Five Acts That Sent Bluesfest 2016 Soaring Into The Stratosphere

29 March 2016 | 4:44 pm | Staff Writer

It's like picking your favourite children, seriously

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Byron Bay Bluesfest has wrapped for another year and, as always, it demonstrated why it remains one of Australia's best-known, best-loved camping festivals with five days of stunning musical entertainment that run the gamut from traditional folk to contemporary hip hop and beyond.

Faced with such an overwhelming smorgasbord of talent on display, it's little surprise that our ground crew came away from this year's event raving about nearly everyone they saw — but there were a few acts that picked up such strong buzz off the back of their performances that we feel we should pay special homage to them here.

These were, for our money, the acts that elevated Bluesfest 2016 to next-level greatness.

Hiatus Kaiyote

First off the rank is local neo-soul revivalists-done-good Hiatus Kaiyote, who held their own at the Mojo Stage in a seriously impressive manner despite being wedged in-between the likes of Kamasi Washington and D'Angelo. Regardless of the stakes, though, the Aussie outfit tore it up during their day-three set, leaving little doubt in punters' minds as to the band's main-stage credentials in their wake.

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Watching the band in action, our reviewer admits, "we couldn’t stop moving, even if we didn’t know what time signature it was in".

"Nai Palm holds the crowd in her hand as she either plays guitar, keys or sways and smiles to the irrepressible groove of Borderline With My Atoms or the understated groove of Breathing Underwater

"...watching this band in full swing, or a huge stage, makes you wish you could watch them in full swing in a small club. You can feel like you’re in your own world until you turn around and look back to see a pulsing and moving Mojo tent. It’s a wonder to behold."

Kamasi Washington

It's no secret that Bluesfest put a lot of stock in first-night headliner Kendrick Lamar, but in one of the festival's biggest surprises it was his saxophone player, Kamasi Washington, who stole the show with an incredibly well received standalone set of his own.

According to our reviewer, Washington "has not only propelled jazz back into the mainstream with his collaborations with Kendrick Lamar, but he has attracted a huge crowd into the Mojo tent for his second and longest set of the festival".

"The set was 90 minutes of hypnotic jazz as we were “taken on a journey” through the life of Washington, his father Ricky and his childhood friend that have turned into his ultra-talented band. It was fantastic to be part of an audience that were as entranced as each other. Despite the jazz category being absent on the menu of the festival, perhaps it should become a regular fixture."

Elle King

Despite a sideshow cancellation on account of some apparent vocal issues, US singer-songwriter Elle King had no trouble at all showing off her powerful pipes, with which he has recently won over the world by way of seemingly ubiquitous single Ex's & Oh's.

If she was struggling, she barely showed it, delivering not one but two well received sets across the weekend with force and elegance in equal measure.

The second performance was an especially impressive display on account of the sudden arrival, that day, of rain and mud, with King nonetheless appearing game yet effortlessly glamorous in picture after picture.

Vintage Trouble

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and it's never been more true than when considering Vintage Trouble's breakout performance at Bluesfest. We'll spare you the gushing, flowery write-up; instead, simply feast your eyes on this band and note how every. single. picture is a freeze-frame ode to the sort of dedication to energy and performance — to professionalism — that seems to fall so easily by the wayside these days in pursuit of airs of casual cool.

And yet here's your proof that it's perfectly cool to put in some effort every now and then, too.


The Residents

A show for "only the bravest and most intrepid souls", avant-garde heroes The Residents brought oddity in spades to the festival's Juke Joint stage, performing their new cavalcade of creepiness, Shadowland, over two performances during the event.

According to our reviewer, The Residents "embrace the weird and wonderful, the band’s two bizarrely-helmeted musicians Rico and Bob staying on the stage’s extremities as the master of ceremonies Randy — in his underpants and suit jacket get-up — wanders the stage unleashing his venomous diatribes, occasionally visited by lost souls in the inflatable crystal ball such as The Butcher, The Engineer and The Diver who impart their tragic wisdom on the flabbergasted crowd".

Unsurprisingly, "Words can never do justice to this level of surrealism and absurdity", he says — so best to moisten those eyeballs to behold the wonderful freak show below.