Live Review: Bluesfest Day One

30 March 2018 | 1:58 pm | Bernie Winter

"Everyone is smiling happily, from front of house staff and stage crews to volunteer rubbish picker-ups."

Leon Bridges, pic by Peter Dovgan

Leon Bridges, pic by Peter Dovgan

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After eight nominations at the Pollstar Awards for the International Festival of the Year and festival director Peter Noble's recent win of the 2018 Keeping Blues Alive Memphis award, it's easy to see how Bluesfest is considered one of the great global music festivals. Everyone is smiling happily, from front of house staff and stage crews to volunteer rubbish pickers-up, all appear to be in a state of constant jig.

Since 2013, Bluesfest has featured a full program highlighting Indigenous culture through traditional and contemporary music and featuring the world's oldest instruments. The Arakwal Welcome To Country is both authentic and respectful.

On the Jambalaya stage, All Our Exes Live In Texas, winners of the ARIA 2017 Best Blues & Roots Album, showcase their luscious alt-folk harmonics. The setlist, taken from their debut album, When We Fall, melds together their accordion, mandolin, ukulele and guitar skills. Hannah Crofts (ukulele) tells the crowd she first attended Bluesfest as a 16-year-old. That seems like almost a lifetime ago. It's clear the band have built a strong and dedicated following.

Hurray For The Riff Raff takes the stage. After a slow start, Alynda Segarra's American folk-blues band hit their stride. It's completely Segarra's show, and the Puerto Rican chanteuse beguiles her audience. "We are here to spread divine feminine energy," she says. The audience goes wild.

At day's end, dark clouds roll over the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm venue. The verdant green grass first turns soft and quickly becomes mud under festival-goer's feet. Gumboots and thongs work well. Baby prams and mobility scooters carry both young and old between the festival's five stages.

Gov't Mule stride onto the Crossroads stage. Fronted by The Allman Brothers' guitarist Warren Haynes, the band's setlist moves through their prodigious back catalogue. Mule, Million Miles From YesterdayThorazine Shuffle and Revolution Come, Revolution Go are delivered with a casual and intimate ease. It feels like sharing the band's lounge room. The biggest 'Yahoo!'s are saved for their cover of Neil Young's Southern Man. Willie Nelson's son Lukas joins the band on stage. The audience roars.

Headliner Leon Bridges takes to the Crossroads stage. His gospel and soul background shines. Smooth Sailin' lulls the audience into the groove. By the time Bridges launches into Bad Bad News festival-goers are swaying, well chill, and Bridges' sunglasses are long discarded. His final song Beyond features tight vocals and bongo drum. It's much appreciated by the large audience. Look for Leon Bridges on his Australian sideshows.

Around midnight, festival-goers filter off to the campground. The day car park empties. As one punter observes, "We're all in this for the long game." Hell yeah! Bring on day two.