Bluesfest @ Belongil Fields, Byron Bay (5-9/4/12)
Blessed with unseasonably beautiful weather and the collective might of music royalty (not to mention a host of fresh young talent), this year’s Bluesfest was quite the spectacle. ‘Blues’ could be considered too narrow a term for such a breadth of wonderful music: as funk, reggae, country, ska, hard rock, indie pop, sea shanties, bluegrass, southern rock and much more all had their moment in the sun.
On a fine Thursday afternoon, fans rolled into Byron for their first taste of what would be a phenomenal Easter holiday. Coming up early in one of the main tents – representing the spirit of New Orleans – Trombone Shorty’s fanfare of jazz and funk tunes incited a band ‘battle’ involving duelling saxophones, trombones, trumpets and electric guitars.
Their jazzy, carefree attitude marked a great start to proceedings. Meanwhile, at the other end of the site, champion busker Ollie Brown was busy garnering a modest crowd with good-natured tunes and easy smiles.
The first overseas act of the day comes in the form of Alabama 3. While starting off with only three members on stage the band gradually grows throughout as members file in one song at a time throughout this career spanning set. The crowd are reasonable in size but as horrible as it sounds the band do get the biggest reaction from the audience when they play the mainstream breakthrough Woke Up This Morning, famously the theme song to Television program The Sopranos. All in all however it is an impressive set and a great way to kick off affairs.
The sun has all but set as hordes of people descend upon the Mojo stage for the first of two Ziggy Marley sets of the week. Playing with an extensive band made up of fellow Marley offspring, the band are tight and lock into the groove of things with seemingly minimal effort. The first portion of the set is made up of Ziggy’s solo material which gets a somewhat positive reaction, Personal Revolution gets a notable response from crowd and band alike, but it is not until his fathers works get played that the audience begins to get into the full swing of things. Get Up, Stand Up sees Ziggy croon to the songs message with a desirable amount of passion while Is This Love and Look Who’s Dancin close the set and for non reggae fans. By this point the repetition of it all could be pushing your patience, but for fans of either the genre or the influential family it was definitely a sight to be seen.
The changeover between Ziggy and My Morning Jacket feels excruciatingly long as the reggae fans retract and the younger alternative rock crowd draw in. But as Jim James and co. take to the stage, their presence is immediately noted as the volume is definitely up and the atmosphere entirely different from half an hour ago. The new tracks hold up with the old with a tender rendition of Wonderful (The Way I Feel) and horn and choir orientated single _Holdin’ On To Black Metal _being set highlights.
The band are tight as expected with all members showing proficiency in their respective instruments. An amazing rendition of One Big Holiday ends the set with lights blazing in time to the fast picked lead guitar riff. The track has a rather awkward ending which sullied the moment in a way but all is forgotten through James’ guitar feedback loop.
Last on the docket for the evening were Aussie Pub Rock legends Cold Chisel. Fans may have been expecting just the hits, and the old time rockers certainly delivered with the likes of the one-two-three punch of Flame Trees, Khe Sanh and Bow River.
But did it redeem their newer (arguably weaker) material? While there were exceptions (such as the song No Plans ), many of the newer tracks didn’t sit nicely next to classics like encore event When the War is Over.
But Ian Moss continued to be a driving force for guitar splendour, Charley Drayton proved he has the drumming chops that came so easily to Steve Prestwich, and Jimmy Barnes – despite age wearing at his voice – got the crowd good and riled with howls into the night. It was good to have the boys back.