Bluesfest 2011 Review | Part One
Touted as the best lineup in its 22 year history, we knew straight away that Bluesfest would be a festival of stage hopping to see as many acts as possible. Opening night in Byron Bay kicked off with local favourite Xavier Rudd and his faithful didgeridoo, then we checked out newcomer Grace Woodroofe, who belted out Iggy Pop’s ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ with raw power and a surprisingly smooth deep voice.
Next on the agenda was Michael Franti & Spearhead. Opening with their anthem ‘Everyone Deserves Music’ and performing new dance tracks from their album ‘The Sound Of Sunshine’, Michael proved he’s still as insane as his homemade t-shirt said, and celebrated his birthday in style with a great set and cake.
Ben Harper and The Relentless7 lit up the night when they hit the stage belting out ‘With My Own Two Hands’ and ‘Ground On Down’. Having first played Bluesfest in 1996, Ben was determined to treat his Aussie fans in 2011 to a marathon of his music, including rarely-played gems from his first band The Innocent Criminals, covers like ‘Sexual Healing’ and the sing-along favourite ‘Burn One Down’.
How can you top Ben Harper? With guitar legends ZZ Top! Growing up as a teen during the 80s resurgence, the pull of seeing those long (slightly greyer) beards, that lazy strut and those synchronised dance moves was just too great to ignore. Bundling ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’, ‘Sharp-Dressed Man’ and ‘Legs’ together with hot rod music video footage and furry guitars to close their set was a brilliant way to end the first night of what would soon become five nights of legends.
After regretting the decision not to wear gumboots every time we crossed the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm on Thursday, Friday was to be a night of lessons learned and laughing at the uninitiated. We started with Los Lobos to get our salsa on but sadly without ‘La Bamba’ we had to dance to their cover of The Who’s ‘My Generation’ instead. We then slushed our way over to see Ben Harper’s other band Fistful Of Mercy, where he took the backseat playing slide guitar behind George Harrison’s son Dhani.
Toots and The Maytals began the icon charge of the night with old-school reggae tracks like ‘Pressure Drop’. The man who used to hang with Bob Marley can still deliver some soulful vocals! As BB King took to the stage, it felt like the entire festival was trying to be front and centre for his set. At 86, Bluesfest could well be his last tour of Australia, but as long as his guitar Lucille is still singing sweetly it is an absolute pleasure to have him in the country.
Grace Jones made her audience wait 45 minutes before descending from the rafters in her signature headwear. A source of inspiration for artists like Lady Gaga, the statuesque diva draped herself over a rotating stripper pole to give a dramatic performance of her songs – not to mention some candid conversation and crazy costumes too.
While Rodrigo Y Gabriela tore up their strings on one stage, stumbling across Fishbone on another was the best move of the night. The frenetic ska, punk, funk and rock had the crowd skanking with abandon. Forged in LA in the late 80s, Fishbone have influenced bands like Primus and Red Hot Chili Peppers with their eclectic sound. By throwing themselves into their performance and quite literally into the crowd, for me they were the pick of the whole festival.
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