Exhaustion, Excitement & A Date With Legends: Bluesfest Ends With A Bang

29 March 2016 | 8:21 pm | Mick Radojkovic

"What a huge line-up was delivered at this festival, surely the best of the festivals this country has to offer."

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By the fifth day of Bluesfest, the campers have reached a state of ‘peak festival stench’. A few have left early due to being flooded out. (Be careful where you pitch, people!) Some have given up on showering due to getting even dirtier in the process. (Aren’t showers supposed to be clean?) Others have taken to avoiding the camping latrines altogether for fear of catching some sort of rare disease. Aren’t festivals quaint!

The crowds are decidedly smaller for an early start on Easter Monday, but the duo of the Pierce Brothers attracted a decent-size crowd. These siblings have gone from busking in Melbourne’s streets to playing on one of the main stages at Bluesfest in a few short years. No mean feat! It’s easy to see why. Fun, dance-friendly folk tunes and very cheery personalities get the crowds limbs moving and faces smiling. It’s a pleasant way to start the last day of the festival that just keeps on giving.

Bluesfest organisers have made a solid effort to give some up-and-coming acts some much deserved exposure at this festival. This is again proven with the inclusion of Sahara Beck on the line-up for two sets. She undoubtedly won over a swathe of new fans with her catchy, tight and fun set at the Juke Joint stage. Evoking Nancy Sinatra at times, she fronts her eight piece band with confidence and boasts a heck of a pair of vocal cords. One to watch.

With the sun returning to Tyagarah, we were attracted by a large crowd and some hollering from the Dance Grounds in the sand of Boomerang Festival area; a great initiative of the festival, that brings a range of global indigenous arts and culture to the fore. The Malu Kiai Mura Buai dance group from Boigu Island in the Torres Strait put on an entrancing exhibition of cultural dance before giving the audience a chance to join in and learn the moves.

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Irish Mythen absolutely belted out her version of The Auld Triangle that sent shivers down our spine.

Along with the dancing, there are workshops and talks from indigenous and first world groups. We took a seat in the boggy talk tent for a discussion with Shari Sebbens (The Sapphires) and Nakkiah Lui (Black Comedy). Although the talk was called ‘Laugh Out Loud’, they went on to prompt much needed insightful conversation around where indigenous comedy fits into the landscape of Australia’s media.

Our dance card was looking a bit bare at this point, but there was a voice coming from the Crossroads tent that attracted us hypnotically. On stage, a solitary figure stood. Irish Mythen absolutely belted out her version of The Auld Triangle that sent shivers down our spine.

The final day of the festival featured a number of acts that were to perform their sole set and the first of those was legendary hall-of-fame singer-songwriter, Russell Morris. With a huge catalogue of songs to choose from, he opted to share some down and dirty blues from his Sharkmouth blues album with songs about infamous Australian gangsters and icons. Rollicking good fun; and with the inclusion of classic hits, The Real Thing and Dylan cover Baby Blue, the set showed off Morris’ still strong lungs and quick-witted banter. Deciduous hair and all.

It’s worth noting, at this point, the strong ‘chair army’ that cements itself at the back of each of the main tents. Despite instructions not to place fold-up chairs inside the tents, a huge area behind the mixing desk of each main tent was covered with people setting up camp. Whilst this doesn’t pose a problem for most of the day, it certainly takes up a lot of room for the biggest acts, particularly late in the day.

Time for more nosh. It seemed that certain food tents were attracting more people than others. Festival favourites of spiral chips (and sweet potato), kebabs and gozleme (nowhere to be seen!) have been trumped by Argentinian, Hungarian and Israeli cuisine that not only seem a lot healthier but taste damn good. Our final meal was some Indonesian chicken satay, rice and salad that hit the spot.

Continuing our multicultural theme, we took a trip to Iceland with the hot new things, Kaleo at the Juke Joint. We were all spellbound by the voice of lead singer, Jökull Júlíusson. Seamlessly moving from pitch perfect falsetto (listen to the gorgeous Vor í Vaglaskógi sung in their native tongue) to deep croon (Way Down We Go), the band seem to be still discovering their favourite genre.

The production of the show is mammoth, from the white grand piano that Wilson sat behind for the entire performance to the string ensemble used, for the recreation of Pet Sounds

Whatever style they sang was delicious. Even the old blues heads seemed to be impressed, particularly with No Good, a rambunctious old school rock song (featured on the Vinyl soundtrack). We are sure to see a lot more of, yet another, over-achieving Icelandic group.

What a coup, to secure a performance by Brian Wilson for this festival. The living legend and co-founder of The Beach Boys has been touring with a full rendition of his seminal Pet Sounds album as he celebrates its 50th anniversary. Just as impressive is the inclusion of fellow founding member, Al Jardine on guitar and vocals along with his son, Matt, who now sings the falsetto parts from the Beach Boys’ classics.

The production of the show is mammoth, from the white grand piano that Wilson sat behind for the entire performance to the string ensemble used, for the recreation of Pet Sounds. There’s a lot of nostalgia in the tracks played around the iconic album. California Girls, Don’t Worry Baby, I Get Around and Surfer Girl are big sing-a-long numbers.

About halfway through the set Wilson declares that they will now perform the album, from start to finish. He curiously points out the instrumental numbers, perhaps indicated on the teleprompter that he uses to jog his 73-year-old memory. This is barely a distraction though as we marvel at witnessing the genius of the album and its glorious reproduction.

The set closes with the perfectly constructed Good Vibrations, Help Me Rhonda and Fun, Fun, Fun before we stand and applaud the life of an extraordinary musician.

Speaking of extraordinary musicians, how about the next performer in the Mojo tent? Tom Jones is the previous act’s senior by two years and you wouldn’t know it. He waltzes onto stage and belts out songs like he's twenty-something. No wonder there have been reports of underwear still thrown onto stages on this tour. The hits are all here; Sex Bomb, Delilah, It’ Not Unusual, and all are delivered with Jones’ trademark smirky grin and manner. When he plays Randy Newman’s You Can Leave Your Hat On, he cheekily removes his jacket and teases at his shirt. No wonder we swoon.

The Blind Boys of Alabama join in for a rendition of Didn’t It Rain, a sadly rare collaboration of festival artists. A consummate professional on and off the stage, this is the display of a seasoned musician that knows how to deliver a show. A two-hour set leaves us all exhausted, happy and hoarse.

The logistics of Bluesfest are enormous, but they’ve pulled it off…and have done so for 27 years.

We could have trudged back to our cars and headed home satisfied at that point, but when the promise of the Original Blues Brothers Band is on offer, how can we pass it up? Despite an ever evolving ‘original’ line-up, you do have ‘Blue’ Lou Marina and Steve ‘The Colonel’ Cropper from the well-loved 1980 movie, but otherwise the band is giving it, and the crowd dance enthusiastically, despite our weariness.

The performance reminds us of what a huge line-up was delivered at this festival, surely the best of the festivals this country has to offer. Over 200 musicians, at the top of their trade, expertly delivered to a well-behaved, appreciative and smart audience. The logistics are enormous, but they’ve pulled it off…and have done so for 27 years.

All we can do now is get an early night, return to our day jobs and smile at the memories as we count down the days to next Easter.