Byron Bay Bluesfest 2019
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Byron Bay Bluesfest 2019

I have wanted to check out Bluesfest for years now so I was absolutely stoked that the 30th Anniversary also doubled as my first year, especially with the stacked lineup they’d come pulled together.

Before I get into the bands, I wanted to mention a few things about the event itself.

For starters, the scale of the festival in itself is insane; five stages and well over 100 food and clothing vendors – it was honestly like its own city.

Secondly, I wanted to give a specific mention to the fact that every single stage was undercover and wheelchair accessible (with an elevated platform allowing wheelchair bound punters to have a better view.)

Thirdly, I have never come across such a beautiful crowd of people. Every single person I spoke to was incredibly knowledgeable on all the acts playing and music as a whole, and it truly seemed like there wasn’t a single person in the crowd who was just there to get fucked up with their mates and that was such a welcomed change in my eyes.

Now onto the music. Unfortunately with five days worth of acts, I can’t review everyone so I’m going to hit you with some highlights.

Kurt Vile opened with ‘Loading Zones’, the opening track off 2018’s Bottle It In and breezed through his hour of consistent guitar changes, changing his string instrument for literally every single song of the set, including a mandolin and a 12-string. Tracks such as ‘Bassackwards’ and ‘Waking On A Pretty Day’ highlighted his musical ability through their melodic stylings, while ‘Pretty Pimpin’ was a singalong favourite for the crowd.

Fantastic Negrito was hands down my favourite of the long weekend. Stumbling across him on the Thursday night and then making it my mission to see every set he performed over the event, I was truly in awe. It sounds cliche to say that both the crowd and his band were ‘eating out of the palm of his hand’, but for lack of a better term, they were. It was as if we were puppets to the Fantastic Negrito show. ‘A Boy Named Andrew’ and ‘An Honest Man’ were both the evident favourites with the crowd participation being at an all time high, closely followed by his haunting cover of Leadbelly’s ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night.’

Gary Clark Jr was incredible for both of his sets. The choice to open with ‘Bright Lights’ clearly surprised a lot of punters, especially all the ones lining up at the bar who immediately came running in. His prowess on the guitar is honestly next to none; the intricacy of his skills was hypnotizing and I don’t feel like I’m alone in saying that. His second set featured a welcomed surprise in the form of Lukas Nelson and Marcus King who both made guest appearances.

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Iggy Pop, I mean Iggy fucking Pop… where do I possibly begin? Yeah he’s old, and yeah he seemed like somewhat of a shell of a human, but did he fucking rock? You bet. Opening with ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and going straight into ‘Gimme Danger’ was a surprise (I tried not to fuel myself with too many expectations of Stooge’s songs before his set.) But I should have because he went on to bust out tracks like ‘Search and Destroy’ and ‘T.V Eye’ and the crowd was in a sheer frenzy, which didn’t die down. ‘Lust For Life’, ‘The Passenger’ and ‘Nightclubbing’ all made an appearance, it was just wild. In fact, Iggy’s set was that wild that I somehow ended up boogying with B.C. from Dune Rats and I can honestly say that has never happened before.

Thando is a Melbourne based artist who I first discovered a month or so ago at By The Meadow and I’m so glad I did. Her smooth RNB/rap vibes are honestly so fantastic live and it was really great to see the difference in her set as the Bluesfest show incorporated a full band arrangement. Please, if you do one thing after reading this review, check out Thando. ‘Inferno,’ ‘Naked’ and ‘Dance with the Devil’ were some of my highlight songs from the whole weekend.

Mavis Staples is now on par with the best voice I’ve ever seen live (the other contender being Lee Fields). She was an absolute powerhouse on the stage and a highlight for me was her emotional cover of Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’.

Miss Velvet and The Blue Wolf was another massive standout for me. Previously knowing nothing about their/her music, I was blown away by her incredible stage presence, huge riffs and amazing horn section. Think heavy riffs in a similar vein to Zeppelin’s ‘In My Time of Dying’ with the vocals of Dallas Frasca, but that’s almost unfair to compare her to any other singer because in terms of Bluesfest specifically, she was incredibly unique.

Funkadelic-Parliament are the Men In Black of funk (the best of the best of the best). Having first seeing them with the RHCP recently, the second time didn’t falter at all. With songs like ‘Super Stupid’ and ‘Give Up The Funk’ getting the crowd moving, it was ‘Maggot Brain’ that was the real show stopper.

The Saboteurs (aka The Raconteurs) which featured Jack White, as well as members of the Dead Weather and Queens of the Stone Age, was the perfect way to round out the festival. There is and only ever will be one Jack White and that was evident the second he hit the stage. It was as if the crowd was communally hyperventilating. Busting out a bunch of new songs (which were all very well received), the older classics like ‘Consoler Of The Lonely’ and ‘Steady As She Goes’ will forever be some of the most memorable live music moments I have ever witnessed.

I wish I could keep going because I have so much more I want to talk about but I’m already well above my word count. All in all, go to Bluesfest. It’s honestly fantastic for fans of any age and I thank the team immensely for having me. I’ll catch you guys next year!

Thursday 18th April to Monday 22nd April 2019
Reviewed by Alex Callan
Photos by Jason Rosewarne Photography

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