Words by Victoria Bihun.
Photos by Josh Groom and Damien Stacey.
And we’re back! The 34th Bluesfest was once again beautifully opened on the stage under the mighty Crossroads tent by the Arakwal women of Bundjalung Country. We were welcomed onto their beautiful land through traditional dance and song, with the prevailing message being look after country, look after you, look after each other.
We remained at the Crossroads tent for our first performer of the day, Nikki Hill. Hill’s performance was a fiery display of rock ‘n’ roll blues fusion, with deep soul roots at the base of it all. She bounded out onto the stage for a high energy beginning before settling into her groove. Together with her band of seasoned musicians, Hill effortlessly blended elements of blues, rock and soul to create a sound that was both timeless and fresh. The fabulous guitar solos from her band were the first of what I feel will be many incredible guitar moments at Bluesfest.
We legged it to the other side of the festival grounds to the Juke Joint tent to catch Frank Sultana’s soulful and authentic performance of blues and roots music. Sultana commanded the stage with ease with his raspy vocals and intricate guitar playing, taking the audience on a journey through the rich history of blues music. What a Cool Dude. Capital C, Capital D.
It was back over to the Crossroads tent to see the funk masters St Paul & the Broken Bones deliver a stunning performance showcasing their unique blend of soul, funk and rock. Lead singer Paul Janeway’s powerful vocals, falsetto for days and dynamic stage presence captivated the audience, while the tight and groovy rhythm section provided the perfect backdrop for their energetic and heartfelt songs. The extended instrumental opening was the perfect way to showcase the skilled band from the get go, especially the brass and ridiculously cool colour of the baritone sax. I get major Alicia Bridges vibes from Paul… anyone else?
We finally had a moment to breathe and get some sourdough donuts (yes, they are just as delicious as ever) as we excitedly awaited one of my favourite performers from last year’s Bluesfest to take to the Crossroads stage. Once again, Spinifex Gum blew me away. I’m always so impressed by this bunch of total bosses and their performance was nothing short of breathtaking. The exceptionally talented ensemble seamlessly blended traditional Indigenous music with contemporary sounds creating a truly unique and powerful experience. Their mature, crystal clear harmonies combined with deep club beats were goosebump-inducing and the positive energy on stage was infectious.
It wouldn’t be a Bluesfest if we hadn’t already reached our step goal for the day as we headed back to the packed out Juke Joint to see the smooth, clear crowd-favourite, Keb ‘Mo’. Through his soulful voice and skillful guitar playing, Keb ‘Mo’ seamlessly blended elements of traditional blues, jazz and folk into a cohesive and captivating sound world. The set list showcased his versatility as a songwriter and performer and his charming stage presence and witty banter with the audience added to the overall brilliance of the performance. Also the Hammond Organ is back, the organist is living and everything is right in the world once more.
We traversed the newly updated festival grounds (hello blue metal) to see our first performance on the Mojo stage. Kaleo’s performance was a high-octane, rock ‘n’ roll explosion of sound that had the audience in a frenzy. The Icelandic band’s powerful blend of blues, folk and rock was on full display, with lead singer JJ Julius Son’s incredible mix of vocal textures, fierce falsetto and guitar riffs leading the charge. Kaleo’s musicianship was impressive, with each member showcasing their skills throughout the set.
It seemed to be a bit of a Juke Joint Fest today as we headed back to see the bluesy-rock guitar virtuosity of Eric Gales. He was totally at home on the cosy stage, smoking a cigar during solos and swaggering across the stage that kept the audience in the palm of his hand. The lightning fast fret work and soulful vocals of this Memphis local were captivating and awe inspiring.
Our final stop of the day was the Delta tent for an unexpected performance from Tex Perkins and Matt Walker. The masks and daily RATs may have been a thing of the past this year, but COVID was still rearing its shitty head with a very late and devastating withdrawal from Elvis Costello and the Imposters. Perkins said it was a “regretful honour” to fill in for the British punk rocker and put on a stellar performance for the appreciative crowd. His hearty southern drawl and tight harmonies with Walker made for a truly special performance.