Blues Women Rock! Byron Bay Bluesfest 2017

Irish Mythen playing guitar at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Irish Mythen
Dynamite packaged in a blue suit: Irish Mythen, an Irish-born performer based in Canada, once again raised the roof of the Bluesfest tents with her soaring and passionate vocals.

With the radio cranked loud, I spent most of last week driving down New South Wales backroads, trying to not tap the beat too hard on the accelerator. The annual Easter-weekend Bluesfest music festival in Byron Bay had finished late Monday night, and I was on the way home with songs in my head and music in my heart.

I love Bluesfest!

It always takes me a while to absorb and “digest” the wonderful range of music that the five days of multiple stages offer up. But, while it is all fresh and raw, I’ll share with you a few portraits of the some of the powerhouse women, young and old, that rocked my festival.

These women couldn’t have been more different: different social and ethnic backgrounds, different experiences and ages, different musical genres and influences. But what struck was what they shared – beyond their indisputable talent and skill: they all seemed to be so very much themselves. While much of that may be stage persona, they each embodied their own personal style and commanded their performance spaces. The audiences were in their hands!

On a photographic note: I always find it challenging to process the photos I’ve taken under these low light conditions. I had trouble getting anywhere close to the action, so all the pictures included here are taken with the ISO cranked right up on my “noisy” old Canon 5D Mark II, using a 2.8 70-200mm lens without image stabilisation.

Even so, I hope they reflect some of the magnetism of their subjects. 

Lucy Gallant singing on stage at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Lucy Gallant
With sparkles, flowers, and stage lights in her hair, Lucy Gallant looks as etherial as her delicate chimes. Her free-wheeling eclectic music draws on her BurmeseRussian, Irish, and Australian heritage and fuses rock, reggae, soul, latin and folk-pop traditions.

Lucy Gallant singing on stage at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Lucy Gallant
Byron-based, British-born Lucy is a singer-songwriter who plays multiple instruments. Billed as an indie artist, she’s on her way to her third Glastonbury Festival after this, her first Byron Bluesfest appearance.

Fiddler for Lucy Gallant, Byron Bluesfest 2017

Fiddler
A fiddler was a lively accompaniment to Lucy Gallant’s set.

Melody Angel playing guitar at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Melody Angel
The next performer on our schedule couldn’t have been more different! A fierce guitarist on her Fender Strat, Chicago-born Melody Angel

Melody Angel playing guitar at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Melody Angel
… counts Prince and Hendrix amongst her many playing and song-writing influences. Definitely one to watch!

Irish Mythen playing guitar at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Irish Mythen
We’d seen Irish before (see: Blues All Over the World) and made sure we didn’t miss her this year. She did not disappoint! (For one of her original songs, check out: Irish Pewter and Whiskey)

Nikki Hill singing on stage at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Nikki Hill
This is another energetic firecracker that we’d seen at Bluesfest before (see: Musical Name-Dropping) and weren’t about to miss. Called a queen of R&B soul and rock, Nikki Hill had whole the audience dancing.

Kam Franklin in the Bright Lights on stage at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Kam Franklin in the Bright Lights
Even the brightest lights in the house …

The Suffers singing on stage at Byron Bluesfest 2017

The Suffers
… can’t hide the exuberant and ranging soulful mezzo-soprano vocals of Kam Franklin, who fronts The Suffers as they power through their Gulf Coast Soul sound.

Rhiannon Giddens on banjo on stage at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Rhiannon Giddens
I loved Rhiannon when I saw her in 2016 (see: Back to the Roots), and if anything, she has grown in vocal power. Her wonderful voice ranged across old songs and originals with their heartbreaking roots in American history. The attached audio track, At the Purchaser’s Option, written with Joey Ryan, is an example.

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Mavis Staples singing on stage at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Mavis Staples
Mavis Staples and her family were friends with Martin Luther King, Jr., and became the musical voices of the American civil rights movement. She is considered one of the greatest gospel, soul, and blues singers of all time, and still holds the audience in her her hands.

Patti Smith reading on stage at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Patti Smith
Another “elder” of the music world, Patti Smith, “punk poet laureate”, sang the album Horses and read short pieces.

Bonnie Raitt playing guitar at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Bonnie Raitt
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and ten-time Grammy winner Bonnie Raitt looked small on the big stage in the huge Crossroads tent, but she filled the space with sound, …

Bonnie Raitt and The California Honeydrops on stage at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2017

Bonnie Raitt
… especially when she was joined by the jazzy horn section of The California Honeydrops.

Emily Wurramara playing banjo at Byron Boomerang Festival 2017

Emily Wurramara
The Boomerang Indigenous Arts Festival was running concurrently for three of the five festival days. With her sweet voice and sunny positivity, Emily Wurramara, singer, songwriter and musician from Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, was a treat.

Saraima Navara singing banjo at Byron Boomerang Festival 2017

Saraima Navara with Emily Wurramara

Rickie Lee Jones singing on stage at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Rickie Lee Jones
There were quite a few “Living Legends” at Bluesfest this year. Everybody knows ‘Chuck E’s In Love’, but Rickie Lee Jone’s music extends well beyond that. The two-time Grammy-winner has 15 acclaimed albums to her name. I always think of her as the model for the singer Janice in the Muppet band Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem, especially as she was associated with Dr John in the late 1970s. (It has also been argued that the model for Janice was Mary Travers from Peter Paul and Mary, but I think the musical style is much more Rickie Lee.) Clearly, she is still well loved: the tent was packed with Baby Boomers who stayed long after she had performed her 1979 hit.

Laura Mvula on stage with her keytar, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2017

Laura Mvula
One of the “finds” of the festival was Laura Mvula, British soul singer-songwriter. She looks tiny on the big stage, backed by her band and surrounded in light.

Laura Mvula on stage with her keytar, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2017

Laura Mvula
With her Caribbean roots, a degree in musical composition from Birmingham Conservatoire, a personable stage presence, and a white keytar called “Nina” (Simone), Laura is a force to be reckoned with.

Beth Hart on stage at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Beth Hart on Stage
We were blown away by Beth Hart the first time we saw her at Bluesfest in 2014 (see: Full Blast and Full Colour).

Beth Hart on keyboard on stage at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Beth Hart
A multi-instrumentalist, she played a number of songs from her new album, as well as older favourites.

Beth Hart on stage at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Beth Hart
This year, she took to the stage twice, singing auto-biographical songs of pain and hardship …

Beth Hart on stage at Byron Bluesfest 2017

Beth Hart
… in her powerful rock-chick voice that has played duo with guitarists like Jeff Beck, Joe Bonamassa and Eric Gales.

As I said earlier, each of these women is different in so many ways. Each has had her own struggles and demons, but each has found a way forward through music.

Text: To the Music

And I am so glad they have.

I loved them, each and every one.

Until next time – 

To the Music!

Photos: 13-17April2017

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