Kasey Chambers - 8