East Coast Blues And Roots Festival @ Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm (21-26/04/2011)

With near perfect weather and a colossal line-up playing out across an historic six day event, this year’s East Coast Blues and Roots Festival has been an absolute world class event. Around 110,000 punters attended across the Easter long weekend, bearing witness to a range of blistering blues, traditional reggae, meandering folk, classic rock and everything in between.

Friday, 22nd April

Tex-Mex legends Los Lobos get the Crossroads crowd swinging to their patented grooves. The band’s watertight three-guitar attack is frequently awe inspiring, the players – particularly the grey haired David Hidalgo – peeling off one scorching solo after another. A Latin rock cover of The Temptations’ Papa Was A Rolling Stone and their famed version of La Bamba are just two finger-snapping highlights of a massively invigorating set.

Bluesfest favourites Blind Boys Of Alabama remind us it’s Easter after all, arriving to a rousing reception and immediately proceeding to holler out plenty of righteous Southern gospel. Dressed in matching white suits, the ensemble showcase the kind of vocal power to warrant a resolutely unique listening experience, and when special guest Aaron Neville adds his impossibly smooth, soaring tenor to the mix. One can feel shivers racing up and down their spine. After he leaves the stage, the Blind Boys mesmerise us some more with their jaw-dropping rendition of Amazing Grace – set to the tune of House Of The Rising Sun.

From Kingston, Jamaica, Toots and the Maytals bring a much needed dose of timeless ska, rocksteady and reggae to the Mojo tent. Following the band’s opening run through a flawless version of Tina Turner’s Missing You, the white-clad Toots surfaces and wonders if we’re ready for the “presha to drop”. We sure are, and duly get swinging to Pressure Drop’s immortal grooves.

Blues leviathan B.B. King sets the Friday attendance record by completely packing out Crossroads and the surrounding area. Appearing after two vigorous instrumental displays by his kick-arse band, the 85 year-old is led out from the aisles to thunderous cheers. Seminal cuts Every Day I Have The Blues and Rock Me Baby are dispatched with gusto and the great man gives off a rare authority as he commands his musicians and the audience from his chair. Yet there doesn’t seem to be enough firepower in the cries he extracts from his trusty Lucille. Likewise, the numerous deliberate stop-starts mean B.B.’s show falls short of Buddy Guy’s hugely incendiary display at last year’s Bluesfest.

Following an infuriating 45-minute wait – during which we sneak out to see the mega groovy New Orleans stalwarts Funky Meters at Jambalaya – Grace Jones makes a grand entrance at Mojo, chiding us for being “impatient”. Despite a lot of the assembled crowd being understandably unimpressed with the hold-up, the pop legend delivers a show that would make Lady Gaga weep with envy – replete with continuous outfit changes, assorted otherworldly looking headgear, a laser-shooting glitter hat and unparalleled artistic vision.

Not many 62 year-olds can get away with flaunting a G-string, striking sexy poses and shaking their booty, but ex-model Jones can – and then some. Following a clutch of signature tracks – My Jamaican Guy, I’ve Seen That Face Before ,Private Life, La Vie En Rose – she dedicates William’s Blood to Michael Jackson and cranks it up some more. Electrified by the diva’s presence and still-powerful voice, we dance and chant along to Pull Up To The Bumper (culminating with a confetti blast) and Love Is The Drug. In a mighty, one-two finale, Grace spins the hula hoop for the length of Slave To The Rhythm and bids us adieu with a wild, wild version of Hurricane. Simply incredible.

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