Live Review: Live Review: Bluesfest Day Four

2 April 2018 | 12:54 pm | Bernie WinterNada van Kempen

"The display exemplified what makes Bluesfest stand out as a festival."

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The California Honeydrops kick off the Easter Sunday proceedings in the Mojo tent - a stark difference to the Juke Joint stage, which the band has been gracing throughout the festival. Frontman Lech Wierzynski has unrivalled energy; singing, playing the trumpet and putting a spotlight on the tambourine. Leading the band in tribute to the great Allen Toussaint with a cover of Yes We Can Can, Wierzynski picks up the pace and the band follows suit. It's rapid-fire New Orleans soul. The beauty lies in the seamless transition from upbeat party band to blues crooner with brass to boot.

Boomerang stage headliner Yirrmal takes his place as the smell of fire lingers from the ceremony earlier in the day. The singer swings easily between Yolngu and English. His songs speak of deep pain and oppression but with a bright line of hope still shining through and though joined by his tight band Yirrmal overtakes the set with his undeniable presence. Rolling into his track Sunset Feeling, the singer closes his eyes, looks skyward and instantly the audience is transported to his childhood in North East Arnhem Land. Generous in talent and in spirit, the singer invites West Papuan musicians on stage in a bright display of traditional sounds, flags and dress. It was a ripper way to represent the collectiveness and community of the Boomerang stage.

Over on Crossroads, Mia Dyson reminds the crowd why she is an integral part of the Australian music scene. In a special moment, Dyson invites to the stage the man who taught her how to play guitar - her dad, Jim Dyson. The pair charge through When The Moment Comes with Dyson's hazy but powerful voice ricocheting throughout the tent and out into the festival. Dyson's ability to make the energy of her set ebb and flow in measured sways is noteworthy, with Tell Me allowing the crowd to take pause and absorb her power in both the riot and the quiet.

On the Delta Stage, The Teskey Brothers are telling a devoted crowd how they "love old things" - guitars, vinyl, and genres. Despite coming from the outskirts of Melbourne, they could be mistaken for a Motown band from the soulful streets of Memphis. Louisa is a good ol' clap along, which is sustained throughout the call-and-response blues stomper, a sure sign of a crowd with an appetite. Harmonica wails, keys recall a church organ, the brass section delivers. With a Bluesfest debut like this, The Teskey Brothers will become old favourites very quickly. This is soul from the gut.

As the sunset looms behind the Mojo stage, Swedish siblings First Aid Kit emerge to share their unique mix of country and alt-rock. Not only do these talented sisters sing in flawless harmony but they also uncannily speak in sync. Focusing on their latest LP Ruins, the Soderbergs sing sweetly of love, loss and longing. Recent single Fireworks lights up the massive crowd, the subtle mix of twangy pseudo-country and expressive performance rock a refreshing sound at the festival. Their backing band proves as eclectic as their leaders - keyboard, trombone and kettle mandolin fuse to provide a platform that elevates the entire performance. First Aid Kit are a Bluesfest standout. They are true performance artists, forgoing any flashy stage accoutrements in favour of polished, glittering talent.

In fact, it's one of the few times during the festival that an encore is demanded from the band and, by god, they deliver. Gliding back onto the stage the siblings lead the overflowing crowd through a simple singalong before launching into fan favourite My Silver Lining. It's a tremendous way to leave a loving crowd truly satisfied.

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One of the most inspiring things about the mass of acts on the Bluesfest line-up is the surprise discovery of unbelievable talent. Eric Avery's set consists of two things, the younger Avery on violin and his father, George, on didgeridoo. The simplicity of the set-up is entrancing. Eric is a violin virtuoso, backed up by his passion for combining western classical music with his tradition Indigenous language and sounds.

His songs speak of past pain but brim with optimistic hope for the future - and if the future sounds anything like Eric Avery, it's gonna be pretty alright.

Just as Benjamin Booker's set is about to start, the heavens open, causing punters to run into tents to find shelter. With the set being delivered in Delta, we're sure many are glad they did, running straight into Benjamin Booker's arms, who embraces them with contemporary rock and blues. Booker's voice is husky with deep rasping tones, one that could be lost in the sound of rock, but Booker holds his own as frontman. Evident on Believe, Booker sets down the guitar and lets loose, hints of garage rock seeping through the ever-present undercurrent of blues in his voice.

On the Mojo stage, Jose Gonzalez brings the energy down a touch, but in a welcome way after the swinging set that had just exhausted us all. The Swedish-Argentinian singer-songwriter sits alone on stage with his guitar - a set-up that should be swallowed by the vastness of the main stage but isn't. Gonzalez holds the crowd with classics like Down The Line, gradually picking up the pace and garnering praise from the punters. Line Of Fire, a song by Swedish folk rock band Junip, of which Gonzalez is a part, pleases the crowd as Gonzalez sways between upbeat acoustic and delicate heartfelt cruising.

Rag N Bone Man brings a swift change to the steady diet of blues that has sated the crowd. Possessing a deep voice with grit that carries gospel and soul in equal measure, Rory Charles Graham jumps easily between the genres, swinging from deep, baritone blues pop to rap breaks and into The Fire. Showing impeccable range in style and tone, Hard Came The Rain plumbs the deep depths of Graham's bass-like voice and soars in the chorus.

Rag N Bone Man isn't alone in striking a balance between hip hop and blues, Caiti Baker acknowledging the connection between the genres during her Juke Joint set with self-described genre staple "bragging track", I Got That. Raised on blues music, Baker's influences are varied but apparent throughout the set, which features most of her debut album, Zinc. Tina Turner's I Smell Trouble slips into the set and the full-bodied voice of the soul singer from Darwin twists and dips throughout the smaller tent with gospel tones turning into soulful rock.

Crossroads was uncomfortably full in the minutes leading up to Seal's headlining set. The skies had just opened to drench punters, creating an audience of slightly damp people keen to see what the Kiss From A Rose singer had in store. To his credit, Seal addresses the discomfort within the crowd and encourages us all to forget the settings and just have fun. The first half of the stalwart soul singer's set was stuffed with older crooner's classics. A cover of Marion Montgomery's That's Life perfectly encapsulated the carefree attitude that is quickly spreading.

Once Seal sails through a catalogue of classics, he moves onto some of his own pearlers. Closing up the magnetic set with mega-hit Crazy the entire tent explodes into euphoria, any former discomfort completely forgotten.

Just as people are starting to recover from Seal, folk-rock superstar Melissa Etheridge slides onto the Crossroads stage to massive applause. After a relatively calm day, Etheridge's set is all about electric guitar and impassioned tunes, matching the hot and humid conditions that have overtaken the rain.

Etheridge has not lost an ounce of her spark and enthusiasm over the course of her 30-plus years in the industry. Like The Way I Do brightens the crowd as the singer's masterful skill with her beloved guitar is clearly displayed. Her backing band is polished and perfectly suited to bolster and highlight Etheridge. Commanding and powerful, Etheridge injected the evening with some much-needed fiery energy.

For Tash Sultana's second set of the festival (the singer's first set was a last-minute stand-in after Kesha pulled out due to injury), her fast fingers and signature pedal loops entranced a mammoth audience at the Crossroads stage.

Jungle and newer track Murder To The Mind were standouts, continuing in the musician's signature move of letting the music infuse every fibre of her body, producing an intimate and invigorating performance.

The overarching #StopAdani feeling of the festival comes to a head during John Butler Trio's iconic set. Ocean and What You Want send the crowd in peels of excitement before Butler pulls out a brand new track entitled Faith. Busting with the intricate guitar work and the prominent double bass that have become the band's signature, the new song is a good sign for things to come.

After around eight tracks from the outfit's extensive back catalogue, the stage fills with acts from the last four days, standing up against the Adani mine. Michael Franti, Tash Sultana and more stood strongly next to the trio to show solidarity for the looming threat that the Adani mine poses to Australia.

"Coal has had its time. We must stop this mine. If we allow Adani to go ahead it will not only be one of the world's largest, it will be one of our generation's greatest regrets. We owe it to our children, and our children's children, to make sure this environmentally reckless mine never sees the light of day," Butler says.

Adrian Burragubba, one of the traditional owners of the land on which the Adani site is proposed to be situated - spoke powerfully about the destruction that the mine could have on his homeland. "No Means No", a reflection of the statistic that over a two-thirds of Australian's oppose the mine, was the phrase that called to action every single person under the tent and beyond.

The display exemplified what makes Bluesfest stand out as a festival. As much as it's about the music, it's also about shared ideas, community spirit and working together to create a better future.