Byron Bay Bluesfest 2011 – Day Three, Featuring: Michael Franti & Spearhead, Indigo Girls, Tim Robbins & The Rogues Gallery Band and Grace Barbe Afro Kreol – Live Review

By: Pepa Wolfe

Blues Fest 2011 – Day Three, Featuring: Michael Franti & Spearhead, Indigo Girls, Tim Robbins & The Rogues Gallery Band and Grace Barbe Afro Kreol.

On day three, the Original Sinners were once again at the Jambalaya tent, running through the same set to an equally rapt audience. The afternoon also saw Melbourne’s The Red Eyes dubbin’ it at the Juke Joint, Bluesfest veteran Jeff Lang gracing the main stage and Trombone Shorty jammin’ at the Crossroads with Gospel legend Mavis Staples.

Celebrated actor and director turned musician Tim Robbins, touring Australia on the back of his debut CD with the Rogues Gallery Band, brought a mixture of blues, country and a dash of sing-a-long to the Jambalaya tent on Saturday. Robbins, on guitar and vocals, seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself, rumbling through Folsom Prison Blues before festival superstar and all-round maestro Trombone Shorty joined the Rogues for “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep”. A change of tempo and “Crush On You”, inspired by the young victim of a hate crime, demonstrated a simple approach, buoyed by beautiful instrumentation, as was a gorgeous, measured cover of Tom Waits’ “All The World Is Green”. Featuring the sweet wail and wallow of a musical saw over vocal harmonies, it was easily the high point of their set.

Word of mouth and memories of her last Bluesfest performance had people flocking to the Juke Joint to catch Grace Barbe Afro Kreol.

A singer, songwriter and dancer from Seychelles, Barbe draws heavily on her Creole roots, infusing her music and stage performance with language, rhythms and movement that celebrate a vibrant culture. A mix of reggae, dub, afro-beat and funk, Afro Kreol’s sound was made for dancing. Alternating between English, French and Creole lyrics, Barbe wooed the crowd with a stunning voice and loads of charisma, while the rhythms of drummer Freddy Poncin had the place hopping. There was some impressive onstage arse-shaking to “I’m In The Mood For Reggae Music”, before the set ended with a massive synchronised dance (yes, impressively synchronised considering the size of the crowd and the happy drunkenness). And then it was over all too soon, with a warm, “Merci beaucoup”.

Back at the mainstage, the distinctive vocals of Andrew Stockdale cut through the air as Wolfmother played their Aussie rock to a full tent, those who had stopped to grab a bite to eat catching “The Joker and the Thief” on the big screen from a crowded dining area.

The Indigo Girls are such a charming, likeable duo, their Bluesfest debut a long overdue addition. Walking out onto a bare Mojo stage, just the two women and their acoustic guitars, they soon filled the air with their special brand of folk rock, to the delight of an eagerly awaiting crowd.

Their poignant lyrics and uplifting melodies, layered over bluesy rhythm guitars and deft, intricate fills, were delivered with focused energy and a sense of fun. But it’s the gorgeous harmonies of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers that raises the music of Indigo Girls from crafted stories and complimenting guitars to a sublime musical experience. And they sound fantastic live.

Switching to the banjo and the mandolin for G”et Out The Map”, followed by Amy’s intimate “Second Time Around”, they invited everyone to sing along to the beautiful, delicate “Power of Two”, and while Emily ripped into an awesome guitar solo during “Chickenman”, Amy had the entire tent clapping in time.

Quite possibly the most gracious, polite performers, considering it a privilege to play Bluesfest, they treated the captivated crowd to their hits “Galileo” and the classic “Closer To Fine”, with jubilant fans singing every word.

Despite the overwhelming demand for an encore (blatantly ignored by festival staff already preparing for John Legend) the audience was left with the lingering thrill of having witnessed something understated and overwhelming, something special.

For a change of pace, but keeping with the communal vibe, Michael Franti & Spearhead headlined the Crossroads tent for their second set of the festival.

Franti is a man of the people. Outspoken, socially conscious and with a passion that is infectious, he almost spends more time in the crowd than he does on stage, dragging people up to dance, sing and even play with Spearhead.

From the first strains of “Everyone Deserves Music” the place was pulsating with a frenetic energy, and when Franti said, “I wanna see you all jumping!” it was as if the masses moved as one. He was amongst the crowd for “Yell Fire”, dragging people up on stage for the reggae rap of “Shake It!”, and asking people to put their hands together as he soared through “The Sound of Sunshine”.

One of the most popular acts and practically a Bluesfest staple, it’s easy to see why Michael Franti & Spearhead generate such a buzz. It’s a musical love-in, and when the night is over, you take that feeling with you.

By: Pepa Wolfe