Got your gumboots? Got a raincoat, plenty of water, a folding chair and/or an inexhaustible supply of energy? The Byron Bay Blues and Root Festival is the place to be on an Easter (Autumn) weekend in Australia.
There is nothing like music to lift your spirits. Add good company and wholesome food, and you have an unbeatable festival weekend. Of course, into each festival, some rain must fall; the event would not be complete without mud.
Started as the East Coast Blues Festival at the Byron Bay Arts Factory in 1990 with a modest international and local lineup, Bluesfest has evolved into a major five-day event. We only attended three of the five days: we weren’t sure that our ageing ears and bones would hold up to any more!
We decided to ease in with something familiar, Hat Fitz and Cara whom we last saw perform at the Thredbo Blues Festival in 2012. In spite of Cara still wearing an eye-patch following a car accident last December, their powerhouse performance (and between-song-patter) was in no way diminished.
The Byron Bluesfest attracts a wonderful range of international performers across a breadth of styles. The last time I attended, back in 1999, I sought out Taj Mahal, Jimmy Webb, Tony Joe White, and other sounds of my adolescence, but I also let my teenaged children introduce me to Ben Harper, Keb’ Mo’ and Angelique Kidjo. What a great way of rediscovering youth, reliving all the great moments since, and getting glimpses into the future of music.
Over 100,000 people attended this year – not all at the same time, mind you. On Friday, however, as I tried to catch sight of Carlos Santana, whose music was part of the very fabric of my teens. and who, more recently, danced me through my wedding, it felt like they were all in the tent with me – pushing four directions at once.
In spite of the obstacles, nothing could diminish Santana’s performance: one hour and a half of unadulterated joy and energy! Somehow, being there, even when you can barely see, is better than a clearer view at home on a television. Confined as we were, bodies squashed together, we danced all the way through the performance, and back out of the tent at the end.
I love the mix of old, traditional performers (like the artists supported by the Music Maker Blues Revue) and local talent, like the young Genevieve Chadwick, who we first saw at Thredbo Blues 2013, and Lil’ Fi, who has been a part of the local arts seen for a while. And although none of them are female, we were as captivated by Round Mountain Girls as they were by the mountain that gives them their name. It’s these surprises you find, sometimes while looking for something else, that make festivals such a treat.
After our experience of not-really-seeing Santana on Friday, on Saturday we tried to stake a spot for another icon of my adolescence: Robert Plant, the inimitable voice of Led Zeppelin, four hours ahead of time. Clearly 99,998 or so people had had that idea before us, and we had to settle for parking chairs in the wings outside the huge, already packed, tent.
Light fell, bands played on and the stars came out; I was thankful that the rains held off… Then Plant’s voice, supported and enriched by the off-beat rhythms of the Sensational Space Shifters, wove its old magic and still thrilled me to the core.
I have a soft spot for Cat Empire, as I first saw them in a pub in Darwin on a “night out” with my son. But, frightened by the prospects of another hour and a half standing still in the car park, as we had done the night before, we didn’t stay through to the end of their set.
I guess its a sign that I’m getting rather old for the challenges of festival-going: paying to be wet and tired and muddy, watching on the big screens something I wouldn’t watch on TV at home.
Would I do it again?
Hell yes! We have our tickets for next year already.
Music is good for the soul.
Peace, love and mung beans! 🙂