Bluesfest 2015 Days 2-4: the better-late-than-never update

Hello dear occasional reader, and an explanation for this post’s title. Late nights and pleasant early mornings spent catching up with friends have provided little opportunity for indulging in internet posting the last few days. Regrets? Nah. Not one. But the result is this belated and unapologetically lengthy catch-up. I hope you enjoy.
Day 2
After a disappointing Day 1 and one brief ‘wow’-like moment when I bumped into a couple of Bluebirds people (shout outs to Baily and his mum), the first full on WOW moment came on Day 2 with uke player Jake Shimabukuru (or as some bloke on his phone called him, ‘Jake…with the really long surname’). Jake was simply amazing, with the most stunning, virtuoso display of ukulele playing I have ever heard. Now the uke is not an instrument I like; I put it up there with the recorder imagining it as some kind of ‘wanna-be’ real instrument.
But I will now happily cease my cynicism and admit that in the right hands it rocks! And to witness a crowd singing the words to Bohemian Rhapsody as accompaniment to Shimabukuru’s instrumental interpretation is something I will never forget. This guy knew how to work a crowd but he had the chops to go with it. Stunning.
Band of Skulls was next on my list of acts to check out and I was hoping not to repeat the 1st night’s experience with Sticky Fingers, given I hadn’t heard BOS before either.
I shouldn’t have worried however as the English 3-piece delivered an enjoyable and dynamic set that left me wondering why I hadn’t heard them before and also why there were no CDs in the merch shop….the numbers of camera people about indicated this band has been tagged as one to watch.
BOS play a radio friendly alternative rock sound with a live ferocity that captures your attention and doesn’t let go from start to finish. They are one of the tightest acts I’ve heard live and the interplay between drums and bass was solid as.
Another enjoyable encounter was 80s ska/pop act the Beat. Lots of tunes that got feet dancing and voices singing along. The abs on singer Ranking Roger, who must be in his 60s, had the younger ladies swooning and the older men guiltily sucking in their paunches….
After a short break for an excellent vegetarian meal it was off to Jeff Lang, another artist who I had heard much about but never seen in performance. And what a performance it turned out to be. Just him and a drummer and the revamped Juke Joint was captivated. Here too was the first blues performance of the weekend that I’d heard and it was like receiving a shot of adrenaline. Another truly ‘wow’ moment. Lang’s voice has been criticised by some as weak and not suiting the music he plays. Well I’m sorry but while he doesn’t have an authentic blues howl the man can more than hold a tune and if that isn’t his strength his skills on various guitars more than over compensate.
The night ended with the Music Maker Blues Revue, a collective of older musicians from the American south being sponsored to try and keep their musical heritage alive. I caught the Revue briefly last year and recognised a couple of the players and boy, could they show younger artists a thing or two about playing together and having fun. Throw in some of the best guitar soloing I’ve heard in blues format and no way could they be worried about their heritage dying. And no one could deny them the use of those chairs on stage that’s for sure.
So a full-on ‘wow’ sort of day. My Bluesfest had well and truly begun.
Day 3
This day was going to prove interesting. Catching up with some acts seen the day before (BOS, Jake the uke man) and looking forward to some legends (John Mayall, Waterboys). And there were others too of course…
BOS and Jake were stunning again, particularly BOS who played a slightly different set and seemed over their jet lag from the day before. Just plain enjoyable. The rains well and truly came today although we were all prepared this time.
I caught the tail end of Skipping Girl Vinegar as I headed to the Mojo tent to catch Mariachi El Bronx. Unfortunately I left after only a few tunes partly due to not finding them that entertaining but also out of frustration at a group of younger people thinking that the seated area was a place to plonk themselves down and chat inanely – and loudly – throughout the show. This was not the first time this had happened (nor would it be the last) but it is sheer ignorance and people need to speak up and tell these idiots to clear off out of the tent to socialise. Point of notice to those who do this: no on has paid money to listen to you speak so piss off!
There…I feel better now…
Leaving El Bronx early let me see the last half hour of John Mayall’s set at the Crossroads tent (he was down as a must-see for Monday). And wow…this man looked ill but at 80 he still has a strong voice and displayed virtuoso blues playing steeped in history that brought to life all those old records I have. Can’t wait to hear the full set on Monday. Amazing.
The Waterboys were sensational. Thoroughly enjoyed their set which mixed older songs with newish ones although I’m not sure just how big an influence on other acts they have been (stage announcer stated they had influenced dozens…hmm). Anyway, while I always liked one or two songs I found this performance will stir me to listen to more.
If the Waterboys were good then Rodrigo y Gabriela were just stunning. To see and hear acoustic guitars played with such skill and passion will remain one of my all time festival highlights. The use of the guitar’s body for percussive effect is something I’ve seen many a time but not like this. The interplay between these two Mexican musicians is such that I’m sure when one breathes in the other breathes out. A real ‘wow’ moment indeed.
Day 3 was to finish on yet another high with the Celtic folk punk sounds of the Rumjacks. Yes, there’s more punk rock clichés in this lot to last a lifetime but their sheer energy and presence is something to witness. Piano accordion player Sarah-Marie is the highlight as she pogos and bounds around stage, rarely having time to catch a breath, black mascara and sweat running down her face. Doing that with a guitar is one thing but another thing entirely with a heavy instrument strapped to your chest. The whole band though fairly cranks things up and just exudes energy. What a way to end a night which we did after a quick stop at the excellent Burger Park and another encounter with rain. Back to home and beer and olives…
Day 4
The 2nd last day was a bit of a slower one in terms of the festival with all of us enjoying a pleasant morning at the Beach Hotel. The ladies (and Kurt) spent some time at the markets while the lads spent some time with Coopers Ale…Kaylene bought me a cool paper feather made from sheet music…
The mud and smell from the festival were there well and truly today, begging the question why the once green areas hadn’t been hit with some form of gravel or road base. Quite a sight.
Musically I took in some of the world sounds of Angelique Kidjo (very cool) and Gary Clark Jr (first appearance of an SG) while Sandy’s and my ‘date’ at the cider tent was a fizzer after the cider ran out before we got there. Clark played solid electric blues but for me my focus was on seeing Frank Turner. Turner is someone I missed last time he appeared at Bluefest but after buying a couple of his albums on a whim and seeing DVDs of his live shows I was really keen to check him out. Together with his band the Sleeping Souls he put on one of the most enjoyable performances of the festival. He’s made a bit of a name for himself in the last few years with the result being the audience singing along to nearly every song (except for the new ones). A great gig and for me Turner is fast becoming the Elvis Costello of his generation. Even my tired body managed to get involved!
The night finished with the final performance of the Rumjacks in a sparsely attended Delta tent (most were off seeing Ben Harper). Again, a top and exciting performance from the band with a full on mosh that started to get a little too full on for some. We only lasted half the set ourselves, choosing to leave early to miss the mass exodus that would occur with the end of Harper’s set. Sarah-Marie’s makeup made it past the first song this time…
Tired and weary we trudged through the mud to the car and home. One more day and the Bluesfest shuffle is definitely on..

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