Noel Gallagher, The Selecter & More Help Bluesfest Dance Itself Dry On Day 4

29 March 2016 | 12:10 pm | Mick Radojkovic

"By the time the bands start at midday, the rain has stopped and the site has already started to drain."

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Bluesfest is the kind of festival that makes you just wonder how each day can top the last. The schedule is laid out in such a way that every day contains a mix of every style and even if you just come for one or three days, you’re bound to leave satisfied.

Day four started wet but, by the time the bands start at midday, the rain has stopped and the site has already started to drain. Admirably, most of the ground is gravel, so there is little mud, except around the Jambalaya stage and the edges of the big stages.

The size of the early crowds have been impressive as we join a big throng at Mojo for the return of Jeff Martin from The Tea Party. He is joined by Mick Skelton, who is thankfully back to performing after his horror car accident in September. They revealed a new musical project called Revelator that debuts at the festival.

The songs show off Martin’s perfectly honed vocals as well as Skelton’s precision stick skills. A rocking way to start the day and lots to look forward to with their collaboration.

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Today was to be the last day to catch a band that had plenty of buzz. Con Brio, born out of San Francisco have been performing every day of the festival so far, but by the way Ziek McCarter dances, you’d think he was fresh as a daisy.

The frontman is reminiscent of a young Michael Jackson. Not only in voice, but dance skills. How many singers do you see do cartwheels into splits onto the stage? None…that’s how many.

They back it up with some funk-inspired, afro, blues fusion that is part James Brown, part Pharrell. The greatest part is that this is a live band. No synth horns here! Con Brio is a musical direction for ‘With Spirit’. A perfect description of this out of the world live act.

We were feeling a bit exhausted after that performance so decided to make a food choice from the many options. Today, we decided on trying some Yemeni food. How often do you get an opportunity to eat a chicken roll with tahini, zhug and zatar? It was bloody delicious.

The strains of Graham Nash and The Hollies hit, Bus Stop, could be heard from the Crossroads stage as we trampled to the wettest stage, Jambalaya. Meanwhile, festival favourite Ash Grunwald had pulled a huge crowd to the tent as well as pulling a huge band along for the occasion. Special appearances from Kasey Chambers on a new track and OJ Newcombe made the performance a friendly affair and the audience lapped it up. Grunwald’s amazing vibrato vocal and unique playing style are always worth a listen.

We stuck around at Jambalaya, trying to dodge the black ants, for Austin native Shakey Graves. He started out as a one-man troupe, singing, playing acoustic and kicking a kick-drum, similar to many a busker. He was joined pretty soon by two more members to convert from feelgood folk to rollicking indie-rock versions of tracks from his album, And The War Came.

The crowd seemed to be getting a bit restless during the louder part of the set, perhaps presuming that it would not be quite as rocky. The old hand clapping came out and we stuck around for most of the set, but were pulled by a greater force.

We jumped over to one of the main stages, Crossroads, to witness to sheer force of The Blind Boys of Alabama. If St. Paul earlier in the week had a voice, then these guys were over the top! Even from a distance at the back of the tent, you couldn’t help but dance and smile at the energy of the group that were formed over 70 years ago!

We moved on, with a smile on our face, feeling a little better that we’d experienced some ‘blues’ at the festival in its honour. A little bit of wandering took place, checking out stilt-walkers, Easter eggs being handed out and some of the quirky characters of the festival. Talking to random people is a definite eye-opener here, especially with people who have attended 20+ festivals, but accept that the festival has taken a contemporary turn.

Speaking of contemporary, it was time for Modest Mouse at the Mojo stage. They are a curious inclusion to the line-up but there were plenty of people on hand to give them a go. Isaac Brock’s steely gaze had us all wondering if we were in trouble as they performed a mix of old (Float On, Dashboard) and new, from their Strangers To Ourselves album of last year.

They were tight, especially with such a large group. Two drummers plus a percussionist gave them a formidable presence, but we felt that there was little connection between them and us as Brock barely spoke to the crowd.

We left with some disappointment and the realisation that maybe we should be sticking to the blues and roots acts. We did see Murray Cook from The Wiggles taking in the band though, so that made us smile!

The next set at Mojo was one of the most anticipated of the weekend: Bluesfest regulars The Cat Empire made a triumphant return to the festival. With grins on their faces they launched into newer track Wolves followed by last album’s Brighter Than Gold. Felix Riebl was in top form as he bounded and jumped around the stage, clearly having a great time, whilst Harry swung his trumpet around in between vocal breaks and smirked at the feverish crowd.

The audience play along the whole way with a set that covered the length of their careers. Some overindulgent solos may have caused us to lose the encore, however, as crowd favourite Hello didn’t make an appearance. Not a bad thing to finish on The Chariot though as people sang the refrain as we made our way from the stage.

After such a sweaty, high-intensity performance, a bit of laid-back blues from Melissa Etheridge was perfect. She showed her impressive guitar chops to a largely older audience who enthusiastically joined in the call and response sections.

All the chairs were reserved or taken at the back of the Crossroads tent as people set in for the night, so we thought we’d take the plunge and head back over to Jambalaya for 2-Tone legends The Selecter. We were glad we did. High energy, fun and with a great message. Pauline Black directs traffic superbly as her and ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson deliver the vocals in front of a talented band. “Black lives matter. ALL lives matter”, Black shouts as the band dive into classic cut Three Minute Hero. Similar to The Wailers, it’s a treat to see the originators of a genre live on stage still performing.

At this point we were torn as to where to end the night, but after listening to a few songs from UB40, we decided that perhaps the Mojo stage was more our scene as Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds took to the stage.

We can’t say that we knew many of the original tracks from Gallagher’s solo project, but we appreciate that this man knows how to write a tune. It’s never easy to pursue a solo career after a massively popular group, but people should definitely give him more of a listen.

Of course, there were many in the crowd just waiting for that chance to sing and, despite the cheekiness of Gallagher declaring, “This is for the Oasis fans” and then launching into You Know We Can’t Go Back, we were happy when he launched into Champagne Supanova. We sang even louder with Wonderwall.

Satisfied, we avoided the crowds and lucked out as UB40 delivered their final song, the ubiquitous Red Red Wine. Hearing it delivered live by Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey Virtue was a pleasant surprise as we bathed in glow of the reappearing moon after another huge day at Bluesfest, which seemed to have a little bit of everything.