5 Hidden Gems On The Massive Bluesfest Line-Up

18 December 2014 | 9:49 am | Steve Bell

These artists could knock the socks off some unsuspecting punters come April.

The fifth artist announcement for the 2015 instalment of Bluesfest – to be held over Easter (2-6 April) at its home at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm near Byron Bay – dropped yesterday, and as you’d expect a diverse slew of big names such as Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, Augie March, Donavon Frankenreiter, Justin Townes Earle and Melbourne Ska Orchestra were revealed.

These artists will join the already announced blues and roots-affiliated icons such as Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Tony Joe White, Lenny Kravitz, The Black Keys, Michael Franti & Spearhead, The Gipsy Kings, Jurassic 5, Jimmy Cliff and Mavis Staples (to literally name but a few of the big names who will be strutting their stuff over the festival’s five days and evenings).

But as always what makes Bluesfest such a special event each year is the line-up’s depth and diversity, with the lesser-known artists who may yet to be household names – or even ever destined for true stardom – often stealing the limelight from their better-established peers and contemporaries. It’s a completely subjective exercise, but let’s have a look at some of the bands and artists in the relative fringes who have the arsenal and skills to knock some unsuspecting punters’ socks off at Bluesfest 2015:


American roots artist Pokey LaFarge has the uncanny knack of transporting you back in time using just his music, his ultra-authentic amalgam of swing, jazz and ragtime blues being steeped in the musical tradition of the riverboats which used to hustle along the Mississippi. He’s been around for years, but his 2013 eponymous album coming out on Jack White’s Third Man Records helped propel his throwback style further into the public consciousness. His first tour to Australia earlier this year found him an element of infamy when he publicly locked horns with Billy Bragg over the lineage and history of modern Americana (what an awesome argument!), but this was overshadowed by the torrential accolades he received for his stunning live performances.

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There’s always a ton of top-notch local talent on offer each Easter at Bluesfest and this year is no exception – think Paul Kelly presenting his Merri Soul Sessions, Xavier Rudd et al – but there’s also usually some up-and-comers showing their wares too, and in the 2015 line-up one of these hidden gems is burgeoning bluesman Karl S Williams. 2014 has found Williams flat out like the proverbial lizard drinking, touring unrelentingly on the back of his acclaimed debut long-player Heartwood, even making his first tentative forays overseas. His live shows are emotive and uplifting, and is no doubt one of the reasons that Bluesfest head honcho Peter Noble – a man with a keen eye for rising talent – has earmarked him as a star in the making.


Athens-bred swamp rockers Alabama Shakes made a sizable wave back in 2012 with their debut album Boys & Girls and its bevy of soulful Southern rockers. They’ve been quiet now for 18 months (down this way at least) so are likely to fly under the radar to a degree, but anyone who witnessed them on their first trip Down Under in early-2013 – including some incendiary performances at the Big Day Out and a couple of much-hyped headlining sideshows – will attest that they’re a phenomenal live proposition, especially dynamo frontwoman Brittany Howard who has a voice which will metaphorically melt your face off. With a new album on the cards for 2015 expect some killer new tunes to be aired as well.


I remember seeing the great Midnight Oil lift the roof off the Big Top back in 2001 – one of the best sing-alongs ever, and one of my fave Bluesfest moments from amongst thousands – but while the iconic outfit hasn’t played together in years that doesn’t mean that we still can’t pay homage to their amazing music. Declan Kelly’s Diesel & Dub – featuring an array of luminaries such as Emma Donovan, Alex Lloyd, Pat Powell, Radical Son and Tony Hughes – is a dub-reggae reimagining of tunes for The Oils 1987 classic Diesel & Dust, as well as a swag of other tunes from their ripper catalogue. In that finest altruistic tradition of Midnight Oil the proceeds from this year’s Diesel N Dub album went to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, so they’re putting their money where their mouth is too.


True reggae enthusiasts will be stoked by the return of scene legend Jimmy Cliff to Bluesfest (he smashed it there only two years back), but real genre aficionados will be excited by the first ever Australian performances by California’s progressive reggae outfit Rebelution. Forming a decade ago in Santa Barbara, there’s a touch of Sublime in the way that they fuse traditional reggae with a more contemporary rock feel, a carefree blend with unremittingly positive connotations. Their most recent album Count Me In debuted at #14 on the US Billboard album chart this year and they’re more renowned for their live shows than their records, so head along to one of their sets and smoke ‘em if you got ‘em!

For all details on Bluesfest, head to theGuide, The Music App and our Festivals page.