Live Review: Bluesfest 2014

22 April 2014 | 1:32 pm | BF PierceBrie JorgensenDan CondonDavid Jones

"Bluesfest is looking good y’all, looking good."

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Suzanne Vega holds the audience in awe and respect as she becomes the girl upstairs in Luka and a dark and mysterious woman in I Never Wear White, before taking you back to Tom's Diner on Broadway and 112th Street. Vega shines brighter than Manhattan lights with mesmerising command.

Beth Hart, being the performer she is, heats the crowd to a simmer, with boiling point at the behest of her remarkably hoarse vocals.

Frontman Alex Ebert looks dishevelled, as if straight out of bed. Soon perking up, Ebert continues with the seeming mentality that anything goes – think dizzying spins and flailing arms. But, in a quick reassurance, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros transforms The Mojo tent into a '60s revival and free-for-all.

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The legendary Buddy Guy proceeds to show why he's worthy of legend status. Despite being 78 years old, Guy is in fine voice, and while he does leave a lot of the guitar pyrotechnics to his back-up player, Ric Hall, when Buddy rips, the whole space-time continuum thing warps a little, such is the power of his playing.

Dr John & The Nite Trippers took us along a low and dirty gravel road to the middle of nowhere and had his sonic way with us.. He shows he's a dab hand on the telecaster too, as well as the piano.


Local New South Wales boy Daniel Champagne exudes a natural ease on stage, as he sings poignant lyrics and beautifully crafted melodies that invariably whisk the heart up with grand romanticism. Coupled with an exhilarating guitar talent that transcends mere acoustic guitar to be the whole band, Champagne is magical.

Grace Potter, along with her Nocturnals, quickly distinguishes herself as the bad girl rocker as she follows up: “I don't plan to be good at all.” With a voice to be reckoned with, bringing to mind the old wails of Robert Plant, Potter flawlessly reaches registers that would surely send dogs crazy.  

Nahko & Medicine For The People bring their bongo drums and sunny guitar strums to propagate a serious message of honour, unity, and love. Defying physical boundaries, the band warms hearts and spirits of festivalgoers, with a final invitation to join their “creative family”.

Joss Stone absolutely owns it. Her powerful voice hits you and takes control, as you find yourself moving and grooving to the soul-funk baselines. Taking it back to 2004, Stone preaches a slew of old tracks to a roaring audience who were only left begging for more.

Steve Earle & The Dukes cover as much ground as they can this evening, dropping a few tracks from the excellent The Low Highway record of last year, as well as all the hits the people are expecting. It's a treat seeing Earle with such a great band after years of solo shows and they do lift the songs to the next level.

Eric Bibb steps to the Jambalaya Stage on Friday evening. “I want to thank you for the encouragement you've given me over the years I've been playing here,” he beams. He's become a festival favourite, and it's easy to see why. His husky gospel vocals, accented with a southern accent, leave you helpless before his words.

Later that night The Music decides that Gary Clark Jr is the new Buddy Guy. Only 30 years old, but with the songwriting skills, vocal prowess and guitar mastery needed to become a first rate bluesman. He's damn good, and it'll be exciting to watch his evolution.

Gregg Allman launches straight into Statesboro Blues. While Allman's suave and raspy vocals reinvigorate the sound of a simpler time, after a long day on your feet, exuberance becomes difficult to muster up in the face of Allman's dreamlike jazz stylings.

There are some serious feedback issues that plague the beginning of Larry Graham & Graham Central Station's show tonight. Once these are pretty much resolved and the funk takes hold, the show becomes electric with tracks like the classic I Can't Stand The Rain and a whole raft of Sly & The Family Stone classics. 

What is Beefheart without Beefheart? Well, The Magic Band do their best to make it worthwhile, and their proficient skronk goes over pretty well to the devotees and curious alike. The way Feelers Rebo and Rockette Morton work together is brilliant and the new session players are clearly up to the challenge. 


As is common at Bluesfest, there's a more than capable blues band plodding through classic old blues tracks with a more than capable white blues singer. The difference this afternoon, however, is that this band features the great James Cotton on harp, and it truly does bring the whole show to another level. Throat cancer has meant the 79-year-old can no longer talk, but boy can he still blow the classics.

Devendra Banhart is an awkward fit this afternoon. Despite this, the band are in tune with each other and pull through despite muddy sound and a somewhat disinterested crowd. There are moments where the set is truly great but it's largely a pretty forgettable experience.

You wonder how many times Aaron Neville's voice has got him out of trouble. This afternoon he performs a selection of material that pushes so far into the mainstream side of his work that it'd feel insulting – if it weren't for that silky smooth voice. Ain't No Sunshine, Drift Away and Stir It Up are all get renditions.

Having not seen Fela Kuti perform, it's hard to know how he compares to his son Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, but you'd imagine the afrobeat pioneer would be pretty stoked about how his band has lived on. Both heavily political and sexual, the show is a tour de force, Kuti an incredible frontman and his band absolutely stunning.

The Cavanbah is packed as the Grandmothers Of Invention start pumping out their tribute to former bandleader Frank Zappa. As expected the crowd is a mix of a handful of devotees and newbies, and songs like Call Any Vegetable and Go Cry On Someone Else's Shoulder confound some and delight others; it's wonderfully polarising.


There's a little less of the tropical and jungle styles in Cw Stoneking's from his last record and a kind of '50s rock'n'roll feel that creeps into tracks like Tomorrow's Gonna Be Too Late and We Gonna Booglaoo. It's the older songs that go down best; Handyman Blues and Goin' The Country getting the early crowd moving.

Tim Rogers treats the largely polite crowd to a large crosssection of work from throughout his career. The set keeps getting better and culminates in great versions of Heavy Heart and Dylan's Boots Of Spanish Leather, where Rogers strips away the guitar and lets Shane O'Mara do the heavy lifting.

You couldn't ask for a better setlist from the legendary Booker T Jones. After feeling things out with Harlem House from his latest record he drops Hip Hug Her and Green Onions very early, runs through Albert King's Born Under A Bad Sign (which he produced) and closes out with the brilliant Soul Limbo and Time Is Tight.

We're back for more James Cotton, the last surviving blues player to record at Sun Studios with Sam Phillips, as he brings his band to the Delta Stage  and lays down some fine ol' Chicago style blues, his harmonica not as potent as it would have been back in the day, but solid none the less, a true legend.

We're a little disappointed with Robben Ford, as we were led to believe he'd have with him Barry Green, who played trombone on Ford's latest record, A Day In Nashville. However, Green is nowhere to be seen, and while Ford is one of the best guitarists on the planet, his set leaves us a little cold.

The Cavanbah tent is at first caressed, then assaulted, by the powerhouse vocal of Saidah Baba Talibah. Talibah's voice is easily up there with the best of the weekend and I eventually leave, looking windswept and battered, potentially the Set Of The Festival.

It's all class from Iron & Wine tonight, as they prove themselves to be one of the highlights. It's a little different to the other fare presented tonight, but thanks to tracks like Carousel, Belated Promise Ring, the sweet groove of Low Light Buddy Of Mine and the heavy jam of Lovers' Revolution they're given a warm reception.

It takes a good ten minutes for Sly & Robbie & The Taxi Gang to get into the groove, but if you follow them into it once they do, there's no way you're getting out. They're captivating tonight with tunes like the excellent Hot You're Hot and things start to get real deep, real quick.

There is no performer quite like Erykah Badu; she possesses an almighty power over everything that happens on stage. The setlist is brilliant, from On And On to Back In The Day (Puff) to Window Seat to No Love – there's something for everyone, no matter which era turned you onto her work first.

The Music Maker Foundation is always a festival highlight. The night is capped with some scruffy, bleeding, raw blues, the real kind, and we jump on the bus happy with a meat pie, knowing all is well 25 years down the track; Bluesfest is looking good y'all, looking good.

Read day one, two, three and four wrap-ups from our other Bluesfest reviewer Cameron Warner.