Blog 16d: Byron Bay Bluesfest, Day 4
Best day yet!
The weather has mostly held out and been sunny with a few clouds the last couple of days. Yesterday was a long day, but very awesome.
Up front: Friendly advice to young buskers and singer songwriters: WORK ON YOUR DICTION! If you want me (and probably others) as a fan, you need to clearly pronounce each and every single word that leaves your lips on stage. Just because you know every single word of the songs you wrote intimately, or you are doing a famous cover, doesn't mean your potential fans do. A new listener should be able to (in my opinion) hear ever single word you have selected on the first pass, spending their brain power so enjoy the other musical aspects of your performance, rather than playing mental catch up on your last garbled line of mostly vowels.
We started out by checking out Irish songman Ryan McMullan. A contrast to the jump up and dance kick start to Saturday, Ryan eased away any hangovers with his own brand of singer-songwriter-ing that felt genuine and honest. Talented guy.
It was after noon so we moseyed on over to the as-yet unvisited craft beer bar for some tasty beverages on tap (so much nicer than the canned stuff at the general bars). We ended up meet a couple of sterling human beings (Kaz and Joe - hi guys!) and generally sharing adventure stories and enjoying the beery sunshine vibes with Clayton Doley's Bayou Billabong playing on the stage just over the way. A great way to kick off the days antics and a good time to remind you, dear reader, that the people you meet at Bluesfest are just as important as the bands that play. The atmosphere here is one of inclusiveness, co-operation and a fundamental shared love of seeing (and hearing) skilled musicians at their craft.
Early afternoon we wandered over to see Jose Gonzalez. The man himself bared his soul and executed his unique kind of nylon string acoustic classical/folk performance (and that voice! oh my!) flawlessly. It was a shame that the crowd didn't pay him the respect his performance deserved. The tent was full of the dull roar of conversation, instead of the respectful silent intimacy that Jose deserved. I don't understand how you could see this guy play and not be drawn into being silently mesmerised. Still enjoyed it, even if some of the other humans there sucked.
After Jose we hung around at the same stage to see one of Ruth's most anticipated acts - First Aid Kit. The young Swedish sisters (who already have four albums under their belts at 21 and 23) delivered their trademark little bit folk, little bit rock and whole lot of country in sublime style. Effortless perfect vocal harmonies, the thread of pedal steel guitar tying everything together and catchy, cleverly constructed songs and lyrics won the crowd over, old fans and new. Set highlights were the message behind and performance of 'You are the Problem Here' (#metoo), 'lion's roar,' 'Wolf,' and 'Emmylou.' Their set was really great.
A trip back to camp for dinner and a little lie down was required before jumping into the second half of the day.
I didn't know much about Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real before seeing their set, other than: 1) Yes, he is the son of legendary country rocker Willie Nelson, and 2) The band has been Neil Young's backing band for the last couple of years. Well that sets the bar pretty high. Thankfully the band leapt right over that bar and rocked the hell out of the Jambalaya stage. Catchy ragged riffs, ear worming vocal hooks and plenty of nods to his fathers musical heritage, while still being very much his own man behind the guitar and microphone, Lukas looked right at home on stage, belting out (perhaps, if I am honest, one or two too many) soaring guitar solos over a super tight rhythm section. Somehow they made country rock feel new and relevant again, not just the same old tired trucker-cowboy lyrics, but thoughtful meditations on the timeless themes of love, injustice, inequality, heartbreak and adventure, all with a contemporary slant. Joined by one of the local Arakwal men dancing for a soaring rendition of Paul Simon's 'Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes' near the end of their set, the band showed versatility, musicianship and precision in their performance just up until the last leap from the drum riser into a ringing power chord. One of the highlights of the festival so far.
Next up on the same stage was the much acclaimed British soul/hip-hop artist Rag 'n' Bone Man. The backing band was tight, but I couldn't really get into his jam. A bit of chill out time, more Craft Beer, a couple of Melissa Etheridge songs (again, not really my thing) and it was over to see the one and only John Butler do his thing to close out the night.
John Butler has a special place in my heart for a variety of reasons. Fremantle busker turned international star he chose a much harder path than many of his musical peers. Maintaining control of his own artistic destiny with his own label, his own management, his own personal strongly held moral and ethical philosophy, he has achieved popular success without the support/control of a major label. Plus I was in high school when the album 'Three' was a big deal (I can still remember figuring out the chords to Betterman with Dave Lyons) and 'Sunrise Over Sea' came out in my first year of uni.
Extra bonus band members on stage x2 made the upswelling lap steel opening into some guitar pedal issues. Butler played all across his discography - Betterman, Pickapart and more contemporary tunes. Massive crowd singalongs ensued for 'Used to get High,' kickass banjo pluckin' 'Better Than' and the iconic, set ending, crowd pleasing 'Zebra.' The obligatory version of 'Ocean' in the set still gets me every time. That song makes me think of a patchy stormy autumn night in Fremantle (not too dissimilar to the weather last night) in my early twenties when my friend Abheshek and I (close your ears Mums) dropped some acid and ended up listening to the song on a park bench, looking over South Beach, just as the storm clouds parted around a moonlit, sparkly starry sky. The wind was howling, but the rain never touched us, and we could see out to the end of the universe. Or something like that.
During the set a group of traditional indigenous custodians and other stakeholders from the Stop Adani movement came up on stage to the backdrop of some powerful drumming. JBT managed to channel the power of the musical force swirling around the tent into conviction for action against an environmental atrocity. I wont tell you to blindly support the movement, but I do encourage you to research to proposed coal mine development and form your own opinion on if the Stop Adani movement is worth your support (and a friendly reminder, clicking a link is not activism. Directly engaging with your local politicial representative, peer group, friends, family and colleagues to encourage change is activism. Activism requires action.)
Wow. What a day! A great day! One more to go!
Thought of the Day: Maxxtrax make even more friends that soldering irons! Also, Can Gary winch out a full size Winnebago?