Bluesfest Byron @ Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm Review

Magical. That is the only way to describe the 25th annual Bluesfest. It is like no other festival in Australia. Bluesfest organisers have hit the nail on the head this time round with a pearler line-up, consistently clean and nice smelling amenities, and no matter where you were situated in the campground you were no more than a five-seven minute walk from an entry point into the festival. The police played nice and the punters not only respected festival rules, but respected each other as well. More importantly, however, the music and sound were phenomenal.

Friday saw Bob Marley’s band, The Wailers, play a funky, reggae-heavy set on one of the festival’s smaller stages. They punched out classics such as ‘Could You Be Loved’ and ‘Is This Love’. The crowd was slightly disappointed that they didn’t play ‘Redemption Song’ but despite this, anyone and everyone within a 200 metre radius of The Wailers’ performance was bopping, smiling and laughing arm-in-arm with the strangers around them.

he John Butler Trio played an epic 80 minute performance on Saturday night on Bluesfest’s largest stage, Mojo. If you didn’t arrive at least an hour before he played then you had no chance of getting in that tent. It was almost as if every single patron at the festival was there grooving to JBT. Crowd favourites were ‘Ocean’ and, of course, ‘Better Than’. 

If you wanted to boogie, laugh, make friends, cry, and/ or hug then the Crossroads stage was the place to be on Sunday. The line-up that night included funky R&B band WAR, who played hits like ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’. Jurassic 5 frontman Chali 2na followed with a groovy, hip-grinding ‘90s hip hop set; shortly after this, world-fusion lords Ozomatli – who Chali 2na also fronts – played an explosive set of salsa, reggae, funk, hip hop and jazz tracks. 

Closing the Crossroads stage on Sunday night were Bluesfest favourites Michael Franti & Spearhead. Franti had us with our shirts off and arms in the air – it was an incredibly energetic and upbeat performance. They put their jazz/ world/ reggae fusion spin on songs such as Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ and INXS’s ‘Don’t Change’, which the crowd frothed over. 

Monday afternoon at Bluesfest (or should I say Funkfest) saw ‘70s disco-funk group KC And The Sunshine Band play huge hits such as ‘That’s The Way (I Like It)’, ‘Shake, Shake, Shake (Shake Your Booty)’, and ‘Get Down Tonight’. They had groovy dancers moving and doing acrobatics all over the stage – it seemed like there was a bit of sexual tension between them and lead singer Harry ‘KC’ Wayne Casey, which was a bit funny to watch. Overall the sound was impeccable, and their performance was flawless. 

The last bands of the festival were a little bit disappointing. British heartthrob Jake Buggplayed a neat 75 minute set; however, the crowd lost interest and started drifting away to see other performances after Jake smashed out his two biggest hits (‘Seen It All’ and ‘Two Fingers’) in the first 25 minutes of his timeslot.

The Dave Matthews Band closed the festival on the Mojo stage. It was undoubtedly an epic performance, but after the previous four days of witnessing jam-bands it was a bit of a boring closing act. For example, during their encore they came back on stage and played one song for a full thirty minutes. I kid you not when I say this, but I actually fell asleep – not quite the closing bang I was after. 

Despite this, Bluesfest is hands down one of Australia’s most amazing and special festivals. I went to Bluesfest alone and came home having made a silly amount of new friends – all crazy, all cool, all different, and all exceptional people. The food, the culture, the arts, the punters, and the music are all out-of-this-world. Experience it. 

In vain of repeating an already overtly used cliché, Joss Stone really is the white girl with the soul-sister black voice; and boy did she make sure the crowd knew it, pelting out hit after hit during her performance at this year’s festival. Packing out the entire Crossroads arena for her Friday night show, Miss Stone was effortlessly entertaining as she owned the stage in front of the thousand-strong crowd. 

For those of us lucky enough to have caught a glimpse of the singer backstage before the show, she was refreshingly natural, walking around with bare feet in a casual black maxi dress and it was that same kind of natural grace that she channelled during her performance. Still so young, Joss Stone has plenty more to give and will hopefully be on the line-up for one if not many more Bluesfests to come. 

With her first-ever trip to Australia, Beth Hart has certainly left an impression on us, drawing huge crowds for both of her appearances at the festival. Marked as one of Festival DirectorPeter Noble’s top picks, it was easy to appreciate his reasoning, with the singer revving the audiences up with her high-energy shows. For her first performance at the festival, Beth Hart opened with a rendition of Tina Turner’s ‘Nutbush’, instantaneously drawing in passers by, both young and old, who rocked along to the famous tune. She also showcased songs off her latest album, ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom’, which were received with equal enthusiasm. A definite star on the rise, Beth Hart is one to watch.

Having been in the industry well over 30 years, Suzanne Vega is one of those artists who just like a good red wine, gets better with time. Selling out shows wherever she goes, Suzanne’s Bluesfest appearance was by no means any exception, attracting big numbers for each of her two performances. 

The singer combined her 75 minute sets with classic and unforgettable songs such a 'Luka' and 'Marlene On The Wall' as well as introducing some of her newest material, ‘Rocket In This Pocket’, ‘Jacob And The Angel’ and ‘I Never Wear White’. Since the release of her self-titled, critically acclaimed 1985 debut album, Suzanne’s music has continued to capture the hearts of people around the world, speaking truth in an otherwise often superficial world. A Suzanne Vega show is first-class and real pleasure to be a part of. 

One of the most exciting musical outfits ever to come out of Australia, Dubmarine were once again on fire with their upbeat, entrancing performance, appearing for the second time as part of a Bluesfest line-up. Renowned for their thick basslines and creative on-stage costumes, the nine-piece Dubmarine crew had the Cavanbah stage pumping with songs off their latest album, ‘Laser Sound Beam’, and tracks from their debut album, ‘Depth Of Sound’. “The difference between performing now and last time is that people really know who we are, so people have received us really easily,” said Dubmarine frontman D-Kazman. 

“We just love the experience here at Bluesfest, it’s what we’ve been most excited about and it’s really great meeting people from the different acts. “It’s also great to watch some awesome performers that you’ve heard on the radio or seen in the video clips and then to see them live and at it, you see the real musicianship and that’s always really cool.” 

One of the most important messages and perhaps the ‘glue’ linking all performers of the Bluesfest machine is the importance of culture and respect for our indigenous peoples and the land. One such band which screams this message loud and clear through their hard-hitting lyrics is Hawaiian band Nahko And Medicine For The People, who graced the Bluesfest line-up for the first time this year. 

One of the highlights of the festival, this band have a raw energy unlike anything seen before and their sense of delivering messages of peace, love and caring for the environment through their music is definitely medicine for the soul. Their debut performance at Bluesfest was as lead singer Nahko Bear described: “the biggest crowd they’d ever played for”. But for onlookers, it was as if they were born to be there. Pure awesome, the world definitely needs to overdose on this kind of medicine. 
Myjanne Jensen