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Live Review: Bluesfest Day Three (Saturday, 30 March 2024)

31 March 2024 | 9:00 pm | Jess Martyn

By the festival’s “hump day", the sun had finally chased away the clouds, and it seemed like there was nothing but blue skies and good vibes.

Ben Swissa - Bluesfest 30-03-24

Ben Swissa - Bluesfest 30-03-24 (Somefx)

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By the festival’s “hump day", the sun had finally chased away the clouds, and it seemed like there was nothing but blue skies and good vibes. Of course, it was easy to feel that way with Roshani on the front foot of another packed bill.

A multi-talented instrumentalist with a killer voice to boot, Roshani did it all – from a stunning a cappella verse in her opening cover of Feeling Good, to the guitar melody, beat boxing, track pad, vocal harmonies, harmonica trills, and even creative mashups with tunes like Sail by Awolnation and Feel Good by Gorillaz. She was also remarkably well spoken, telling the crowd about how the blues underpins every contemporary genre, and her own story about following her dreams. “When I was 27, I got a divorce, I ran off with my soulmate who’s a musician, I left a job and started busking, and now I’m standing here in front of you, so take the road less travelled.” It was inspiring – especially given the goosebump-inducing quality of her musical production, and the fact that she could have passed for an Egyptian queen in her white dress – and yet, Roshani was humble and appreciative of those who came to watch and listen. “If you’re separating yourself from your hard earned cash to come to a music festival, then you know what life is about,” she said, and everyone who had watched her set that day walked away with a little more of that knowing.

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Speaking of knowing, the guys from Perry Street Park had learned a few hard lessons of their own that they shared with the crowd throughout their energetic set. Their frontman Benny Nelson bared his soul talking about his journey with alcoholism, celebrating the fact that he was 252 days sober – with a 253-day-old son, Ned, for whom he had gotten a commemorative tattoo of Ned Flanders wearing a Ned Kelly helmet. The crowd got a kick out of the upbeat songs on the set list, especially the unexpectedly fitting cover of Taylor Swift’s Style, but it was the heartwarming stories of humanity (and Nelson’s fiancé side of stage with their adorable baby) that would make the set - and indeed, the festival - what it was. The pure love in their song Always and the shimmering shoe-gaze melodies in She sealed the deal, ensuring that the crowd would indeed remember the name Perry Street Park.

19-Twenty were early crowd favourites for a variety of reasons, from their raucous onstage banter to their selection of classic covers to riff on – you really can’t go wrong with Smoke on the Water. It almost felt like watching a laidback practice session, the way they changed things around at the last moment and tossed playful insults across the stage. “‘Have a go, ya mug,’ said the guy that booed ya, which is your dad.” Nonsensical? A little, but also utterly hilarious.

Although there had already been plenty of guitarists to grace the festival’s four stages, there was none quite like Tommy Emmanuel. In the words of stunned onlookers, it was as if he was playing two guitars at once, his playful jazzy style punctuated by ongoing scales. Everything he did was undeniably technically complex, and yet, after decades of practicing and performing, Emmanuel made it look easy and positively joyful. While the projector screens often showed his fingers deftly working along the fret board, he put his whole body into the performance with percussive touches, dance moves, animated facial expressions and seemingly boundless energy. An hour passed in a blink, and Emmanuel left the stage with humility, saying, “I hope you had a good time.”

When the mid-afternoon slump threatened to set in, Blues Arcadia stepped up to the plate, sending energy way out into the atmosphere. Frontman Alan Boyle showed off some slick moves, boosting the energy average across the stage in a big way, and all without compromising on the warmth and smoothness of his voice. The band was well in tune with one another, expertly building up each tune only to strip it back again just as quickly, and always keeping the crowd on their toes. The expressive instrumental and vocal highlights throughout Hear It Now was a true set highlight, proving that deftly handled light and shade always pleases the crowd.

Across from the Ian Moss set, characterised by famed riffs and triumphant shouts of “pull me up, tear me down”, was Taj Mahal, the ultimate trad blues man surrounded by light and colour in the form of glamorous gowns and country hats. Dressed for an island holiday, Mahal fit right in with the sounds of the steel drum, while one of his backing singers stood out for all the right reasons. When she was invited to take the lead, she did not disappoint, eliciting cheers from a captive audience with her bold, passionate vocals.

The trad blues style carried through Allman Betts Family Revival, who were all dressed in black, allowing the eyes to rest while the ears feasted on flawless lead guitar solos and perfectly placed interjections that deserved more volume than they got. Shortly afterwards, PJ Morton and his crew delivered in much the same way, showcasing impressive piano fingers and even more impressive connections with Like Water, a song created in collaboration with Stevie Wonder. Morton’s vocal chops were something to admire, and his brilliant backing choir took them to another level and inspired the crowd to clap along. With tunes like Say So, featuring effortlessly brilliant backing vocals deserving of their own eponymous set, and How Deep Is Your Love, featuring backing vocals from the whole tent, Morton and his collaborators delivered something for everyone. The Sam Cooke cover Bring It On Home To Me was a true standout, delivered  like a sermon and loved for its “desperate” passion.

Next up, he may have been a left-field addition to a blues bill, but Tom Jones’ reputation preceded him, stretching all the way to the edge of the tent full of punters and beyond. Although he’ll be 84 on June 7th, Jones still sang with the fervour of a young man, traversing tunes including his own Across the Border Line and Bob Dylan’s The Valley Below in a way that inspired reverence from the crowd. It was only when they played through the funky drum rhythms and rock riffs of Talking Reality TV Blues that Jones’ presence in the festival suddenly made much more sense – although it seemed the punters would have gone to see him anywhere.

By the time Tedeschi Trucks Band rolled around with their organ, guitar, bass and drums all in tow, Byron Bay was ready for some soul – and front woman Susan Tedeschi pulled no punches, an undisputed star of the show. Like others gone before them, they were masters of dynamic, building up and pulling back to keep the crowd on the hook. It often seemed that there was no room for any more sound, and then another would appear - whether it was wandering sax, vocal scat, guitar improv, smooth organ or any number of other deserving stars. Each song turned into a long-range improvisation, and yet, it was as if they couldn’t have gone on long enough.

Perhaps the most remarkable feat of the day was that even as the Tedeschi Trucks pulled in for the night, Tom Jones was still out making the most of his spotlight, and the fans stood loyally by into the next morning. Still, with another big day ahead, there was a palpable relief amongst campers heading back to their tents, filled with anticipation for Ben Harper, Rickie Lee Jones, The Teskey Brothers, and so many more.