Live Review: Bluesfest Day Three

1 April 2018 | 2:58 pm | Bernie WinterSamuel J Fell

"It's a unique and intimate way to round off a delightful set and a magical day."

More Bluesfest More Bluesfest

Special things happen at Bluesfest on day three.

Everybody starts to breathe, relax, absorb and enjoy. Chatter rises about what artists blow festival-goers minds, what they missed and will regret for the rest of their lives, and what a deep, wide, rich event Bluesfest grows into with every passing year.

Kicking off at the Mojo stage, Seu Jorge sits quietly at the front and centre, plucking his acoustic guitar, comfortable in trackie dacks and easy with his audience. Jorge knows how to do big events, having played at the London Olympics closing ceremonies in preparation for Rio 2016. In a deep voice crafted in Rio's favelas, Jorge moves effortlessly back and forth from his native Portuguese to English. "I like this song. If you like it too, sing it with me,"  he says before breaking into Bowie's Rebel Rebel. Of course, everybody sings. His setlist includes other Bowie standards from his 2017 album The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions. Starman, Let's Dance and his "favourite song" Space Oddity ring out over the audience. Background visuals roll through Bowie imagery. It's not the only tribute to Bowie at this Bluesfest but it's certainly the most relaxing.

Bounding over to Harry Manx, we find his sound easily sits astride east and west. He makes melding the roots of both seem effortless. The Canadian has been plying his trade for decades and it shows in his Saturday afternoon show, a heady shakedown of equal parts Mississippi and Indian deltas, the sweat and raw emotion prevalent to both bases of music bleeding through. Heading out this way solo, he enlists Clayton Doley on keys and the legendary Jeff Lang on second guitar, the three mapping out a sonic adventure from which there seems no return. Not that you'd want to ever come back - this is the real deal, blues that crosses oceans, Manx the master at the helm.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Over on the Delta stage, American bassist André Cymone and his R&B backing band crank the energy. Cymone is 59 but has the excitement and enthusiasm of a person 20 years his junior. Written by Prince, his song The Dance Electric lights up the sprawling audience. He teases the crowd by saying, "What's your favourite song?" before his band pushes through an R&B cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. For the second time today Bowie rises; "My hero," Cymone confesses as he launches into his cover of Heroes. The big moment comes in the form of protest track Black Man In America's " No justice, no peace" chant. With just a few words Cymone marries the audience together with his music and his wisdom. At that moment, we all share this truth.

We've not seen William Crighton for a while and with the release of his second album on the horizon, the time seemed ripe. Eschewing the acoustic for a more muscular electric sound, Crighton is reminiscent of Clutch frontman Neil Fallon and not just because, at least from afar, they're doppelgangers. He spits his lyrics with both venom and velvet. They're true and real, the songs about what he's lived and loved. Probably lost, too. This is a powerful set from a man fast firming as one of this country's premier new songwriters.

At the Crossroads stage, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit are dishing out their quintessential southern rock but with substance over style. Isbell, a former member of the iconic Drive-By Truckers, has by this point in his solo career more than established his bona fides. This set is solid and assured, instrumentally tight without losing room for improvisation and freeform movement, and is about stories first and foremost. Most often, said stories aren't happy, but then a life lived hard often isn't. Isbell gets his money's worth from his guitar tech and then some, swapping instruments for most songs, each at the root of what he and his band build. A fantastic set from one of the best units on the planet.

Running over to catch the first Juke Joint act of the night; Shaun Kirk is 30 now, but this (still) young blues disciple has been out and about for quite some time - evident in the way his set comes together. Essentially a one-man band, Kirk takes that and uses it to its fullest potential, eliminating any kitsch one might associate with the style. Instead of fleshing out his own solo set, his guitar is his weapon, various foot and hand-triggered percussion thumping and jangling around him as he puts his own stamp on the blues. He's an unassuming young bloke with the blues in his blood and the want to expand and warp it - solid stuff from an artist becoming part of the woodwork, but not in a boring way.

Legendary Australian band Chain burst onto to the Delta stage. It's easy to see why they're so pumped up as the venue is brimming and the punters' sweat is starting to flow. Phil Manning's guitar and Matt Taylor's harmonica snake through the setlist, each song telling an intricate story. Boogie takes us all to "disrespectful" nightclubs, spinning a tale of bibles, rattlesnakes and crocodiles. All of the band's tracks expand splendidly and are a good place for people unaware of Australian blues heritage to pick up a newfound love.

Thirty Two / Twenty Blues fills the tent. While Chain may have played this ditty "723,000 times" it sounds as fresh as if it was just birthed. The set finishes with I Remember When I Was Young, a sentiment shared by the baby boomers in the audience. The crowd is overjoyed by the fan favourite as every single person under the tent passionately sings back at their beloved band, the stage vibrating with enthusiastic crowd participation.

read more:

At the Jambalaya stage, Harts and his band step it up for their second performance of the festival and the lead singer's paisley grows stronger. Moving easily between electric guitar and keyboard, the singer is in the zone. An appreciative crowd soak up every gyration.

Towards the end of the set Harts addresses the audience, the singer reveals that 2018 holds massive changes for him and his crew, as this year will be their last as a band. What a way to go out.

Back at Mojo stage, Colombian soft-rocker Juanes is in full pop swing. The vocalist and his clean-cut band seem almost out of place amongst the dirty blues that has so far surrounded the festival.

It's as if the whole Australian-Colombian community is here. They sing uproariously along to every song, creating a chorus of fluent international vocals.

"No matter what colour, nationality, gender, we all know the bad feeling when your girlfriend rings to tell you..." Juanes trails off. His songs speak louder than his words could, singing out the oh-too-familiar tune of love gone wrong.

The video background tells stories of love and lust in hyper colour realism, illustrating that western and South American-style pop share more than a language barrier can communicate.

The singer takes a break mid-set to teach his audience how to say "fucking good" in his native tongue. So not only did the audience get to enjoy a set of unique international music, they also came away having learnt something.

Coming into the final acts on the Delta Stage, Canned Heat cooks and shimmies. Yeah, they're not as forthright and adventurous as they were back in the day when they introduced a white audience to the music of black blues, but they're still as muscular and relevant as any band can be after 52 years. Canned Heat hold a vaunted place in music history. They did what the Stones and Zeppelin did, before the Stones and Zeppelin did it. And in their words, "We've been together for 52 years, and we're still here, can you dig it?" Tonight, yes, we definitely can.

Arriving at Dumpstaphunk on the Jambalaya stage, we're immediately hit with a massive wall of sound. The crowd is wild and pumping to the unique groove. It's almost as if the funk is a monster, roaring over the audience and demanding that they get down. There are sudden bass lunges that cause people to swoop low, while chattery drumming and hooting keyboard chords clash together in the most wonderful way possible. Of course, presiding over it all is the booming brass, Pied Pipering people to a frenzy of dance. This is Bluesfest party.

The third day culminates with Bluesfest veteran Michael Franti at the Mojo stage. A warm feeling spreads over the packed crowd, everyone just loves this musician and poet. As the bodies pile up in the venue the good vibes rise to peak point.

Franti does not disappoint his loyal fans as he takes us through all his standards. Everyone Deserves Music, Only Thing Missing Was You, The Sound Of Sunshine, 11:59 and more.

The stalwart singer brings great joy to all. He pulls kids from the audience to join him on stage and he dances enthusiastically with people deep beyond the pit and reserved seating, arms flailing everywhere. Security scuttles to light the path as four cameras beam to the big screens, it's a big performance for a big personality.

A hush falls over the crowd as Franti introduces his heavily pregnant partner on stage and she joins him for All I Want Is You. Love spreads thick around the venue and it's an intimate way to round off a delightful set and a magical day.