Bluesfest 2011 – Day Six, Featuring: Bob Dylan, Gurrumul, Paul Kelly and Buffy Sainte-Marie. – Live Review

  One of the beautiful things about a festival as large and varied as Bluesfest is that the discovery of something new and exciting, at least for the listener, waits around every corner. For this reviewer, Canadian First Nations singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie was the jewel of this year’s hidden treasures.

Already familiar with her 60s hit Universal Soldier and the rocking Bury My Heart at

Wounded Knee, as well as her Academy Award winning effort Up Where We Belong (who isn’t?), it was a pleasure to become acquainted with the other varied dimensions of her 40 plus year repertoire, and to experience the woman behind the music.

Sainte-Marie is a revelation. A consummate performer, extensive teacher and a life-long vocal proponent of human rights, her every song sits at the apex of the personal and the political and the delivery is all heart. You needn’t be familiar with Sainte-Marie to feel informed, involved and entertained. She and her band easily fill the main stage, yet the way she connects with the crowd seems as natural and comfortable as if she were having a coffee and a chat with friends, albeit an impassioned chat.

Within this sensibility the exuberant four-piece deliver a mix of rock, folk, punk, pop and rockabilly with equal style. Alternating between keys and guitar, and with warm, instantly identifiable vocals, Sainte-Marie treated the crowd to her hits along with a little history surrounding each. More recent compositions like the loud punk No No Keshagesh (Cree Indian for greedy)and rockabilly tune Blue Sunday, alongside classic folk songs like Little Wheel Spin and Spin, manage to blend seamlessly into the potent mix of a riveting set.

Teacher Sainte-Marie gave a reading assignment, recommending Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. Your listening assignment, should you choose to accept it: Running for the Drum by Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Paul Kelly is an Aussie folk icon, an artist, poet, and master of both expressing the human condition and putting on a good show. His festival sets feel like a family affair, his songs so well known and so well loved that hearing them performed, along with the vocal contribution of a large audience, is like catching up with an old friend. Joined once again by Vika and Linda Bull, who lend their considerable talent to the vocal mix, Dumb Things was an early contribution, later followed by To Her Door and Love Never Runs On Time.

Demonstrating the affinity that these two have with Kelly and his material, Everything’s Turning To White, the disquieting song inspired by the short story Jindabyne (later an Aussie film), was devastating in Linda’s care, while Vika took the reins to give sass and pain to Sweet Guy. Kelly and the band were in fine form as always, their camaraderie evident as they delivered How to Make Gravy before taking their final bows.

It was raining again and dinner time when Gurrumul took to the stage. A shy man with incredible sound, his voice easily draws your attention from across the noisy cafeteria tables and drizzling rain. Having already appeared twice at this festival, both with Saltwater Band and solo, he once again filled the main stage with vibrant tales of North East Arnhem Land sung in Yolngu Matha. This performance included the gorgeous Wiyathul from his self-titled album, and Baru, the thrilling song about a saltwater croc, familiar to Saltwater Band fans it also features on Gurrumul’s second offering, Rrakala. Another beautiful set from an unforgettable artist.

Tuesday’s punters may have had to brave the expanses of slippery mud (which extended well into the tents) and sporadic showers, but the fewer numbers meant better views, especially in the case of Bob Dylan. This time the audience was able to enjoy the staging of the band and experience the personality of the man, who may give a hop and a skip while standing at the mic, and who physically throws himself into the song, especially when behind the keys. Running through a similar set list, Dylan’s second performance diverted to include It Ain’t Me, Babe and the epic Desolation Row. The encores were a merry sing-a-long, and a seemingly delighted Dylan introduced his band and bowed out the last night of the festival with a, “Thank you, friends!”.

Meanwhile, Eli “Paperboy” Reed had wrapped up his funky soul set, blaming the curfew for having to deny the encore that Juke Joint stragglers were begging for. Indeed, Bluesfest 2011 was coming to a end. Grace Jones had already left the now darkened Crossroads tent, while the happy faithful moshed in ankle-deep mud to the legendary, elongated encore of the Parliament Funkadelic set. George Clinton and friends closed out the festival with a colourful rave, complete with giveaways and roller girls.

Billed as the biggest Bluesfest ever, the 2011 festival really was a mammoth event. After six days of roaming the stages, markets, international food and drink stalls and participating in game shows and Q & A sessions, festival goers finally splashed and trudged their muddy way back to tents and cars, tired but sated, and carrying vivid memories of the incredible week they spent immersed in music.

Bluesfest 2011 – Day Six, Featuring: Bob Dylan, Gurrumul, Paul Kelly and Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Review by: Pepa Wolfe