Festival Review: Byron Bluesfest (Day Two) - Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm (18.04.14)

When faced with a festival that spans five days, it can be slightly daunting when it comes to planning your timetable for each day. Day two of Bluesfest coincides with Good Friday and arriving on site for my second round, there’s definitely a festive vibe in the air, albeit less chocolate.

I’m able to catch the last quarter of Tijuana Cartel’s set at the Mojo Stage and was impressed early on by the band’s ability to turn a midday-ish crowd into a heaving dance area...had the beats been harder, this could have possibly been some kind of alt-blues Boiler Room! I love a decent drum/percussion section in a live show and these guys delivered, and delivered well.

As a South Australian, I felt like it was my duty to stop by Delta and see The Beards. I can’t remember the last time I’d seen them – definitely a few years ago now – but their crowd was probably one of the largest I’d see during the daytime section of Friday’s program. Feeling slightly out of place in amongst all the bearded men who’d gathered like teenage girls to see these heroic figures of manliness, I spent about half an hour wondering what kind of mystical power having a strong beard would have for a dude. The band is hilarious to watch; when they open with “We are The Beards! We like beards! This is a song about beards! Feel free to stroke your beard,” you know you’re in for a fun time.

I headed back to see Grace Potter and The Nocturnals again, this time scoring myself a much closer position to the stage. Having blown me away with her performance on Thursday night, I was interested to see how her set would be changed up (if any) for today’s show. It was essentially the same, with some songs shuffled about, but the intensity remained the same. Fans of all ages clamoured around the barrier and refused to stop dancing, only pausing to gawk at Potter as she’d scream down the microphone or rock out a solo or two on electric guitar.

After enjoying my first Byron Bay Organic Doughnut (oh my lord, it was heaven), I split my afternoon between Nahko and Medicine for the People, Joss Stone and India.arie. Nahko, who was only recently in Australia with Donavan Frankenreiter, is a phenomenal performer. Empowering behind the microphone, he and his band were so uplifting in both stage presence and music. I’d not heard much of their stuff prior to today but, as I’ve found at Bluesfest so far, this is a festival as much about discovering new talent as well as visiting old favourites. I’m so glad I decided to stick around for much of this set – it’s definitely one I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Between Stone and India.arie, we have two incredibly talented vocalists with a wealth of accolades behind them. I’ve not really been a huge Stone fan, though seeing her live confirmed that she’s worth much of the praise aimed her way since the early 2000s. I didn’t really find myself being blown away by her however; I enjoyed her for the obvious musical reasons, but I can’t really say I came away being deeply affected by her set, which found me wandering back to Mojo for India.arie. Soulful, with a vocal tone which made everyone stop and listen instead of chatter through the music, India.arie commanded her ‘songversation’ brilliantly. Prefacing most of her songs with a story or a snippet of what inspired the song she didn’t rely on theatrics to let these stories be told. Backed by some great backing vocalists, India.arie showed us she’s as much a great personal story teller as she is singer.

Gary Clark Jr is an artist who I’ve managed to miss every time I’ve had the opportunity to see him play, so I was very much looking forward to seeing him perform tonight. Needless to say, he was amazing. Spending more time on playing than interacting with the crowd, Gary made his guitars sing. I tried thinking of some ways to fully describe the vibe in the crowd and what we were all seeing, but honestly, not much came to mind that I thought properly described it. He’s just amazing. His guitar work tonight was so heavily soaked in blues and the dynamic existing between him and the band came across so well and effortlessly, I felt like we were in some quintessential American blues house, not Byron Bay.

Setting the standard pretty high for the tail end of tonight’s performance, Gary left the Mojo Stage keen for some more sexy guitars and vocals – enter the apple of most girls’ eyes at the moment, Matt Corby. I hadn’t seen him play a festival since Falls back in 2012 and I remember that being an experience in itself. He drew a massive crowd to the Mojo Stage and over his hour-long set, Corby offered up much of the same; talented guitarist skills, that gravelly wail of a vocal and that lingering hope for many that he would remove his shirt. Looking like he’d just come in from the surf, Corby performed barefoot and didn’t seem to realise that again, he had a huge amount of people gathered for him - it’s one quality I’ve liked about Matt each time I’ve seen him, he can make a crowd of thousands think they’re in a small room and he’s got each one of us in mind. Of course “Resolution” and “Brother” received huge responses, though I think it was apt that the Bluesfest crowd got their kicks off the most to the set closer in “Souls A’fire”.

For me, wrapping up night two of Bluesfest came down to whether or not I’d spend it at Mojo for Jack Johnson, who I’d not seen since 2010, or going over to Crossroads for The Doobie Brothers, who seemed to have at least half of tonight’s attendance on their own. Surprising myself, I spent most of my time in the Doobie’s vicinity – their classic rock music was so much fun to listen to! Obviously a seasoned band, these guys know how to perform and it was great to see them duel out on acoustic guitars, bring out the saxophones and generally kick ass. I think my parents would have been proud.

I did check out some of Johnson’s two hour set on my way out for the night and, as expected, the singer songwriter had been welcomed like the unofficial king of Byron he kind of it. He doesn’t need anything else but that soulful voice of his and an acoustic guitar to set a mood and judging by the thousands swaying along, lighting up and generally blessing out, Johnson had done his job well. His appearance at Bluesfest was a special one-off set for him – the connection between Johnson and Bluesfest going back to his first time in Byron for it in 2002. There’s still a humble nature about him though, which is lovely to still be able to note after all these years.

As festival organiser Peter Noble simply said in the press conference which took place earlier in the day, Bluesfest isn’t about catering to any specific demographic or genre, it’s legacy is just in the fact that he and the team he has around him have crafted something for the love of enjoying music. That much is obvious, no matter what type of music fan you are.