The National, Tweedy & More Keep The Bluesfest Party Alive On Day 2

26 March 2016 | 4:00 pm | Steve Bell

"I’ve wanted to see Jeff Tweedy perform solo forever and that half-hour made this entire weekend worthwhile already."

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It’s a gorgeous day as the familiar eclectic array of punters files towards the northern gates at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, slightly on the hot side judging by the guy holding the portable industrial fan that he aims at punters while they’re getting their bags checked.

We wander into the familiar festival vista and the tide takes us straight past the Delta Tent where Texas bluesman Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges is holding court, pumping out a rollicking boogie that had people dancing early, his deep voice rich and smooth like honey. We continue on to the larger Mojo Stage — nominally the main stage at Bluefest although the large tent is similar in size to the adjoining Crossroads stage — where LA indie-folk five-piece Lord Huron are going through their paces, emitting a very clean sound with no jagged edges. Frontman Ben Schneider drawls, “This is our first time in Australia — you gotta helluva place here” and looking around it’s a shame sometimes that we can’t see our surroundings with foreign eyes, because it would indeed feel like a hidden delight. Their track Hurricane is a standout, dripping with conviction.

At its completion we move on again, over to Crossroads where legendary singer-songwriter Archie Roach is revisiting his stellar 1990 debut Charcoal Lane, a semi-circle of seated musicians surrounding the great man as he offers lengthy, rambling preambles explaining the meaning of each song, adding poignancy to songs incredibly moving to begin with. Roach’s voice during the album’s title track sounds incredible — coloured and shaped by life experience — and album high-water mark They Took The Children Away is not just imperative social remembrance but also a beautiful song in its own right, its melodies and mass harmonies exquisite. Back at Delta stage Canadian singer/songwriter Frazey Ford — formerly a member of The Be Good Tanyas — and her aesthetic is vulnerable and emotive, surrounded by a seven-piece band who make a beautiful noise around her.

The crowd-watching at Bluesfest is as always first class, the layout’s ergonomic design meaning that you never have to walk too far between destinations but that’s there’s always plenty to look at, including occasional throngs surrounding old school buskers kicking up a storm. Over at the Jambalaya stage outpost we discover Mali desert-punk band Songhoy Blues — their history finding them displaced from their homes due to the imposition of Sharia Law — and they channel this into their intoxicating music, all guitars and syncopated rhythms, as the charismatic frontman works the crowd like a shaman, encouraging (and receiving) mass crowd participation that adds another layer of enjoyment.

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We visit the Boomerang precinct, which celebrates Indigenous artforms and encourages cultural exchange, and watch some beautiful tribal dancing for a while, before continuing onto Crossroads to catch the wonderful Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills & Nash fame). He and guitarist Shane Fontaine bounce off each other in a wash of texture, Nash distinguished and stately and sharing his wisdom on songs like the scathing Immigration Man and string new cut This Path Tonight. We head back to Delta stage to avail ourselves of the new garden bar adjoining the stage where beer is on tap, and we catch a bit of Canadians The Bros. Landreth firing off their honest brand of brooding country-blues rock.

Finally it’s time to head back to Crossroads to see Tweedy, the new project which revolves around Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy and his prodigiously-talented drummer son Spencer. They form part of a strong five-piece band early in the throng as they deliver a selection of tracks from their sole album so far, Sukierae, but after half-an-hour the band file offstage to leave the elder Tweedy alone with an acoustic guitar and he reels off a frankly incredible selection of Wilco songs delivered acoustically but still with that voice, and it’s amazing to see stripped-back takes on songs like Via Chicago, I Was Trying To Break Your Heart and Passenger Side. I’ve wanted to see Jeff Tweedy perform solo forever and that half-hour made this entire weekend worthwhile already.

Afterwards we walk back giddily (the great performance and a river of beer mixing together) and head back to Jambalaya where legendary Texas-bred singer-songwriter Steve Earle and his band The Dukes offering up their current mix of blues-tinged shuffles from recent album Terraplane with their more traditional southern-rock stompers, and even though I watched this band deliver for over three hours less than a week ago it’s still awesome to see songs like Copperhead Road, Guitar Town and Galway Girl delivered by the great man to a sea of ecstatic, dancing disciples. We stay at Jambalaya and catch a bit of world music veterans Playing For Change delivering their percussion-heavy soundscapes, then hit Crossroads for a dose of The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band, the Fleetwood Mac mainstay holding court behind a massive drumkit while members of his band wail and sing rollicking barroom boogies.

Then, finally, it’s back to the Mojo tent to spy Ohio indie-rockers The National at their imperious best — the production values are enormous and the crowd enraptured as they deliver a set of soaring and majestic guitar rock, bedraggled singer Matt Berninger introspective and furtive as his band constructs huge vistas around him for him to wallow in, Bloodbuzz Ohio in particular striking a sweet spot with the crowd. And then just like that it’s over, and another day of musical exploration is complete — lucky this is Bluesfest and we still have three more days of world-class music left to enjoy and discover. But tonight we party…