“No Shoes, at Blues…” – By Tara Kai Hammond

Bluesfest – 20th Annual East Coast Blues and Roots Festival
Friday 12th April
Review: Tara Kai Hammond

After a short twenty minute stroll from the car park, a quick ‘frisking’ from security at the gate, and I’m officially allowed into the festival. The first thing I noticed after being ‘frisked’; apart from swampy mud and thousands of different patterned gumboots; was hundreds of joyful, beaming-sunny-smiles, and a happy and radiant vibe which was ‘infectious’.

*Musical highlights*:-
That One Guy played his part percussions-part bass-boom box-making-vacuum or “magic Pipe” as he refers to it) to a small but highly amused, pumped-up and appreciative crowd. With funky high energy tunes one minute, (that make ya want to shake ya bits); to laid back cruisy tunes the next, (the kind that make ya smile and give ya that fuzzy feelin’); That One Guy is without a doubt the most extraordinary and entertaining one man band that I’ve ever witnessed; (and I’ve seen quite a few, including a guy with bopping parrot on his shoulder…)

The Tribe Of Jubal where a proud and powerful act with an indigenous world music/tribal ceremonial feel, that included a horn section, flutist, Congo drummer and backup singers/dancers. Dressed in their native attire, (guys painted up in their tribal colours and woman in traditional grass skirts); they entertained and educated the crowd with their rich stories and legends that were woven like a beautiful, rich tapestry throughout their performance.

Politically charged writer Michael Franti and his band Spearhead, returned to perform their eagerly-awaited album, All Rebel Rockers, to a huge crowd of passionate punters and inspired the audience to “…stand up for our spiritual rights” during a long set of old and new songs like Yell Fire, Everyone Deserves Music, Power to the Peaceful, Bomb the World, Hey Now Now, (which were all crowd favourite and were accompanied with lots of crowd vocalisation and howling under the full moon). The tune Hey World (Don’t Give Up) (from the new album All Rebel Rockers) was also a crowd favourite with lots of singing along, clapping and fists in the air.

One of my favourite bands of all time – Fishbone have been wowing audiences for around 30 years now and while the crowd may have been on the smaller side for their performance, that certainly didn’t stop the band or crowd immensely enjoying themselves and making enough noise and applause for a band and audience double the size. Lead singer Angelo Moore (also known as “Dr. Madd Vibe”) and keyboardist Dre Gipson’s; entertained and excited the crowd with their musicality and regular, up-close-and-personal visits with the audience, via the ‘mush pit’. The band played a diverse set (of old and new tunes from all their genres) that included crowd favourites like old’- school ska tune, Party at Ground Zero; social commentary on divorce and its effects on children with Ma and Pa; a look at one of societies favourite past times and illnesses’ with the tune Alcoholic; and a bone or two of blues with Angelo dedicating their cover of Sublime tune Date Rape to all the ladies. And their energetic hyper fusion of ska, punk, funk, soul, metal, reggae and rock was so powerful that some punters to the point of silliness and destruction and some sections of the ‘mosh’ got that out-of-control that bouncers earnt their keep either fishing members of the band from the excited crowd, or trying to sort out who was causing all the ‘chaos’ and aggression in the first place, which was slightly annoying and distracting but worth it for the sake of a peaceful and happy ‘mosh’.

Zappa Plays Zappa played a two hour set that included a unique guitar rendition of Franks classic instrumental, Peaches En Regalia; the spacie sounding Cosmik Debris; the phat n funky I’m the Slime; the smooth n sexy Penguin in Bondage; and a pimpin’ version of Willy the Pimp; which left the crowd buzzing and wanting more! As did Saxophonist, Flutist, Keyboardist and Vocalist, Scheila Gonzalez, when she soloed two saxophones at the same time; and actually made it look easy and sound awesome at the same time! (If only her sound wasn’t so low and I didn’t have to strain to hear her vocal parts) To add to this was Dweezil Zappa’s uncanny resemblance to his father ( Frank) throughout the concert; including half way through the performance when he began conducting the audience and the band using various parts of his body, just like Frank back in his day . And looking at the positive reaction from the younger members of the audience I’d say if Dweezils goal was to, “… introduce the music to as many new people as possible” well judging by the crowd’s reaction during and after the concert ; he achieved the above and a whole lot more!

Blue King Brown played a high energy set to a laid back and happy audience that where looking more than ready for another quality night of entertainment. The band kept punters happy and content by playing all their hits like, Don’t Let Go, Stand Up, they payed a tribute to the indigenous peoples of the world with their song a Come and Check your Head. Nonetheless the highest energy point came during the instrumental drum/bongo/percussion jam when the energy in the tent built so high that the whole tent became electric and the charge was felt throughout.

Paul Kelly performed to a huge crowd and started of his set with the tune Nothings on my mind. He then moved onto The Dumb Things, which was a definite crowd favourite if people jumping around, arms flailing with excited crowd vocals for the chorus – “I’ve done all the dumb things!”; is anything to go by. Another crowd favourite Walking Out the Door; had the crowd singing and grooving along to the bluesy love song. He also performed I Lost My Tenderness, (another crowd favourite with crowd vocalisation); the slow and mellow tune Deeper Water; and the old song I Used To Love Her, on his own; before inviting Linda Bull on stage to perform Careful What you Wish For and So Much Water, So Close To Home.

The John Butler Trio started their rocking performance by thanking the traditional owners of the land, The Bundgalung People; and then dedicated their first song The Government Man to them. They then went on to perform a wide range of music including Used To Get High, Better Man, Good Excuse, Caroline, and crowd favourite Better Than had everyone grooving and moving to the funky hillbilly tune. They then funked things right up with a song from his earlier days, Zebra.
Blues Traveller is a funky-rock and poppy-blues act that never fails to satisfy; and once again delivered their tasty tunes, for their first time at Bluesfest. Giving the audience more than their money’s worth, during an hour and ten minute set; with tunes like Jump In My Car. We’ll Go 100 Around the Bend; and also a laid-back and funky-blues version of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry; that had the crowd swaying and singing along right till the end.

Missy Higgins spent her performance mixing it up between the piano and guitar and played a set that included old and new songs such as Scar, and The Special Two. She also engaged the audience through crowd participation and vocalisation and like John Butler and Blue King Brown; she was also vocal in discussing the current situation in Kakadu, and motivating everyone to check it out and stand up and do something about it.

Ben Harper has left his seat and taken to the stage for his performances with his new ensemble Relentless 7. With a change in direction quite different from previous work with his old band, (The Innocent Criminals); Harper has added to his already diverse artistic style and taken to being the front man of a rock band; like a duck takes to water: a bit of preening, some noise and commotion, then a calm-grace takes over. With a performance that included fairly recent hits such as a crowd sing-along-favourite Better Way and yet to be released tune/instant crowd hit Shimmer and Shine – “Bring me the music for the revolution. It puts my mind at ease, to know. We’re the problem, we’re the solution. The cure and the disease. But life is trying to force me. Force me to trust. I’ve done all I can. I do what I must”. It’s obvious that while Harpers musical style may have evolved, (or taken a new/rockier direction). His lyrics are still as political and socially charged and concerned as ever! (Which makes this little reviewer – very happy indeed? And makes up for any disappointment felt by the above ‘evolution’…) And when they performed an astonishing cover of David Bowie and Freddie Mercury’s hit Under Pressure the crowd totally lost it! And it was a defining moment in Harpers performance and the concert in general.

Ben Harper and The Relentless Seven finished their encore, (which marks the end of my Bluesfest experience). And so begins the slow ‘trudge’ through rivers, swamps and puddles (big enough to lose a car and caravan in); before I eventually I make it to the gate, (with both shoes still attached – just!), and say “goodbye and happy Easter!” to whatever security is left. Now, I’m off home to change out of my muddy-sweaty clothes, before I catch a cold or two…”Aaahhhcchoooo!!!!!”. And I can’t wait to climb into my clean, dry bed and dream-a-little-dream…and imagine what amazing acts will be playing next year…??? (Red Hot Chilli Peppers!!! anyone???…)