Tiny backpack packed, complete with demountable everything. Masks and hand sani a-plenty. Gumboots on, and we were ready for Bluesfest 2022.
There was still a slight scepticism in the air as we recalled the shattering memory of being told to turn around and go home last year at the 11th hour. Actually, it was past the 11th hour. It wasn’t until an emotional Peter Noble, Bluesfest Boss, took to the somewhat-larger-than-last-time-we-think Mojo stage for his opening address, that we securely relaxed into the fact that this was happening.
The Bluesfest site is located on Bundjalung land.
We were welcomed onto this picturesque country through song and dance by the proud Arakwal women, the traditional custodians for over 22,000 years.
My first stop for the day, after inhaling an organic sourdough donut, was an artist I wasn’t familiar with and who captivated me instantly. Bluesfest punter-turned- artist, Roshani, is a one-woman, all-inclusive loop Queen. She can typically be found tearing up the streets of Sydney as a busker, but today was realizing a long-time dream on her biggest stage to date under the soaring Delta tent.
Roshani has a strong and powerful vocal foundation that instills a sense of trust within the listener. Her soulful tones and multitude of instruments were expertly layered to generate complex, deeply heartfelt tunes. Roshani had beautiful rapport with her audiences, who marvelled at her incredible journey and determination to get to where she is today. “I’m not gonna go to my fucking grave with my potential still inside me”, she declared defiantly before launching into another multitasking extravaganza.
The Wailers are Bluesfest regulars, and within moments of hearing their feel-good, reggae vibes and the infectious grooves - it's easy to see why. These impossible-not-to-nod-your-head-to bass-lines have the Mojo tent bouncing in unison. The seemingly effortless groove is intoxicating. Is it 4:20 already?
I headed on down to the outer edge of the festival grounds to see piggery veteran, Kevin Borich, take to the Juke Joint stage. There really is nothing like the slow opening rumble of a rock legend “warming up” those amps, and the intimate gathering of 5-dayers was chomping at the bit. Borich was natural and self-assured on stage, with hilarious banter. “It’s not about me this song,” he said with a cheeky grin, “but it’s called the Snowball King”. His extended guitar solos had the crowd hanging off his every note, but as a musician myself, it was his passion, clearly written all over his face, that struck and inspired me so whole-heartedly, especially after such an extensive career.
I quickly made my way to the Mojo tent where Spinifex Gum was to take the stage. This 16-strong choir of fierce, young indigenous women was exceptionally impressive. Everything from their into nation to the way they held themselves on stage, these young women exhibited a level of professionalism sometimes not seen from people twice their age. Their harmonies were perfectly balanced and clean, accompanied by beautiful images from the Australian landscape. It was thrilling to experience the pure, unobstructed voices of these talented young performers.
I had a little break to gather myself before Tijuana Cartel took over the Mojo stage. I immediately got groovy-cult-leader vibes from lead singer/guitarist Paul George, who opened the performance with an extended guitar solo, solidly establishing himself on that grand stage.
Tijuana Cartel (not to be confused with the Mexican drug cartel of the same name) effectively mixes a variety of genres and instruments, including flamenco guitar, bongos and melodica just to name a few, to create their own psychedelic sound world that captivated the growing congregation. I was particularly titillated by the groovy colour of the trumpet/harmonica blend.
The Cat Empire closed out the day with their FINAL SHOW EVER… in this line up. The crowd was beside themselves with happiness, as was front man Felix Riebl, who was literally jumping for joy. They opened with a total banger; showcasing the fabulous brass players with some trumpet vs. trombone gymnastics in a classic riff off. Giant smiles were abundant, a common thread across all Bluesfest performers and punters, overjoyed to be on these iconic stages once again after a 3 year forced hiatus.
Friday kicked off with the self described, “love funky revolution” that is The Regime. I’m not quite sure what I was looking at but it felt as though I had stepped into The Imperial Erskinville on a pumping Sunday afternoon.
Their loud, mismatched outfits, combined with funky night-club-jazz-esque tunes and moves eligible for a lip-sync extravaganza made for a set I can only describe as polished chaos. With seven front people I did feel it was on the cusp of being too busy, however they managed to skillfully negotiate the spotlight with ease. The energy onstage was exhilarating and I want in on their tour bus.
The always wonderful All Our Exes Live In Texas are (in their own words) 'the coconut water aperitif,' before the full-blown, rock-dog takeover on Crossroads stage. I couldn't have put it better. Sweet, refreshing and the perfect mid-afternoon treat. Gorgeous vocal harmonies, heartfelt song-writing and witty banter abound as these ladies deliver a quietly sensational set.
One thing I wasn’t expecting to hear at Bluesfest was classical music pumping through the colossal speakers. It’s not the first time I’ve heard Prokofiev’s Montagues and Capulets remixed into a backing track and Indigenous rapper, Briggs, utilized this classic work perfectly. Between hilariously entertaining banter with his DJ and good ol’ audience participation, Briggs, or should I say, Senator Briggs, was in his element on that stage, totally at ease.
“I’ll tell you one thing, it feels real fuckin’ good to be here right now” Briggs exclaimed to a packed out Mojo, including some very small children bopping away to the, sometimes explicit, rap. Gotta love a Bluesfest audience.
We went from bangers of the 30’s to bangers of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, oh my, when Lisa Hunt took to the Jambalaya stage. It’s been over a decade since her last appearance at Bluesfest and please, Lord, do not let it be that long again. Lisa’s performance is proof that the people love a good cover, especially when executed so exceptionally well. She absolutely blew the roof off the Jambalaya tent with a brilliant selection of multi generational hits, interspersed with some classic gospel-esque recitative, sending the packed out tent into a frenzied state.
This performance also featured the inimitable Hammond Organ, an instrument perhaps best known for its interjections at basketball games, but here exercising its divine right, shining brightly front of stage in the spotlight. However, we hadn’t reached the peak of this set by any means. That happened when out popped an instrument arguably grander and more understated than the Hammond Organ. The cowbell. Lisa walloped that cowbell with such a superb mix of conviction, passion and disgust that translated into pure art. I made time for a quick organic sourdough donut before heading to the Crossroads tent for punk rock royalty, The Living End.
Festival veterans, The Living End do indeed know how to rock. They provide a spicy slew of riff-heavy bangers that provoke chaotic moshing, raised devil horns and choruses screamed in unison by young and old alike. I'm not familair with the back catalgue - but it's impossible not to be swept up in the mayhem. The face-melting shredding is punctuated by iconic rock poses, death-defying double bass balancing and piston-like head-banging. The crowd is sent into delirium with each opening refrain and I'm briefly tempted to crowd surf my way to the front. I restrain myself, barely and remain professional despite my unclean urges.
Moshcam was all set to film the Hoodoo Gurus huge headline show at Sydney Myer Music Bowl just over a week ago, when Covid once again reared it's ugly head to decimate the show. As a result, this festival set felt a little bittersweet... it would have made for quite the concert film.
The band was tight and these classic tunes sounded so good. Stupid plague... ruining everything... grumble, mumble...
It was time for one of the headliners to mark their territory at Bluesfest 2022. Midnight Oil opened their set with a powerful series of clips and images depicting recent movements throughout the world before launching into a slew of new songs.
Personally, I would’ve liked a few more classic bangers early on, but they still rocked out like they were in their 20’s, with Peter Garrett’s stage moves just as iconic as ever. I had to leg it from the Midnight Oil extravaganza mid-way through to catch a band I hadn’t come across before over on the Delta stage. And oh boy was it worth the run.
I managed to reach the Delta tent just in time to see fringe-tastic Skye Edwards of Morcheeba taking the stage. Morcheeba are an English, down tempo, sensual rock group who put their throng of fans into a trace. I too was completely mesmerized by their soulful, husky tones and felt like I’d stepped into an opium den. It was the perfect way to end a hectic festival day.
Everything hurts. Too many organic sourdough donuts have been consumed, but the show must go on and today’s line up is out of control. I began my day at the Crossroads tent, where Ash Grunwald was gearing up for a killer set.
Ash is a Melbourne-born, prolific Aussie muso who was serving reggae-country realness. He has such a rich, hearty timbre to his voice, adding a soulful sentiment to his set. Special mention goes to keyboardist, Ian Perez, for his spirited piano-ography and dynamic solos.
My back was thankful that my schedule kept me at Crossroads for the next performance. Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. This man has ruined guitar playing for me because I don’t see how he can be ever be topped. Hailing from Clarksdale Mississippi, this was Kingfish’s first Bluesfest and please oh please Lord Peter of Noble, bring him back forever. Kingfish is a guitarist’s wet dream.
There were expansive musical breaks from his velvety vocal tones to showcase his crystal clean, marathon guitar solos,one of which had him make full use of the Crossroads catwalk. Heading off the stage and into the crowd, Kingfish was met by a deafening roar from the frenzied fans, who knew they were witnessing something incredibly special. And hello Hammond organ! It has made a triumphant return. The keys players of Bluesfest are off the charts this year and this performance was no exception. He felt every damn note of his solos and all I can say is thank you for your service.
There was one artist in particular that I was very excited to see, the unique and operatic Queen that is Kate Miller-Heidke.
Kate and her band took to the Mojo stage for “Ladies Night” bringing the audience some of her classics as well as some new music, including a piece from the “sacred Australian text”, Muriel’s Wedding, a musical she co wrote with Keir Nuttall in 2017. I’m always blown away by the diverse ways in which Kate utilizes her incredible voice, playing with different timbres and techniques to create her own array of instruments. Her flawless coloratura is always a hit with the audience and she toyed with different hand-to-mouth techniques to produce some scatty trumpet tones.
All of this was despite swimming in raw sewerage in the ocean the day before, risking “a vagina infection” as so eloquently pointed out by her mother. Jess Hitchcock expertly matched Kate’s quirky vocal characters on backing vocals and eerie Sculthorpe-esque bass playing made for an intriguing set.
I legged it to Crossroads to catch some of Baker Boy’s set, which was heaving. He’d opted for the full party lights packaged and the fans were loving it.
I couldn’t stay long as I was keen to see Murri man, Kev Carmody on the Delta stage. Kev is a singer-songwriter but first and foremost, a storyteller. His set felt less like a musical performance and more like a chat between friends with some musical interludes here and there. He did make the fair point that he was entitled to this saying, “I can tell you a little story cos I’m bloody old as hell now”. The audience needed no convincing, they could have listened to his stories all day. When he did whip out his guitar, we were treated to that familiar country twang and swagger that we know and love. He “made a few blues but you got the idea” and joked that “[I] don’t know where my third finger is half the time, could be in my ear-hole”.
Bluesfest veteran Kasey Chambers was up next on the Crossroads stage. Kasey was quickly brought to tears by the sight and the sound of this packed-out Crossroads tent singing along with her iconic, 'Not Pretty Enough,' classic. She revealed that it was 20 years ago she gave that very song it's live debut at Bluesfest - to a much, much smaller crowd. She glowed as she belted through an energetic set - taking the crowd on a emotional roller-coaster.
There are few names as synonomous with australian song-writing as Paul Kelly. The much-loved legend took to the stage to an ovation that was three-years in the making. He opened with 'Finally Something Good,' and there could not have been a more appropriate song to define what it's like being back at Bluesfest.
The tent went wild - the overpouring of emotion was like no other moment this week. The adoration was, it seems, overwhelming for Mr Kelly- who broke down in tears before the second song. He thanked the crowd for giving him back his lifeblood - these precious communal moments of shared joy and celebration. The set was magic - touching on deeper cuts, but also the hits like 'Gravy, To Her Door, Dumb Things and finishing with a misty-eyed singalong of 'From Little Things, Big Things Grow.'
Sunday morning. Day 4. I’m not cut out for this. I began my day at Jambalaya, the closest tent to the organic sourdough donuts, where a country hoe-down was about to take place. The Round Mountain Girls took all of .02 seconds to have the wearying crowd on their feet, proving their skills not just as performers, but skillful entertainers. Contrary to what their name suggests, there is in fact only one female in this rag tag bunch of mountain girls and a recent knee reconstruction wasn’t going to stop her from having the time of her life, absolutely shredding those violin/tin whistle solos.
A stand out for me was the harmonica aficionado. Never have I seen the harmonica played so ferociously and with so much passion. It was truly exceptional. This band had an infectious energy that was difficult to drag myself away from but alas, I had to be at the Juke Joint, the other side of the festival, as quickly as my poor legs could get me there.
Dami Im “wasn’t gonna miss this for anything”. And she meant it. The ready-to-pop Queen came bounding out onto stage, at least 20 months pregnant, causing the security guard to be on high alert.
Dami demonstrated her strong, powerful vocals throughout a mix of originals and classic covers, something made even more impressive given the pressure the baby must have been putting on her diaphragm.
Jon Stevens immediately had the audience in the palm of his hand - rolling out hit after hit from Noiseworks, INXS and his solo work - an incredible catalogue of songs unleashed with gusto and conviction.
The Kiwi funk-lords kicked-open their set with a delicious slow-burn slice of groove, gradually building track-by-track, masterfully curating a crescendo that blew the lid off the joint. Just witnessing the effortless cool is enough to put a swagger in your step.
Time for some Saturday night fever, on Easter Sunday. Cory Henry was serving up synth magic with his band on the Delta Stage. I felt as though I'd been transferred to the coolest disco in town.
With rising key changes, techno-reggae vibes, robotic mic work and virtuosic woodblock, Henry and his band were quickly sending their audience into a fever. Also the Hammond organ is back and Hammond organ improv is my new favourite thing. Special mention goes to Henry's incredibly clean and sensitive drummer, perhaps the best of the festival.
This was my first live experience of Barnesy, a rite-of-passage for any self-respecting Australian. He's pretty intense, to put it mildly.
This man seems on a one-minded mission to shred his vocal chords in the most spectacular fashion. The band is a family affair with his son on the drums and wife and daughters on backing vocals. They put on a ballistic peformance and I have no idea how Jimmy didn't burst a vein in his forehead.
John Butler has made Bluesfest a second home over the years and he couldn't be more comfortable seated centre-stage, relaxed and engaging in genuine banter with the crowd. His set is a combination of awe-inspiring musicianship, charismatic story-telling and joyful celebration. Toe tapping tunes alongside epic extended and intricate guitar work, sandwiched between his colourful commentary on life.
It's hard not to catch the feel-good fuzzies from a John Butler show and I walk away with a smile.
It was time for Grammy-nominated Hiatus Kaiyote to take over the Delta stage. Singer/guitarist Nai Palm and her amazing hand pants drew me in instantly. Nai played with different vocal effects and timbres ranging from operatic flares to deeper husky tones resulting in a fascinating and very impressive soundscape.
Funky rhythms and time shifts,which the band executed seamlessly, kept the crowd on their toes, no predictable bopping here. All of this contributed toward the band producing an incredibly unique and innovative sound, resulting in a fascinating set.
The feel good performance of the festival was, without a doubt - Crowded House.
It’s been ten years since the band last toured Australia, and almost three years since his most recent lap of the country as the unexpected new member of Fleetwood Mac. Returning to the stage is a "joyous occasion," Neil says, but that been obvious all night, from the radiant smile on his face.
It’s certainly undeniable during their closing track, 'Don’t Dream It’s Over,' where the Finns and their comrades start the song, but the audience helps bring it home.
As the big, wistful chorus hangs in the air, Finn beams back at the crowd. It’s hard to tell who appreciates it more, the audience or the band.
It was the perfect end to a beautiful day.
The crowd is noticeably quieter. My back is killing me. No queue for the organic sourdough donuts though. I spent most of my day at the Juke Joint, beginning with another set from Roshani, whose performance somehow outdid her previous one, followed by Hussy Hicks.
Lead singer Leesa Gentz gives Jimmy Barnes a run for his money. Her fabulous vocal range included powerful scream-like belting moments alongside gravelly, bluesy tones. Homogenous harmonies between Gentz and guitarist Julz Parker were executed flawlessly, and special mention goes to a homemade percussive instrument, the trusty toolbox. Father Parker, Greg, overcame some early harmonica issues to really bring home a peppy, playful performance.
I continued my Juke Joint extravaganza with another session of Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and once again lost my tiny mind at his virtuosity. Sir Hammond Organ was giving me serious Vicar of Dibley choir master vibes and somehow also topped his performance from earlier in the festival.
My notes from his performance just say, “keys solo holy fuck”. A lucky few got to take home some broken strings from Kingfish’s guitar. I hadn’t noticed them break during his performance, but it’s not surprising given at some stage he was playing with his teeth.
I needed to walk off some of that excited energy so left Juke Joint and headed for Crossroads to see soul-jazz-can-do-it-all Queen, Kate Ceberano. Dazzlingly effortless as ever,she told the audience she was “gonna sing my fucking ass off tonight” and she delivered.
My festival experience ended with the acoustic tenors of Pete Murray.
His easy- listening vocals were the perfect way to wrap up Bluesfest 2022 before my broken body demanded to be taken home.
One final glance at the organic sourdough donut van, I threw my tiny backpack on and trudged through the mud to the car, exhausted but fully satiated by an absolutely awe-inspiring festival.