Zac Brown Band by Lucinda Goodwin
Zac Brown and his band perform at Bluesfest 2017. Picture: Lucinda Goodwin

Review: Bluesfest Byron Bay, 13-17 April 2017

Not your average festival.

Clear blue skies and the occasional sun shower paved the way as thousands of grinning punters made themselves at home at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm last Thursday afternoon.  It was stimulation overload with a smorgasbord of delicious cuisines, trendy local boutiques and a line-up of some of the world’s talented musicians ready to make the 28th Byron Bay Bluesfest the best one yet.

In the devastating aftermath of the recent floods caused by ex-Cyclone Debbie across the Northern Rivers, the five-day celebration was the perfect reprieve to lift spirits and go a little crazy.

Belly dancers and a travelling mini circus eased their way between festival-goers sporting everything from Where’s Wally costumes, disco ball heads, to Indian headdresses and sequinned outfits.  Also sighted amongst the throng were Hollywood heartthrobs Chris Hemsworth, Matt Damon and Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa.

Kicking off festivities was Chicago firecracker Melody Angel, who won over hundreds of new fans through gritty, blues encrusted rock, while the sultry Joan Osbourne devoted her set entirely to Bob Dylan, adding soulful arrangements and meaty harmonies to classics such as Mighty Quinn, Rainy Day Women #12 & #35, and High Water Rising.

Retro fever took hold as Vintage Trouble launched into their old school rock n’ roll.  Frontman Ty Taylor worked the crowd into a frenzy as he twirled his mic lead and orchestrated multi-directional Mexican waves. Taylor jumped into the crowd, making his way to the middle of the tent before choosing to crowd surf back.  Some of the crowd held cameras in their hands, making it a turbulent form of public transport.

Although some older punters didn’t quite know what to make of Courtney Barnett’s unique brand of psychedelic grunge, younger fans danced along, thrilled when Barnett closed with Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party.

Bluesfest headliner Patti Smith, radiated raw charm and magnetism as she performed a memorable rendition of debut album Horses.  The icing on the cake was the blustery cover of The Who’s My Generation, which she ended with a guitar solo, breaking every string.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue shared a taste of their hometown through a cacophony of horn-blasted funk, jazz and blues blends; while Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson was an eccentric force of nature as he strutted the stage, flute in hand.

There was no denying the chemistry of gothic-folk sextet The Strumbellas as they teased each other about composing songs about ‘the potty,’ and the number of buttons appropriate to undo on a shirt.  In perfect contrast, their melancholic anthems Spirits, We Don’t Know and Shovels and Dirt impacted on a deeper, soul-searching level.

The Doobie Brothers immediately took it to church with iconic hit Jesus Is Just Alright.  This was followed by a flurry of guitar licks, blissful harmonies and unrestrained zeal with Taking It To The Street and Listen To The Music.

Zac Brown’s latest project Sir Rosevelt, hit the stage sporting sharp suits and mischievous smiles.  The trio pulled out a winning combination of brass, disco, and pop supported by nightclub worthy dance beats.

R&B queen Mary J Blige showed off her curves in a tight-fitted black top and ripped jeans as she pumped out hits like Be Without You, Family Affair and new single Love Yourself. At one point she schooled the men in the audience on how treat a lady.  “Don’t compare your women to other girls,” she warned.  “Because there is only one Mary J Blige and one of each of us!”

Buddy Guy – one of the original bluesmen – proved he’s still got it, shredding guitar like a boss and encompassing all the fire, humour and spunk of his youth.

Grammy award-winning sweetheart Corrine Bailey Rae melted the audience with her honey and cream timbre, warm smiles and dreamy, cathartic tunes; while the cool, star-sprinkled night was the perfect backdrop to The Lumineers beloved hits Ho Hey, Ophelia and Cleopatra.

Latin rock veterans Santana torn the house down with a spicy blend from the horns and rhythmic section, Carlos Santana’s signature guitar fusions taking the lead.

A beaming Kasey Chambers surprised the Monday night crowd when Bernard Fanning strolled out on stage to join the country star for their 2014 duet Bittersweet, followed by Sophie Monk – introduced as Kasey’s “crazy friend” – who helped end the show with The Captain.

As soon as the legendary Neil Finn hit the stage the audience was transported back in time with classic hits Private Universe, At Your Feet, Four Seasons In One Day, and Better Be Home Soon. 

Nahko and Medicine for the People closed festivities off with a collection of powerful spiritual-enriching anthems and a healthy dose of booty shaking.

Unlike previous years the weather was (mostly) on its best behaviour, delivering summery days and nights custom-made for lying under the stars.

Byron Bay Bluesfest isn’t your average festival.  Out in the beautiful countryside there is a sense of community, adventure, and mutual celebration of music that makes it a surefire hit for years to come.

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  1. jc

    shame to the reviewer who writes 2 lines on one of the greatest ever guitarists, Carlos Santana. Go learn your music history and open your ears and heart.

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