Form Guide: 12 acts you really shouldn't miss at Bluesfest 2018

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Bluesfest features 75 acts over five days. Most are great, but these 12 are unmissable.

The sad truth is, you can’t see everyone at Bluesfest. It’s physically impossible.

That means I can’t write about everyone either. So, while your favourite artist might be missing from this list, let me assure you every single one of the artists here is worth keeping on your schedule.

There’s no time for long intros, we’ve got music to discuss.

Want to know more about Bluesfest? Start here

Want to know what was great last year? We've got you covered.

But now it's time to think about what's right in front of us.

Double J brings Bluesfest to you in 2018, with a live broadcast on Good Friday and plenty of great live music from the festival to come on Live at the Wireless

CHIC Featuring Nile Rodgers

The master finally comes to Bluesfest. It’s a match made in heaven and it’s hard to believe it took this long. Rest assured, CHIC Featuring Nile Rodgers are worth the price of admission alone.

If you have any interest in great pop/rock/funk/disco music of the past 40-odd years, you owe it to yourself to be at this show. Rodgers has had a hand in some of the most enduring music of our time and he’ll be playing nothing but hits from go to whoa.

Anyway, there’s plenty more Nile gushing to come. Starting with The J Files on Thursday night. Get excited!

Monday 6pm – Mojo

Ms. Lauryn Hill

Well, here are five very good reasons not to miss Ms. Lauryn Hill.

She was one of the greatest singers and rappers of the 20th Century, and to see her back working steadily is a very exciting proposition for fans of the once reclusive artist.

Let’s be honest, reviews for her shows over the years have been mixed. Do not go to the show just expecting to hear Miseducation… the way it was made 20 years ago. And reports of her being late on stage are unavoidable.

But recent reviews from the likes of SFWeekly have us very excited about this exclusive performance we’ll get to witness on Good Friday.

“The hits were honoured, including ‘Everything is Everything’ and ‘Ex-Factor’, but there is no value in distinguishing the singles from the deep cuts,” Zack Ruskin wrote for the publication.

“Every song Hill played was the song we needed – she made sure of that. Her voice was every bit the powerhouse it was when The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill made waves at the Grammy’s almost a decade ago. Her flow, often delivered in stunning double-time, was breathless and stupefying.”

Friday 10pm – Mojo

Leon Bridges

We fell in love with Leon Bridges voice in 2014, just before he dropped his starkly beautiful debut record Coming Home on us.

But we weren’t prepared for what a force of nature he’d be in the live arena. His Australian tours have set dancefloors alight as he infuses his killer songs with a whole new energy when he plays live.

He has great moves, a killer band and that voice sounds so damn good when he is right there in front of you.

He’s the next big soul star, he’ll hopefully be one of the most widely embraced artists of our generation, and he’s playing Bluesfest this year.

Thursday 8.30pm – Mojo
Saturday 4.30pm – Crossroads

Mia Dyson

She was Double J’s first Australian Artist of the Year. Her new record If I Said Only So Far I Take It Back is easily one of her best, and she’s back to show it off on the Bluesfest stage she has torn up so many times in the past.

Mia Dyson is an absolute gun of a performer. She her voice and guitar playing both hit another level when there’s a crowd in front of her and the energy that bounces between audience and performer is really something to behold.

I first saw Dyson at Bluesfest back in 2004 and I can assure you every single time since then has been a very, very good use of an hour or so. A must for fans of great songwriting, killer guitar playing and unique Australian voices telling powerful personal stories.

Friday 5pm – Juke Joint: Double J Broadcast
Saturday 3pm – Jambalaya
Sunday 3pm – Crossroads
Monday 3pm – Jambalaya

Bobby Rush

I think Bobby Rush could potentially be the sleeper hit of the festival. He’s on small stages at weird times. You’ll have to fight to fit him in your schedule. It will be worth it.

“I don’t believe I’ve done under 200 dates [per year] for 58 years,” Rush said in 2015 documentary I Am The Blues.

His shows are reportedly pretty wild, and his ‘ribald sense of humour’ might raise a few eyebrows, but this is a man who has dedicated his life to the blues and to entertaining people all through the American south.

For all I know, Bobby Rush will outlive us all. But at 84 years of age, you’d imagine the chances of seeing this legend in Australia after this tour are slim. He’ll be remembered as one of the greats, you don’t want to miss that.

Friday 8.45pm – Delta
Sunday 6pm – Juke Joint (solo)
Sunday 10.30pm – Juke Joint (with band)

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit

Jason Isbell has written more great songs than most people. Across 20 years of songwriting, six studio albums and a good and very fruitful stint in the excellent Drive-By Truckers, Isbell has won our hearts many times over. He’s gonna do it all again on his return to Bluesfest this year.

He and his brilliant, powerful band will deliver a performance that’s both life-affirming and heart-wrenching. His songs will take you to places you’ve never been and make you feel deeper than you’ve felt in some time.

He’s one of modern music’s great songwriters and every chance to see him ought to be treasured.

Thursday 8.30pm – Crossroads
Saturday 6pm – Crossroads

All Our Exes Live In Texas

By all means, get swept up in the incredible harmonies that make All Our Exes Live In Texas one of the country’s most beloved folk acts. But don’t sleep on the lyrics. They’re the most underrated aspect of this brilliant band’s work.

Their debut album When We Fall was one of the best local releases of last year and it’s the kind of record that you can just tell is going to have a huge impact live as well. And it does – the sad moments feel sadder, the bright moments more illuminating, and the overall beauty just somehow more pronounced.

Thursday 6pm – Jambalaya
Friday 3pm – Crossroads
Friday 5pm – Juke Joint: Double J Live Broadcast

New Power Generation

If you wanted to work with Prince, you had to be the very best. He was a singular genius who saw through bullshit and worked his artists to the bone.

The members of Prince’s New Power Generation who will be in Australia for Bluesfest all have their own stories and experiences with the master. They bring their experience playing his classic catalogue to Australia for an almighty celebration of one of the greatest artists who ever lived (and who, sadly, never made it to Bluesfest himself).

“Like a couple that could finish each other’s sentences, the band knew where each member was going in each part of the songs,” Youa Vang wrote for Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current earlier this year.

“They epitomize the top level of musicians representing the legacy of the Minneapolis Sound. What truly showcased their talent was when they moved off course and melted into jam sessions that allowed each performer to shine.”

It’ll be emotional, but it’ll be fun.

Thursday 9pm – Jambalaya
Friday 8pm – Mojo
Saturday 8.15pm – Mojo

Benjamin Booker

You might say that Benjamin Booker might still be finding his voice, but he’s making really amazing music while doing so.

His eponymous debut record was one of the breakthrough highlights of 2014. Somehow, last year’s Witness was even better; a thrilling melange of soul, gospel, garage punk and blues. A record that took the temperature of the current political and social climate and gave Booker’s perspective as a black man in his mid-20s in a literate and gripping fashion.

His live shows in 2015 as part of the Laneway Festival were thrilling indications of the power of this man’s voice and presence on stage.

Sunday 7.30pm – Delta
Monday 6pm – Jambalaya

Hurray for the Riff Raff

The literate indie rock/Americana of Hurray For The Riff Raff is potently political. Alynda Lee Segarra pulls no punches as she sings frankly about the issues in modern society that have her fired up. And she makes it sound so damn good.

This forward-thinking back has been working hard for years, carving out a place in a scene that is often quite beholden to the music of the past. They’ve been critical darlings for some time, but are now slowly and steadily building to become popular favourites around the world too.

This isn’t their first visit to Australia and we dare say it won’t be their last. But a couple of slots at Bluesfest could make it their most significant.

Thursday 7.30pm – Jambalaya
Friday 4pm – Delta
Friday 5pm – Juke Joint: Double J Broadcast

First Aid Kit

Listen to their heartbreaking new album Ruins and tell me that First Aid Kit don’t know a thing or two about blues. The Swedish sisters are growing up, living through heartbreak, and making incredible art out of their experiences.

There’s great beauty in the way they portray sadness on that record, but their career thus far has seen them cover the gamut of emotions with their close-harmony folk brilliance. One thing is for sure, they’ll make you feel some things.

At times beautifully hushed, at others sweeping and cinematic, this duo is always supported brilliantly by their sympathetic band and never fail to deliver in the live sphere.

Sunday 4.15pm – Mojo

Jimmy Cliff

Sunday will be Jimmy Cliff’s 70th birthday. On Friday and Monday, he will throw a party to remember.

His performances are high-energy affairs, that bring an even brighter energy to his iconic hits like ‘Wonderful World, Beautiful People’, ‘Many Rivers to Cross’, ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’ and ‘The Harder They Come’.

Forget the cliché about reggae being downbeat, throw out your biases about what a 70-year-old man can do on stage. This will be a party from start to finish.

Friday 5pm – Juke Joint: Double J Broadcast
Friday 8.30pm – Crossroads
Monday 6pm – Crossroads

Open