Singin’ the Blues ~ Byron Bay Bluesfest, Australia

Dark blue stage with singer and band backlit by white light.

Karise Eden
Rocking the Blues

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.

Portrait: Australian bearded male in a hat singing. Hat Fitz

Hat Fitz
Rough, gravel tones belting out a tune.

Male guitarist and female percussion on stage: Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson

Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson
A musical duo with powerhouse vocals.

Taj Mahal laying guitar, Bluesfest 2013

Taj Mahal
As good as ever…

Backlit portrait: Ben Harper on guitar

Ben Harper
Bridging the gap between the old and the young

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.

Dark blue stage: Shuggie Otis, spotlit on guitar, pianist in background

Shuggie Otis
A musical family delivers

Portrait: Robert Cray in blue and pink light, on guitar.

Robert Cray
Cheeky and smooth at the same time.

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.

Silhouetted hands holding a smartphone at a concert

Sometimes the best view of the stage is through someone else’s smart phone. 🙁

Santana - in person on a distant stage, and projected on a large screen behind.

Thank Heavens for the Big Screens!
Squashed into an aisle behind the sound stage, I could barely see over the heads in front…

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.

Pat Wilder and the Music Maker Blues Revue on stage at Byron Bluesfest 2013

Traditional Blues and Southern Roots
Pat Wilder and the Music Maker Blues Revue

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.

Portrait: Genevieve Chadwick and guitar at Bluesfest 2013

Genevieve Chadwick
Her big voice fills the space in the big tent.

Portrait: Red-haired Lil

Lil’ Fi
“Celebrating Curves”

Young woman sitting on the gravel against a fence barricade, Bluesfest 2013

Time Out
Bluesfest is a pretty chilled out affair.

Portrait: Chris Eaton of Round Mountain Girls singing and clapping, Bluesfest 2013

Chris Eaton
Round Mountain Girls

A wild fiddler: Rabbit Robinson, Round Mountain GIrls

Like a fiddler possessed ~

Rabbit Robinson fiddling at Bluesfest 2013

Rabbit Robinson on stage.

Performers on stage: Chris Broker, Chris Eaton and Rabbit Robinson

Chris Broker, Chris Eaton and Rabbit Robinson of Round Mountain Girls
We were as taken by this band as they were by “Round Mountain”, which possesses them.

Mojo Tent, Bluesfest 2013, packed out the sides with people.

No Room to Move!
Mojo Tent is already packed out the sides with people.

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.

Dark stage: red light on Robert Plant singing

Robert Plant
A long way away ~ but his voice reaches, regardless

Portrait: Tony Joe White on guitar, drummer behind

“The Swamp”
Tony Joe White has lost none of his story-telling appeal since I last saw him in 1999.

On stage, singer Karise Eden and band, Bluesfest 2013

Karise Eden
Winner of Australia’s first season of The Voice, 2012, Karise packs a Janis Joplin punch.

Festival scene: people in raincoats and boots, in water and mud. Byron Bluesfest 2013

A little rain can’t dampen festival-goers spirits.

A woman

Beautiful Tattoos
The festival audience included young and old, and provides for people-watching enjoyment.

Screenshot: Two headshots of Xavier Rudd on didgeridoos and guitar

A New Take on the One-Man Band
Billed as an Australian “musician, activist, and surfer”, multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd on didgeridoos, percussion and guitar.

Silhouetted technicians at a soundstage in low light.

Sound Stage
The oft-forgotten people behind the scenes; for the most part, they did an excellent job.

Cat Empire on stage at Bluesfest 2013, Harry James Angus on trumpet

Cat Empire
Harry James Angus on trumpet.

A distant stage, dark blue with yellow spot-lights; Felix Riebl singing. Bluesfest, 2013

The Cat’s Eye under Lights
Felix Riebl singing up a storm.

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.

Text: Keep smilingWould 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! 🙂

Pictures: 29-31March2013

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