Bluesfest Day #1 – The Wrap


Pics by @yayastemp

The sun was out, the birds were singing and for the first time since last years festival, people were getting positive vibes when talking about the blues.

Melbournian Harts was given the job to kick things off, and the guitar prodigy did not disappoint. Since being taken under Prince’s wing in 2014, the young Australian has added further layers to his electro, pop-punk sound. Funk was definitely in the air with some swashbuckling hooks that sent the crowd into a festival frenzy, while his trademark vocals were on point.

Kamasi Washington simply demanded presence when he strutted up on stage. The sax player opened with some baby-making-jazz and did not let up until his last track. With a keytar present, a woodwind section, funky double bass and two drummers on stage, the set oozed cool as the LA group didn’t seem phased by what they described as ‘the biggest crowd they’ve ever played to’. Vocalist Patrice Quinn was the cherry on top after she started hitting notes that we didn’t even know existed. Combine it all together and Bluesfest was treated to a sound that left the festival in awe.

After picking our jaws up from the ground we had to hurry to Cold War Kids. Only an hour earlier we’d chatted to the band who were no doubt poised and ready to erupt (but also pissed off with retailer, GAP). And erupt they did.

Not ignoring their famous back catalogue, tracks ‘Hang Me Up To Dry’, ‘Hospital Beds’, ‘Audience of One’ all featured along with a climactic conclusion, ‘St John’. ‘First’ and ‘Miracle Mile’ we other certified bangers as the Californians played with a contagious energy that shook the packed Crossroads tent.

As you’d expect, the biggest crowd of the day was pulled by none other than Kendrick Lamar. Opening with the impressive two-punch of ‘For Free?’ and ‘Wesley’s Theory’ from his latest critically acclaimed release To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick quickly dispelled any doubts about what he was doing at a blues festival. The blues and jazz influences were felt in both tracks; the former seeing Kendrick rapping at almost sonic speeds over a free form piano line, the latter featuring quite possibly the funkiest and dirtiest bass line of the day.

Kendrick also brought the big sing-a-longs, an essential ingredient of any good festival, and massive tracks like ‘King Kunta’, ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’ and ‘m.a.a.d. City’ brought out the funk within us all. Moshers jumped and rapped along with intense ferocity and many bevs were spilt.

The high point of the set easily came in the last track, ‘Alright’. Having already become associated with the Black Lives Matter movement in America, the track is turning into an anthem of solidarity across the world, irrespective of race. Hearing the whole crowd chanting “We gonna be alright” was an incredibly special moment of unison that harkened back to the early days of blues music and its powerful influences over social change.

DAY #2 featuring Graham Nash, Steve EarleThe National and more.

DAY #3 featuring Eagles of Death Metal, The Decemberists, D’Angelo and more.

DAY #4 featuring Noel Gallagher, Modest Mouse, The Cat Empire and more.

About Mark Royters

Many years ago I was given an Arctic Monkeys EP. Everything changed from that moment onwards. I'm a Sydney-based music writer, reviewer and interviewer.

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