Tyagarah NSW, April 21 – 26.
Campbell McNolty and Leigh MacDonald
Byron Bay was swamped by nearly 120,000 music fans of all ages over the six-day festival. The line-up was the most spectacular in Bluesfest’s 22-year history.
ZZ Top played on the first night, and they were still gloriously bearded. It was hard to tell whether they were trying to parody themselves, but they were as entertaining as ever.
The Snowdroppers demonstrated the perfect fusion of balls to the wall rock with a blues and country knack for story telling. The addition of banjo to some otherwise straight up rock tunes not only justified their inclusion on the bill but added a flair which many modern rock bands lack. The front man was in equal parts irritating and incandescent, but his dominating, often maniacal stage presence raised the final song, a cover of ‘Shout’, to fever pitch.
The Blind Boys Of Alabama played to a full house, and were so enthusiastic that they had to be repeatedly sat down by their minders to stop them hurting themselves.
Jackson Firebird’s dirty blues-rock got the crowd excited, but no one was as geared up as Kram, who made a spectacularly drunken guest appearance, dancing on stage before being escorted away for his own safety.
Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson provided a master class in keeping young. Unlike many of the older acts on the Bluesfest lineup, the band lived up to the live performance that made them famous. Central to their live show is Anderson’s acrobatics on the flute. Far beyond being a gimmick the addition of the woodwind instrument takes the band far beyond a simple male fronted 70’s era rock band. Over the course of their one-hour set the band played many of their best-known songs, mostly from Aqualung.
On Monday night, Bob Dylan was as disappointing as everyone expected. He played an hour of obscure bluesy arrangements of his less popular songs, and refused to speak to the crowd or have the camera feed displayed on the big screens. Despite playing a nearly identical set list on the Tuesday, he was much more enjoyable if you lowered your expectations the second time around.
Those who could deal with the constant rain and ankle deep mud of the Tuesday were rewarded with a stellar set by Paul Kelly, who played with sisters Vika and Linda Bull and guitarist Ash Naylor.
The draw card act on the final day was George Clinton, an act many may have missed in favour of Bob Dylan’s second set. The timetable clash was unfortunate as Clinton’s P-Funk Allstars delighted the crowd with a slew of Parliament and Funkadelic classics. ‘We Want the Funk’ and ‘Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadooloop’ were favourites for a crowd of diehards that was eager to dance. Perhaps the high point was a rendition on the ten-minute guitar solo track ‘Maggotbrain’ which was remarkably true to the original recording. Having reached the age of seventy Clinton’s extravagant lifestyle has taken its toll and his voice lacks its previous sonority, but his band are intergalactic funk pioneers of the highest order.