Live Review + Photos: Byron Bay Bluesfest – 28-29 March 2024

Review by Wanda Hill
Photos by Ant Ritz

Celebrating 35 years of Byron Bay Bluesfest

With recent seminal festival cancelations front of mind, celebrating 35 years of Byron Bay’s Bluesfest really is a remarkable achievement. In a press conference yesterday Peter Noble announced that the 36th Byron Bay Bluesfest will be a four rather than a five day event next year, to help ease music industry pressures and ensure continued delivery of the regions premiere world class music event.

The 2024 iteration started in glorious sunshine and good vibes. The thinner crowds of Thursday night enabled friends to find each other easily amidst a sense of being in a magical place for a marathon of music. The sunset obliged filling the sky with golds and reds, illuminating the feelings of happiness oozing from the venue.

The festival site has some new initiatives this year. The four main stages are still there and working well with the addition of new VIP viewing platforms within easy walk to the VIP bar for the Crossroads and the Mojo stages. The best listening experience is still to be had in the big tops themselves, in front of the sound desk within close proximity to the ears challenged with mixing the artists into a soundscape that penetrates the crowd noise.

Thursday and Friday featured one of my personal favourites. New York based artist Meshell Ndegeochello who recently won a newly created Grammy Award for Best Alternative Jazz Album with her album The Omnichord Reel Book. This year her sound was sweeter and higher than the last time she visited Bluesfest when her set featured her signature deep vocal sound and accompanying bass. This year she also played keys and her sound was a fresh, gratitude filled celebration of life delivered in nuanced compositions impossible to definitively categorise. Speaking between songs she made us all feel appreciated when she observed the sexiness of Australians.

Listening to Yirrmal from Yirrkala was a spiritual experience. So much power in his voice. Bringing that uplifting, heart opening Yolngu sound to the swamps of Arakwal Country. At times it was like he was channelling a New Orleans vibe with some very funky sounds as well as a big stadium rock feel having mastered the atmospheric feeling and perfected involving the crowd with beautifully crafted melodies for singing along. Seeing Yirrmal years ago at Bluesfest with just a guitar and his magnificent voice and being thoroughly moved then, it’s exciting to see his progression as an artist. Don’t miss Yirrmal today at the Jambalaya at 5.15pm.

Local composer and producer Matt Corby filled the Crossroads to capacity and beyond with his brilliant heartfelt show that tapped into the vast breadth of emotions possible to experience. Providing safe haven for letting go into unexpressed sadness or powering up into feelings of elation. A highlight of the past two days and unfortunately only a one-off appearance. Followed by another one night only show by Jack Johnston soothing a loyal following, stretching an already overflowing Crossroads with fans having waited a few years between opportunities to see this much loved Bluesfest regular.

Dancers don’t miss the haunting horns and elevating dance beats created by Sydney musicians Caravana Sun. They are back tonight 8.15 at the Jambalaya. As are epic jazz, funk and RnB multi award winning New York based mega ensemble Snarky Puppy who had the last word at the Delta stage last night, providing an upbeat farewell for the muddy journey home. Snarky Puppy are back tonight at the Mojo at 8.30pm and are well worth making the effort to see despite the current car parking challenges. Download the Bluesfest app for parking and bus updates. Due to the torrential rain experienced on Friday. Parking at the festival for Saturday night is now limited.

Check out the full playing schedule here:

Photos by Ant Ritz