Bluesfest 2017 – An Awe Inspiring Wealth of Musical Experience

Byron Bay Bluesfest is all about the music. It’s not a festival you go to find a patch of luscious green grass to chill out on and catch up with friends. For starters you’re not likely to find such grass or any other festival spaces to chill out comfortably (unless you pay hundreds extra to sit on a couch in the VIP bar). And besides that there’s just so many incredible artists playing on its five stages throughout the five-day Easter festival to keep you on the move and happily engrossed in music.

Mary J Blige live concert 2017

Mary J Blige at Bluesfest 2017

Over its 28 year history Bluesfest has continued to diversify its line-up extending beyond “blues and roots” music to include more hip hop, funk, soul, jazz and reggae acts so there’s something to satisfy the broadest range of tastes.

Nas live concert 2017

Nas at Bluesfest 2017

No matter your musical taste and even where an act mightn’t be your cup of tea, what you’re sure to find on just about any Bluesfest stage are musicians and vocalists who are highly skilled, accomplished masters and mistresses of their craft; and who each have a wealth of experience in playing and performing. Thinking about the collective skills and experience of all Bluesfest 2017 artists combined, is both mind-boggling and awe-inspiring.

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Those gold standard levels of musicianship make for plenty of special music moments to be found during the festival. You know the ones I mean: those completely-present, thoughtless, blissful moments that make life feel so much better than however it might actually be at the time.

This year I found most of my special moments with Michael Kiwanuka, Miles Electric Band, Nas and The Soul Rebels, Roy Ayers, Laura Mvula, Snarky Puppy, Mavis Staples, Mary J Blige and Booker T.  Check out glimpses of those shows below- and look elsewhere for the low-down on shows by other 2017 artists including Santana, Gregory Porter, Patti Smith, Buddy Guy, Beth Hart, Nikki Hill, Busby Marou, Courtney Barnett, The Doobie Brothers and Neil Finn.

Miles Electric Band

First up there was that absolute sublime found in hearing and seeing the stunning chops of the multi-generational members of Miles Electric Band paying contemporary homage to Miles Davis’ electronic era.

Christian Scott - trumpet

Christian Scott with Miles Electric Band

The group’s second festival show, where the band seemed way more relaxed and wasn’t plagued by the sound issues of the first , fell on Blackbyrd McKnight’s birthday with the band acknowledging that in the most subtle and beautiful of musical ways.

Blackbyrd McKnight - Miles Electric Band concert 2017

Blackbyrd McKnight

Check out a track below from an album you mightn’t yet have discovered- Blackbyrd McKnight’s solo project ’bout Funkin’ Time – as well as video snippets from Miles Electric Band’s Bluesfest shows.

Blackbyrd McKnight - 'bout funkin' time

“Funkin Where You Belong” by Blackbyrd McKnight

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Nas & The Soul Rebels

Then came the delightful experience of hearing Nas perfectly spitting poetic rhymes with positive, inspiring messages accompanied by the sounds of a DJ and live instrumentation by New Orleans band The Soul Rebels (a perfect combo yes?). Nas threw the crowd back into the golden sounds of hip hop days gone, to cassette tapes and the forever-lasting influence of Michael Jackson’s music.

Nas live concert 2017

Nas

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Michael Kiwanuka

A spiritual experience of the highest order was also found in hearing the unique, old-soul voice of Michael Kiwanuka live-  especially when accompanied by his supporting female vocalist for some songs like ‘Rule the World’. He and his band opened both Bluesfest shows with the slow instrumental build-up of ‘Cold Little Heart’ before performing most other tracks from the latest album Love & Hate, ‘Home Again’ and a timely Prince cover, introduced with a bold statement to the effect that “without Prince, there would be no music”.

Michael Kiwanuka live concert - Bluesfest 2017

Michael Kiwanuka

Michael Kiwanuka’s Australian shows kicked off a long list of tour dates you can get along to over coming months in the U.K, U.S.A and Europe. In the meantime treat your ears to the song below from Love & Hate, check out video footage from his Bluesfest shows and hear more Michael Kiwanuka music here. Any good local music store should have both albums to buy and keep in your beloved-forever-after collection 🙂 .

Michael Kiwanuka - Love & Hate

“Place I Belong” by Michael Kiwanuka 

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Roy Ayers

Both of Roy Ayers’ festival shows were nothing short of instrumental sublime. It was a joy to see this funk-soul-jazz legend in his late 70s, still creating magic on the vibraphone and visibly taking great pleasure in creating live music with his band.

Roy Ayers live concert - Bluesfest 2017

Roy Ayers

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Mavis Staples

At one of her earlier festival shows Mavis Staples told the crowd in no uncertain terms: “You know, my sisters are The Staple Sisters. We’ve been taking you all down for 60 years. And. I. ain’t. tired.”. Now although she (justifiably) looked a little worn by the end of her final show, the overwhelming feeling in the crowd seemed to be that Ms. Mavis Staples just gets better and better with age.

Mavis Staples live concert - Bluesfest 2017

Mavis Staples

Snarky Puppy

There were also all those good vibes brought to Australian stages again by contemporary instrumental jazz maestros Snarky Puppy – this time around with the personal added bonus for me of Bobby Sparks II being amongst them on organ/keys next to Shaun Martin.

Snarky Puppy live concert - Bluesfest 2017

Snarky Puppy

Bobby Sparks - Snarky Puppy concert 2017

Bobby Sparks II

Snarky Puppy live concert - Bluesfest 2017

Shaun Martin

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Mary J Blige

Watching the ever-strong and sassy Mary J Blige completely fill and command the largest stage space any one performer gave themselves at the festival (with her band and support vocalists positioned around the outer stage edge) brought more musical and visual delight.

Mary J Blige live concert 2017

Mary J Blige

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Booker T

Booker T inspired ear-to-ear smiles as he effortlessly bust it out on the organ alongside his son Ted Jones on guitar and other band members, performing a bunch of beloved Stax Records label classics like ‘Green Onions’.

Booker T Jones concert - Bluesfest 2017

Booker T Jones & Ted Jones

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Laura Mvula

Hearing and feeling the power of Laura Mvula’s vocal abilities live as she sang emotively about those places of darkness in which light can be found; and in her own words “making music that helps people”, was a blessed festival experience too.

Laura Mvula live concert 2017

Laura Mvula

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One of the greatest pleasures in being at all those shows was witnessing how each artist on stage clearly respects, encourages and appreciates the others’ musicianship and skills; and takes great pleasure in making music together. From Booker T joining his band on stage, walking to and acknowledging the members one-by-one before sitting down at his organ to play; to seeing Roy Ayers listen intently and smile at music made by his younger band members; to hearing the spokesperson or leader of each group take the time in their set to introduce all individual band members for the crowd to show their appreciation to.

Roy Ayers concert - Bluesfest 2017Roy Ayers live concert - Bluesfest 2017

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I’m certainly grateful to all the stunning musicians and vocalists who I heard perform at Bluesfest 2017; who created those special moments of music bliss. I wish I could tell you every one of their names. Blessed and enriched are all festival folk for their individual experiences- and for the existence of Byron Bay Bluesfest.

Michael Kiwanuka live concert - Bluesfest 2017

You can check out more Bluesfest 2017 photos on Facebook and additional live video footage on YouTube or Vimeo.

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