AU ABROAD

Festival Review: Byron Bluesfest (Day Four) - Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm (20.04.14)

A slow start for many today, the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm seemed to be easing in to Sunday at Bluesfest - snoozily/slowly working through hangovers from Saturday night, it was an easy guess that there may not be as many in attendance today as there had been over the past few days. It was of no matter to me however, as I scored myself a spot on the lawn at Crossroads for C.W Stoneking to kick off my music schedule for the day.

I remember first being clued into Stoneking’s music when he did a spot on Triple J, what seems like years ago. His style is that of the deep blues to come out of the American South, which is astonishing, given that he is originally from the NT. Throughout my time at his set, I had to keep telling myself Stoneking was Australian, I found his performance so authentic. "Jungle Blues" and "Handyman Blues" were probably standouts for me, though I had no qualms that the crowd could pick more out – I was off to discover my next musical gem of the festival in Valerie June.

June is a tiny thing, but when she sings, it’s something else entirely. A very talented guitarist and banjo player, June mixed soul, blues, country and folk together well, while her little moments of story-telling in between each song were hilarious. Her Pushin’ Against a Stone album is one I was passed a few months ago and is one that has introduced me to some other artists of the same genre, so seeing some music from this realm was excellent, as it’s not usual a field I’d find myself enjoying as much. "Shotgun" was a particular standout, as June simply put: if you’re going to play ‘moonshine blues’ music, you need to have a murder ballad in with the love songs.

I stuck around to see the always entertaining Tim Rogers play the Delta stage next, having not seen him do his thing solo before. The last time I’d seen Rogers perform, he was on frontman duties with The Bamboos, so being able to witness him a bit scaled back and playing the guitar was a bit of a bonus for me today. Shane O’Mara was excellent to watch too, playing alongside Rogers and owning the stage a little bit himself. Rogers was on usual laconic form, though despite the numerous remarks to his ‘ugliness’ or lack of success, everyone knew they were watching a clearly talented part of the Australian music industry perform. The You Am I fans got their kicks off with a rendition of "Heavy Heart" which was rolled out shortly before the set finished, but if anything, this set has made me want to revisit Rogers’ solo catalogue; as a lyricist, he’s not lost any of that knack at all.

The ‘mystery performance’ scheduled to take place over at Jambalaya had people throwing names like Bernard Fanning, Ben Harper and even Something For Kate into the mix for much of the afternoon and, while 90% of me hoped Harper would make an appearance, I had no clue who would be taking the evening set. While that anticipation grew, so did the crowd at Mojo for Passenger, who many of us had been lucky to see on the Busking Stage on Saturday afternoon. Still humble as ever as he faced thousands of fans singing his words back to him, Mike Rosenberg, performed essentially the same set as he did for the Saturday crowd, with a few changes. His Springsteen cover of “I’m On Fire” was replaced with the now famous Simon & Garfunkel cover of “The Sound of Silence”, which had people around me tearing up considerably, as it followed on from the heartfelt “Riding to New York”. Passenger has a way of working the crowd that only a seasoned street performer can – for one man on a huge stage to render a crowd almost silent with just a voice, a great charming stage presence and an acoustic guitar is just a phenomenal experience to be a part of, and he conjures this vibe so well.

After listening to "Let Her Go", I head over to Jambalaya where John Williamson is finishing his set with "True Blue", turning the Australian levels up to 11. Shortly after he leaves the stage, the emcee announces that the mystery guest performers would be Saskwatch, which is a slight surprise. It’s not unwelcome for me though, having been so impressed with their Cavanbah gig the night before. I forego seeing Iron & Wine for the second time to see the Melbourne band take on a bigger stage and I was happy with the decision; although they didn’t stray much from their set list from Saturday night, they were clearly having a huge amount of fun doing their thing and were noticeably awed with the amount of people who’d gathered for them. I had two little girls next to me on the barrier who I made good dancing buddies with, which was fun – the only other festival I’ve had that kind of experience at is Womadelaide. There truly is no barrier for music fans here, so young and old can really feel like they’re part of it all.

I managed to get myself a spot on the lawn on the other side of the fence at Mojo for Morcheeba, who were one of the acts I’d not seen before. With a huge screen in front of me and no one else around, I happily blissed out in the chilly night air while Skye Edwards and her boys delivered some great dreamy R&B tunes. Edwards is stunning to watch; softly spoken, the British vocalist has this sweet stage persona that the crowd really warmed to. The Godfrey brothers are equally as softly spoken, but their live interpretations of some great down tempo, borderline trip-hop songs from their latest record and previous efforts, were cool to see as well. A cover of Bowie’s "Let’s Dance" injected some funk into proceedings, perhaps pulling more people in. "Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day" near the end of the set was a memorable moment for many – you could see arms being thrown up in the air with recognition and ultra-grooving about began.

Emerging from my little screening area, I easily made my way in close to the stage for Erykah Badu, one of the performers who I’d been waiting all weekend for, not to mention the many years before tonight. The Queen of Neo-Soul entered after an instrumental that showed off the talents of her band to rapturous applause and it seemed like each second that led up to her first vocal performance was achingly long. The classic R&B and soul tones which followed were just amazing – it truly was one of those moments where you knew it was going to be good, but the reality was that much better. It took a while for the sound to even out for Badu on stage, but she worked this into her performance, "Turn that kick up loud, we need to feel it in our heartbeats. You know I like my shit loud."

Seemingly like with the rest of her Australian tour, Badu showed off the acclaimed 1997 record Baduizm, which went down a treat – it’s hard to believe she’s been around for as long as she has, as her talent is one that has a real timeless quality about her. A dominating force on the stage, Badu said she ‘chose to be happy’ tonight and spent her time with us making sure we had chosen the same. As far as Bluesfest performances go, this is probably the main one to stick in my head the longest; definitely a performance ticked off the bucket list.

The final day of Bluesfest kicks off today in Byron Bay.