All the action from the final day of Bluesfest Byron Bay 2023.
The story of Bluesfest day five would perhaps be best told by Steve Poltz, arguably one of the most entertaining performers in the business – but first, it was off to see Backsliders.
As well as some of the most enthusiastic drumming, guitar playing and harmonica of the five days, the band complimented their musical material with some of the most engaging stories. The story about the murdered Emmett Till and their song of the same title was one of many, each one as impactful as the others, inspiring lyrics made more memorable by their impeccably clean vocals and instrumentals.
Steve Poltz was up next on the Delta stage, the performance marking his 21st visit to Australia and another opportunity to tell some fantastic stories. A natural entertainer, he spoke for longer than he sang, full of self-deprecating humour: “This really is the greatest show I’ve ever played. Right now, I feel like Michael Jordan in the early 90s; I’m just hitting all net. It’s not always this good - if you see me again, I’ll be shittier, so just don’t ever come see me again.”
He even invented a tune or two onstage, but the true set highlight was the John Prine tune he sang with his wife, “Shazza”. An anthem for everyone who has ever been in about all the ups and downs of relationships, it embodied the blues at its best.
Dog Trumpet carried on that classic blues progression throughout their set with lyrics straight from the heart and the funny bone. From a song about the institution that helped Peter O’Doherty overcome his hip problems in childhood to the emphatically named Fucking Idiots, there was plenty of quirky content to love. They paired classic blues progressions with complex multi-part vocal harmonies and brilliant slide guitar, holding the (surprisingly thin) crowd to attention in the best way they knew how – with classic blues.
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Over on the busking stage, 2023 finalist Dana Gehrman was unleashing emotive originals on an intimate crowd. With set highlights including These Days and Find A Way, played with two guitars and voices, it was blues at its realest and most raw.
After several years on the festival circuit, Lachy Doley And The Horns Of Conviction have no trouble drawing a crowd. Affectionately known as the Jimi Hendrix of the Hammond organ, Lachy Doley was every bit the enthralling entertainer that Bluesfest deserved – even with both hands busy at the keys. With an incredibly talented band of musicians behind him, the ability to transform organ notes into electric guitar riffs further cemented Doley’s reputation as an amazing musician and performer.
As the sun set, Xavier Rudd was ready with an enlightening set that crossed cultural boundaries at every turn. With a trio of Aboriginal musicians contributing their vocals and percussion skills, including fresh crowd favourite Bobby Alu, Rudd had plenty to prove and prove himself he did, backing his own vocals on the drums and the guitar.
One of the biggest names on the festival bill, The Doobie Brothers were a must-see for many amongst the crowd, earning them the longest set of the festival at one hour and fifty minutes. Playing to a well-deserved full tent, frontman Tom Johnston gave a magnetic high-energy performance complete with fist-pumping, while their saxophonists accented every tune with warm lows and screeching highs.
One of the night’s final acts, The Cat Empire, drew in the Doobie Brothers’ crowd with triumphant horns and bright lights. The view from the back was all bodies swaying and arms waving, and all eyes were on frontman Felix Riebl, who handled the transition from bold to reserved like the seasoned performer he is. The bright brass and samba rhythms of tunes like The Lost Song were enough to set the crowd in motion for the hour, and by the time their 2016 hit Bulls came around, not a soul was standing still. Nothing lifts a performance like diehard fans, and The Cat Empire had plenty, finishing up the last day of Bluesfest 2023 on a high.
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