Live Review: Bluesfest Day Three (Saturday, 8 April)

9 April 2023 | 3:05 pm | Jess Martyn

Day three saw Counting Crows, Jackson Browne and another complete day of discoveries and favourites at Bluesfest 2023

Credit: Josephine Cubis

Credit: Josephine Cubis

More Bluesfest More Bluesfest

At the halfway mark, Bluesfest wasn’t flagging but reaching new peaks, kicking off with Jerome Williams. In Williams’ hands, an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal were more than enough to create a full tapestry of sound, working in percussive work reminiscent of John Butler. The band emerged for the next few songs, adding brilliant bass work and an unfailing beat to tracks like I’m So Fly and Close as Williams laid down a string of smooth rap lines. His honesty between songs was both refreshing and endearing as he mused, “Being a musician is weird - if you break my heart, I’m going to write a song”. The song in question, aptly named She Fucked Me Up, mashed up nicely with Macklemore’s Same Love, giving backup singer KL room to show off her powerful voice. Having a group of friends onstage elevated the overall vibe of the set, almost as much as their cover of Gold Digger

The energy made for a smooth transition into a set by Nikki Hill, queen of upbeat dance music and bold, Tina Turner-esque vocals. Described as “the kind of music you can’t help but move to”, tunes like Heavy Heart and Struttin’ gave Nikki plenty of room to move vocally while her lead guitarist brought the visual energy. Set against upbeat drum rhythms, the electric guitar melodies stole the show in a long-run solo. 

Those who came for long hair, cowboy hats and big voices showed up for Marcus King, and the tent was packed. The soul and grit in every chorus had the crowd enthralled as he ran through tracks from his slew of recent albums, including 2020’s El Dorado and 2022’s Young Blood. With the brass section in the back and a highly capable lead guitarist at his side, King had everything he needed to impress the crowd. 

Marcus King - Credit: Tao JonesCarrying off the same cowboy hat aesthetic with the energy of a truly seasoned performer, Jackson Browne found himself at the centre of a stage filled with talent. Between his clearly seasoned band and his backing singers’ powerful pipes, Browne had the crowd in the palm of his hand - which, incidentally, proved just as proficient on both the guitar and the piano. Long Way Down was a set highlight thanks to Browne’s effortless solos and the vocal prowess of Siobhan Stewart, as was I’m Alive, showcasing his chemistry with the band early on. 

Eric Gales was amongst the day’s undisputed highlights if only for the host of brilliant instrumentalists who featured in his act. Bonamassa, Kingfish Ingram and Marcus King all featured in the set, and as Gales himself asserted, “I don’t know if this has ever been done in Byron bay before, but you bet your ass it’s being done right now”. Crowd noise and backing music alike made way for guitar solos, some played at lightning pace and others laidback and slow. At every turn, Byron was captivated, building anticipation for the return of the drums. 

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Eric Gales - Credit: Kurt PetersenFew people could bring as much blues cred  to the stage as 86-year-old Buddy Guy, his playing style so relaxed that it was hard to believe the notes coming out of his guitar. His persona was just the same, with playful facial expressions and candid quotes more than worthy of a repeat. “If you don’t like the blues, you’re in the wrong fucking house, man, because I wrote something so funky you can smell it,” Guy said. “We used to think this kind of music was too much for young people; then hip hop came out and you can say whatever the fuck you want now, so imma get real funky with you.” His total serenity on stage was something else, playing the guitar with one hand and stopping to watch as his band mates rocked their solos. Even amongst many memorable moments, the blues piano riffs and solos were stand-out brilliant. 

His effortlessly cool, moody covers of the Willie Dixon classic I Just Wanna Make Love To You and Fever by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell had the crowd singing along, although nothing compared to the crowd participation on his 1993 classic Feels Like Rain. It was a real crowd pleaser, and nothing pleased Guy more than the sight of the crowd under the house lights singing along.

Buddy Guy - Credit: Josephine CudisAlthough it was hard to leave Buddy Guy, the atmosphere at Beth Hart’s stage was a force of its own - from the sound of the roaring guitar and crashing keys to the sight of her bright orange dress. The power in her voice was reminiscent of Kate Bush - somehow clear and bright, strong and gritty all at once. Through crowd favourites like No Quarter, Sugar Shack and Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, she worked a powerful screech that added a darker edge to the set, proving that she knew how to build intensity and balance it out with a flippant sense of humour. At one point, she asked the lighting tech to highlight her “sexy motherf*cker” of a drummer, following up with a question that begged to be asked: “do you know how much coochie he catches playing like that?”  

Towards the end of the night, Counting Crows had a prime time set and a packed out crowd, and they knew exactly what to do with it, kicking off with the infectious riffs Mr Jones. The more subdued tunes that followed brought crowd noise down to a murmur, giving Adam Duritz the space to let out his natural storyteller. He sat on the stage and told a story of his girlfriend, a plane trip, an imaginary ball of fire and the temporary nature of life, asking a poignant question: “If you knew everything, if you could see anything before it happened, what would you do?” Of course, Big Yellow Taxi was a set highlight, as was the impressive overhead guitar solo, but still it was impossible to forget the intricate mandolin work early in the set, all of it punctuated by  Duritz’s natural tendency to embrace the theatrical in his expressions and gestures. It was more than enough to keep the punters satisfied and energised for what was still to come. 

Counting Crows - Credit: Josephine Cudis