The Soul Rebels

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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Byron Bay Bluesfest – Only For The Music

On it’s 25th anniversary, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014 was the best one for me yet.  It was an unusually comfortable Bluesfest experience under unusually clear, blue Easter skies and sunshine – with the usual phenomenal music artists playing on its 7 stages.

Every year that I’ve gone to Byron Bay Bluesfests past, I have moaned about the things that I’m not into about the overall Bluesfest experience.  Each year after where I can, I’ve bought another costly Bluesfest ticket, and gone back again. I’ve done that for one reason only:  The Music.

Erykah Badu live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Erykah Badu – Bluesfest 2014

Sly & Robbie & The Taxi Gang - live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Sly & Robbie + The Taxi Gang-Bluesfest 2014

Despite my grumblings about non-musical aspects of the festival, I always go home from Bluesfest feeling musically satisfied after hearing some of the western world’s most incredible music artists of contemporary history. Just a few of those artists from Bluesfests past are Fred Wesley, Burning Spear, Damian Marley, Ernest Ranglin and Parliament Funkadelic.

Musically, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014 went the same way. I went from one stage to another, finding artist after artist who blew me away with their music and/or musicianship.

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At Bluesfest 2014 I also found I had less of the usual non-musical things to moan about. One of the main reasons for that was because this years festival seemed to have much smaller crowds than in others – making the overall festival experience a much more hassle-free and comfortable one.

“Australia’s Premiere Blues and Roots Music Festival”

This year I heard other people moaning about the festival line-up. “Not enough blues”, “No big name acts” etc.  Well thankfully for lovers of reggae, soul, r&b, funk and hip-hop music, Byron Bay Bluesfest hasn’t been just a blues music festival for many years past.  And lots of the artists that performed in 2014 are big name acts in the musical worlds of many (mine) – just not big in the worlds of the people complaining:  Erykah BaduAaron NevilleLarry Graham (former Sly and The Family Stone) – Sly & RobbieThe WailersIndia Arie.

Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014 poster

The artists below are the ones I caught at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014 who sent me away from their shows as high as high can be on their music and/or musicianship.

Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014 Music

Queen Erykah Badu (USA)

Erykah Badu’s show at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne earlier in the same week of the festival was simply divine. Her festival show, somehow was even more divine again – and for me the top highlight of Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014.

Like in Melbourne, Erykah Badu demonstrated with every sound and movement she made, that she is an incredibly talented artist (and woman) like none other in the world.

Erykah Badu live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Erykah Badu at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Erykah Badu’s powerful stage presence and incredible vocals captivated me and everyone around me from the moment she stepped onto the stage until coming back from some time amongst the crowd to finish the show.

Erykah Badu live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Erykah Badu live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Videos here of Erykah Badu performing ‘I Want You’ ‘…& On’ live at Bluesfest 2014

Aaron Neville (USA)

Aaron Neville and the sounds of his heavenly voice took me to another world.

Now in his 70‘s, naturally his voice has the sounds of life lived. They make that voice ever-so-much richer than in years past when it was of the completely squeeky-clean heavenly kind.

Aaron Neville live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Aaron Neville at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Videos of Aaron Neville’s performing ‘Fever’ + ‘Everybody Plays The Fool’ live at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014 here…

 

Sly & Robbie and The Taxi Gang (Jamaica)

The first part of Sly & Robbie & The Taxi Gang’s Bluefest shows were incredibly tight. Tasty dub and reggae to die for. The energy of the show was high, and rising.

Sly & Robbie & The Taxi Gang - live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014Sly & Robbie & The Taxi Gang - live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Sly & Robbie & The Taxi Gang - live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014Sly & Robbie & The Taxi Gang - live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

The music stayed tasty and tight all through their set. But the energy dropped and the band seemed to look slightly bored (or embarrassed?) from the time they introduced vocalist Bitty Mclean to join them on stage – as “the new Crown Prince of Reggae Music”.

Sly & Robbie & The Taxi Gang - live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014Sly & Robbie & The Taxi Gang - live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Check out this video of a song from the first half of Sly & Robbie’s Bluesfest show to hear these words of wisdom…

 “If you’re hot, you’re hot. If you’re not, you’re not. Use what you got.”

+ 1 more…

Sly & Robbie and the other instrumentalists in their band are musically hot, musically brilliant. They use what they got – and it’s more than enough without needing a “crown prince” to croon amongst them.

Check out this video from the second half of Sly & Robbie’s show to see if you agree…

 “The new Crown Prince of Reggae Music”?  Really?  

Sly & Robbie & The Taxi Gang - live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Bitty McLean

Chali 2na (USA)

“Hands up if you agree with me that all music played on the radio now is shit?  Welcome to the Chali 2na radio station”.

Chali 2na live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Chali 2na at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Chali 2na’s words of welcome to the crowd at his Byron Bay Bluefest shows went like that.

So, everyone tuned in to Chali 2na and his 3-piece bands live radio station and went with them on an energetic journey of the funk, hip-hop and reggae kind. Those 2 live radio programs kept the crowd dancing and smiling throughout the hour – and screaming for more when the end came.  The best and longest dances I had at Bluesfest 2014 were at these two Chali 2na shows.

Chali 2na live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Chali 2na live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014Chali 2na live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Chali 2na live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Videos from both Chali 2na’s Bluesfest 2014 shows here (+ 1 below of him emceeing with Ozomatli)

The Wailers (Jamaica)

What else can I say about The Wailers minus Bob Marley except this: stellar musicianship – and good music that made everyone happy.

Video here of The Wailers playing ‘Three Little Birds’ at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014…

The Soul Rebels (USA)

The Soul Rebels with their brass-heavy soul, r&b, funk and jazz music, hail from one of my dream musical destinations of the world – New Orleans.  A 2015 mission of mine, I’m sure.

The Soul Rebels - live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

The Soul Rebels at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Video here of The Soul Rebels live at Bluesfest 2014…

Larry Graham & Graham Central Station (USA)

The stage show by Larry Graham & Graham Central Station was, well, pretty corny.

Larry Graham & Graham Central Station live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014Larry Graham & Graham Central Station live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

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But if you ignored the group’s white glam outfits and show moves; if you just listened to Larry Graham’s phenomenal bass playing; and looked up to see him playing bass so thoughtlessly and effortlessly as though an extension of his body, you found instrumental gold.  Some Sly & The Family Stone tunes were included in the set.

Larry Graham & Graham Central Station live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Videos of Larry Graham on bass at Bluesfest 2014 here – 1 with the full band + 1 of just he and a drum kit player…

India Arie (USA)

I have loved India Arie’s music for a long time. She was one of those “big name” musical acts that got me to Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014.

India Arie live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

India Arie at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

India Arie played 2 festival shows. I left before the end of the first – and what I heard there didn’t get me back to see the second. The only reason I can figure as to why the show didn’t move me, is the absence of a bass player on stage with her.

India Arie live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014India Arie live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Videos from India Arie’s 1st Bluesfest show here for you to check out…

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 (Nigeria)

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 put on a good show of Afrobeat song and dance of old as well as new from their recently released album A Long Way To The Beginning.

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

You can check out a video here of Sean Kuti doing his thing at the group’s Bluesfest show + a sample track from the 2008 album Many Things

‘Many Things’ – Seun Kuti – Many Things (2008)

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Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Ozomatli (USA)

Los Angeles based group Ozomatli have been around for 20 years playing their mix of hip-hop, funk, r&b, reggae, dancehall, salsa, cumbia, merengue, samba, comparse & more.

That diversity of musical styles and the vocal and instrumental versatility of its band members, have made every live Ozomatli experience I’ve had a special one. Their Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014 shows were no exception.

Ozomatli live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014Ozomatli live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Ozomatli live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014Ozomatli live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Videos here of Ozomatli live at Byron Bay Bluesfest

This one with Chali 2na …
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Ozomatli live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014Ozomatli live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

The Ones That Might Have Gotten Away

The artists whose shows I heard and loved were of course just a handful of artists who performed at Byron Bay Bluefest 2014.

Also in the line-up were Joss Stone, Dr John, Morcheeba, Elvis Costello, John MayerDoobie Brothers, KC & The Sunshine BandMichael Franti & Spearhead, The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra, Jack Johnson, Jeff Beck, Dave Matthews Band, Steve Earle & The Dukes + more.

Morcheeba live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Morcheeba at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra (Australia)

Keeping with some Afrobeat flavours, have a listen here to a sample track from one of the Australian groups in the Bluesfest 2014 line-up – The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra

Public Opinion Afro Orchestra - Do Anything Go Anywhere (2010)

Do Anything Go Anywhere (2010)

‘Future Africa’ – Do Anything Go Anywhere (2010) – The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra

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You can check out another sample track + a video of The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra live at AWME (Australasian Worldwide Music Expo) 2013 here.

Musically I think Byron Bay Bluesfest can rightfully claim to be “Australia’s premiere blues and roots festival” – music found in a large part of the western world at least. I maintain that WOMADelaide festival takes the Australian festival prize for musical quality from all corners of the wider world – and importantly, for the things apart from music that make an overall festival experience an amazing one.

Beaver’s Moaning

“It’s pretty much an event where hopefully the vast majority of people are only there for the music. That’s what it’s all about. There’s not an awful lot of other effects happening at Bluesfest. I realised a long time ago it’s a music festival, that’s all it is. It’s not about prettying the site up and all that. We put our money into musicians”

Peter Noble – Festival Director of Byron Bay Bluesfest (from interview in Melbourne’s Beat Magazine – April 2014)

So, Byron Bay Bluesfest is what Peter Noble says it is.

The festival undoubtedly brings amazing music and amazing musicians to Australia.

Sly & Robbie & The Taxi Gang - live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Sly & Robbie

But for me and everyone I know, a good music festival experience is about so much more than the music.

Personally I’d love to see more festival money spent on those “other effects” and “prettying the site up” – for the benefit of everyone who spends their money on going to Bluesfest to hear its legendary artists.

Bluesfest owns the land where the festival happens – on a beautiful tea tree farm at Tyagarah, just outside the town of Byron Bay (one of the world’s alternative-living, natural paradises). They can make the festival site and people’s festival experience whatever they want it to be.

On a site that is surrounded by trees, I’d love to see some trees inside the festival space.

At a festival that lets thousands and thousands of ticket holders through its gates each day, I’d love to see that tiny site in the middle of the photo become a much bigger space – where people could move around it freely and in comfort – without feeling like a cow being herded slowly between stages.

I’d love to see the creation of lots of different types of meeting spaces inside the festival site where people can relax and hang out together during those long festival days and nights. More than a big canteen-style food court where you eat and run. More grass for people to sit on instead of gravel. Bars with chairs inside them to sit and have a drink. More cafes, and restaurants to hang out in.

For an extra $350 the financially privileged of the world can buy a VIP ticket so they can enjoy some small comforts the rest of the festival punters can’t – a VIP bar and toilets with smaller lines, and some comfortable seats to rest their weary bones upon.

This year for an extra $1590 on top of the ticket price, the ever-so-privileged (and dare I say stupid?) people of the world could “treat themselves to something really special” by buying themselves entry to the VIP Sunset Club. There, in the middle of the festival site, they could “watch the hustle and bustle of Bluesfest from the private balcony”.

VIP Sunset Club - Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Bluesfest VIP Sunset Club- as advertised on www.bluesfest.com.au

VIP Sunset Club - Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Bluesfest 2014 VIP Sunset Club – as is

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I’d love to see money spent by the festival on making everyone’s festival experience a more comfortable one. We have enough inequalities and class structures in the world already – let’s not create them in our music festivals too.

Byron Bay Bluesfest is what it is, now. We’ll see what it becomes. The festival site at Tyagarah is a relatively new one for Bluesfest.  It will get better with age no doubt.

Hopefully one day I’ll have lots more reasons to give you apart from the music for why I want to get myself to Byron Bay Bluesfest whenever I can.

Sly & Robbie & The Taxi Gang - live @ Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Sly & Robbie & The Taxi Gang at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2014

Byron Bay Bluesfest 2015

Before leaving Bluesfest 2014 I bought myself a season pass for Bluesfest 2015 at early bird prices – because next year I know that like always, the line-up will include incredible music artists I simply must experience live. If you want to get yourself to the festival in 2015, the sooner you buy tickets the better – prices will go up and up until Bluesfest comes around next Easter and a season pass is nearly double its cost now.

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