It was a casual beginning.
Bluesfest presents music from noon to midnight for the next four days, but today is a shorter one (as it is a working day here) with the first performances commencing at 4pm.
Accordingly there’s time for a walk to the beach and a swim in our beach house pool before a walk to the local bakery for a coffee. On the way I noticed that Mow Joe’s was workin’.
Time after that for a thorough analysis of the playing schedule (an essential step).
We got to the festival site around 2.30, well before the start time. Wrist band, bag checked and we were in. After a bit of a wander around to check out the changes from last year, it was straight to the front of the Jambalaya Stage for Dyson, Stringer and Cloher.
I’d seen them in this guise before and to see them again, this time on a big stage, was a real treat. Watching the band’s group hug before going on stage and seeing them interact while on it, fully demonstrated the joy they experience playing together. The material they showcased was very strong – highlights were a new song from Mia Dyson (“I Wanna Love You When You’re Older”?) and an earlier-written song from Liz Stringer (“Love Ain’t No Healer”) and Jen Cloher’s finale (“Hold My Hand”). A perfect first set to start the festival.
I was debating Steve Earle or Beth Hart next but, given Steve was on the same stage and my front row position, made the call to stay. Good call too. I’d never seen Earle with a band before (the economics of his touring Australia with a band have been prohibitive to date) and I was not disappointed. With The Mastersons (Chris Masterson guitar and Eleanor Whitmore violin and vocals), Kelly Looney (bass) and Will Rigby (drums) behind him, I saw a tremendous insight into his work over many years. From a number of songs from his debut Guitar Town in the 80’s to his most recent release (last year’s The Low Highway), the crowd was treated to the full breadth of his material. He also played some songs he wrote for the Treme TV series and “the first ever piano song I’ve ever written”.
A quick samosa and I almost caught all of the set by Suzanne Vega. I was looking forward to seeing her again, being very familiar with her earliest material and her second-to-last album and keen to hear material from her new release. Accompanied by a Dublin guitarist Jerry Leonard, it was a clever set, book-ending the new material with her big hits. Her voice was superb and Leonard demonstrated how to fill in space with dexterity and precision. The sound where I was was pristine.
Three tremendous sets in a row.
We needed to eat and have some refreshment, so we had a short rest before Garland Jeffreys at the new Juke Joint stage. Having not seen Jeffreys before, I was not sure what to expect. Wow. What a tremendous performance. A golden voice and a showman to boot, intermingling with the crowd at every opportunity and knowing exactly how to deliver his New York style edgy poetry with a hip groove. Joe Camilleri was on hand to play some tremendous saxophone, to support his old friend.
The standard was outstanding so far.
We decided to catch the second half of Buddy Guy and arrived at the busy Crossroads stage at the same time as Guy plunged deep into the crowd, two feet away from me. Back on stage, he was in command clearly and was demonstrating his guitar virtuosity. For mine, the parts of the set I saw were too episodic and filled with guitar frills without much context. I think he only performed one song “Skin Deep” with the full treatment while I was there.
Changes to the site are many. Three new VIP areas, no CD tent, no Rhythms interview tent, the new Juke Joint stage and a Burger Park.
Time to go and get some sleep for tomorrow, which promises to be much bigger.
Photos below by Jim Jacob.