Each Easter long weekend, Bluesfest proves itself to be both an auditory and visual delight, a place for music appreciators from all walks of life to come together for five days full of good company, good grooves, and seriously good music. This year’s 29th annual festival did not disappoint.
Showcasing musicians from a range of genres, from all over the world, there was something unique to discover on every stage. There were a multitude of magnificent moments over the last week, but here are our picks for the ten best highlights of Bluesfest 2018!
From Robert Plant arriving fashionably late to Walter Trout calling a family reunion, Bluesfest 2018 was a nonstop stream of highlights. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have favourites.
Singing along to Kiss From a Rose with thousands of people
To hear the entirety of the audience in the Crossroads tent singing along with Seal to Kiss From A Rose on Sunday night was not only a life goal, but a festival highlight.
An inspired professional, he worked the stage like he owned it, and the energy coursing through the tent whilst he performed the hit song was electric. An unforgettable moment.
Walter Trout performing with his son Jon
After waiting for almost three decades to see contemporary blues legend Walter Trout return to Australian shores, fans were given two shows which more than made up for lost time. Although just witnessing Trout playing guitar was an exhilarating high, the best part of both performances was when he invited his son Jon up on stage to perform with him.
In a deeply felt tribute to his wife Marie, Trout and his guitar-slinging offspring poured their hearts into their playing, giving us two sets that were well worth waiting for.
The California Honeydrops closing the festival
After playing all five days on the Juke Joint stage last Bluesfest, The California Honeydrops were back by popular demand, this time playing on a range of stages, and bringing along a Bluesfest exclusive horn section.
To see the Honeydrops live is to fully immerse yourself in contagious onstage energy that sends feel good vibrations rushing around your body and straight out through the soles of your feet. Their communion of rhythm and blues, soul, and jazz heals, and excites, and each of their shows at this year’s festival did just that.
Tailoring their afternoon sets to be a little more relaxed, and their late night sets to be an all-in party, they closed out the festival with a throwback to their busking days, walking through the frenzied crowd playing their instruments. Here’s hoping we’ll see them return for next year’s 30th anniversary celebrations.
Bobby Rush showing us all who’s boss
Since 1951, 84-year-old blues legend Bobby Rush has been paving the way for bluesmen and rappers alike, and on the Delta stage this week he proved once and for all who’s boss. He thrust his way through some dynamite sets, complete with a band wearing matching sparkly shirts and two sparkle clad, curvaceous women.
The harp-playing blues veteran ran through both hits and covers, the highlights being a very sexual rendition of Hoochie Coochie Man and his own incredibly crude track G-String from the 2005 album Night Fishin’. If one thing is for sure, Bobby Rush knows how to put on one hell of a sexy show.
CHAIN’s first set
On Saturday CHAIN served up some heavy duty Aussie blues in the Delta tent, a performance that was equal parts stand-up comedy as it was blues. Before busting into a performance of 32-30 Blues front man Matt Taylor had the crowd in fits of laughter, “I know ya looking at us thinking we are one of those state of the art bands, and I’ll show ya just how modern we are, we are gonna go back to the 1930s when Robert Johnson recorded this song.”
Throughout the set Taylor was “suckin’ and puffin’” on his 9-inch harmonica, and guitarist Phil Manning was there to reciprocate all of that energy and finesse, giving the crowd exactly what they wanted, and proving yet again that they are one of the finest blues groups on planet earth.
Jackson Browne opening his set with a song from Late For The Sky
As Jackson Browne took to the stage on Saturday night he sat at his piano, and opened the set with Late for the Sky’s closing track, Before The Deluge.
The song was sung with immense spiritedness, and as he, his phenomenal backing vocalists, and the adoring crowd sung “Let the music keep our spirits high, let the buildings keep our children dry, let creation reveal its secrets by and by” there was a true moment of peace and connection between those watching the performance, and those on stage. A beautiful, introspective set from the one of the worlds most gifted songwriters.
Gov’t Mule and Jackson Browne playing Melissa together
Fans of Gov’t Mule know that they’re no strangers to inviting fellow musicians up on stage for a jam. Those in the audience for Mule’s Friday night show were lucky enough to witness the very first collaboration between the band and Jackson Browne, performing a beautiful rendition of the Allman Brothers classic, Melissa.
With Browne on acoustic guitar, and Haynes on electric, it was a performance that left both Haynes, and a large sum of the audience with tears in their eyes.
Robert Plant performing Zeppelin classics
The artist we had all been waiting for, Mr. Robert Plant and his Sensational Spaces Shifters closed day two in style. Pulling in the biggest crowd of the festival, Plant was a few minutes late and had the audience chanting his name. Seconds later he appeared, bursting onto the stage with a perfectly executed rendition of I Can’t Quit You Baby, hitting highs I didn’t know he was still capable of reaching. The set was mesmerising, and the entire band held their own in the presence of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest vocalists.
Plant and his Sensational Space Shifters left us with the aptly titled Zeppelin classic, Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You, and came back out for an encore, leaving us all reeling with a highly anticipated performance of Whole Lotta Love. After closing the set, the rock god stated “We are the Sensational Space shifters, and this is just planet earth” before exiting the stage. A tasteful, and awe-inspiring set.
Lukas Nelson and Promise of The Real just doing what they do best
Make no mistake, Lukas Nelson is far more than just Willie Nelson’s son; he’s a gifted guitar player, one of this generation’s most talented singer-songwriters, and has the stamp of approval from none other than his bandmate Neil Young.
Between a heart-warming cover of Paul Simon’s Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes performed with an Aboriginal elder, and songs off his latest self-titled LP, Nelson and POTR’s set on Sunday night was soulfully sweat inducing. The crowds were singing along to every song played, and even Michael Franti was up in front getting involved. A truly memorable performance, and easily one of the highpoints of the week.
The Teskey Brothers packing out the Jambalaya tent
Aussie Blues bros, The Teskey Brothers, played to totally packed out crowds this past week. Frontman Josh Teskey brought with him a humble energy, and some serious harmonica skills, whilst his brother went for a less is more approach on the guitar, ala BB King. They also brought along a horn section to more closely replicate the soulful sounds on Half Mile Harvest.
To witness the guys go from playing some of the country’s smallest venues to playing to a huge festival crowd in only a matter of months is heartwarming. The Teskeys are taking the world by storm and it shows.
Thanks for the memories Bluesfest, now the wait for the next year’s 30th anniversary celebrations begins! Let’s hope we see some more blues players on the line-up… Marcus King Band, Jimmie Vaughan, Paul Rodgers perhaps?
If you’re willing to hedge your bets on next year, Bluesfest already have early bird tickets going.