Byron Bay Bluesfest 2009 – the ratings and rundown
Well, an eventful bluesfest, as always, although the enjoyment was marred somewhat by the
sludgefest. Those who have attended the bluesfest will know you can pretty well count on rain, and when merciless moisture mixes with top soil for an extended period you get black sludge, and when the organisers have little contingency in place, despite the likelihood on weather forecasts and history, you get Sludge City.
Unfortunately Denise and I had to depart on Sunday, however you can cram in a fair amount of acts in that period and despite the detraction of the trudge through sludge the craik was good.
I took no Bluesfest photos this year, having tired of the battle with security staff and the ever changing stipulation. This year 'professional equipment' was disallowed, last year it was detachable lens, previous years it was anything which could take a video. I had visions of trying to persuade Security that my camera is non professional – to a security person who has absolutely no idea, like last year when I made the point that most mobile phones can take quality pics. Too much. The irony is that photos posted on the net will undoubtedly boost the image of the festival. I tried one year to get a press pass on the basis of my community radio involvement but did not receive a reply to my carefully considered letter....
This is my seventh Bluesfest and it occurred to me that maybe the organisers are opting for tried and true inclusions rather than taking a risk with lesser known performers. Admittedly it's the 20th anniversary and comforting to have recognised 'product' and Kasey Chambers for example, or Eric Bibb or Luka or Ben Harper or John Butler, Xavier or Paul Kelly will attract a following but the downside is that the Bluesfest may be perceived as passée, and yer proper roots music is never passée. Figures may indicate attendances are growing but is it growing as fast as it might be if it had more of a cutting edge image?
The inclusion of 'world music' acts should be applauded however Tinariwen have been popular in Europe for some years now, as has Angelique Kidjo – there's hardly risk there. I wonder if the Booker of Acts is checking out emerging talents through Songlines or Froots mags or Charlie Gillet's BBC programme. Emerging acts have a cost advantage surely? Lesser known left field blues/ R'n B acts could add spice eg Hazmat Modine, Detroit Cobras, Legendary Shack Shakers, C.C. Adcock. Anyone's thoughts, or am I flatuating in the wind? Great to see ska and reggae genres included, dammit I missed The Special Beat... hey Ska Cubano.... there's another possibility.
Tinariwen earthy raw groove, is ok? Betcha. Heart warming to see so many enjoy these guys and not understand a word. Music, the universal language.
Sonny Landreth superb inventive guitar playing, vocals, band and repertoire, miles away from the clichéd blues of so many bands
Angelique Kidjo such energy and power in such a small package, and what a wonderful voice, loved her version of Gimmie Shelter and of course Voodoo Child, not discounting her own great material
Lucinda Williams seemed reticent to make contact with the audience at first but warmed up. Terrific band and choice of songs but where was Lake Charles?
Blind Boys of Alabamy never fail to satisfy, a 'stimulus package'
Seasick Steve great patter, enjoyed sensitive Steve singing to the girl from the audience
Ayo European/Nigerian cool, obviously happy to be at the Bluesfest
C W Stoneking a bit flat at first, or maybe me, but caught the latter half of the second set which was lively
Hat Fitz usual manic self but where's Itchy?? The ''Young bloke on The Kit'' is a good drummer and a couple of numbers sounded great but Itchy has that compatibility which comes with experience
Watermelon Slim blues standards lifted by his virtuosity and personality
Pugsley Buzzard authentic growl and good pianist. Loved the version of Tom Waits' The Briar and the Rose.
Eric Bibb caught the encore, a winning, warm performer and showing strong vocals
Stiff Gins loved the harmonies, particularly the koori song, but dammit I missed Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter
Below is Len's report on the two days I missed, plus his ratings, based as they are on an impeccable rating assessment regime and gut feeling.
Monday was a pretty miserable day weather-wise and a few of the acts didn't really work for me...
From a weather perspective; Patrick and myself decided to leave at the end of the second last act...in our case we concentrated on the Crossroads Stage, the second last act being the Easy Star All-Stars (thought they would be better than they were...concept sounds good but I expected more reggae less cover band). The rain was pissing down; the 'exit' walk-ways had up to a foot of water/mud in them; the car was parked some 4 km away....man, an adventure getting out of the place in those conditions. In Patrick words; "we'd qualify for the regular army doing this; forced march in driving rain, in the middle of the night, while carrying a back-pack".
Now, on Monday we witnessed the highlight song of the weekend...Booker T. Jones playing Green Onions with the Drive-By Trackers. It was just sensational, the guy on the guitar (I think the guy's name is, John Neff) was giving the song an almost 'pink floydish' (Dave Gilmour) sound. Great.
Stood out in the rain at the signing tent....to get Booker T's signature on a copy of their album 'Potato Hole'. Booker T. was a quite spoken, congenial sort of follow...looked a little like Sidney Poitier.
Xavier Rudd 8
Michael Franti & Spearhead 9.5
Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson 9
Angeligue Kidjo 9
Seasick Steve 9
Watermelon Slim & the Workers 8
Pugsley Buzzard 8
The Gin Club 8
Mic Conway's National Junk Bank 9
Stiff Gins 8
Dan Auerbach 9.5
Blue King Brown 8
CW Stoneking 9.5
James Hunter 8
Sonny Landreth 8.5 (didn't see whole show, could have been higher)
Rodney Crowell 8
Hot Club of Cowtown 8.5
Hat Fitz 9
Marshall & Fro 8
Kush Cabaret 8.5
Saltwater Band 8
Tom Freund 8.5
Alabama 3. 7
Lucinda Williams 10
Eric Bibb 9 (didn't see whole show, could have been higher)
Terrance Simien 9.5
Ash Grunwald 8.5
Jeff Lang 9
Drive-By Truckers 9.5
Blues Traveler 9.5
The Bamboos 9
Ruthie Foster 8.5
Luka Bloom 9
Easy Star All-Stars 8
Special Beat 7
Booker T. Jones & Drive By Truckers 10