13 unforgettable moments of Bluesfest 2018
Bluesfest is over for another year and, while we’re a little bleary after such an intense music marathon, we’re also feeling pretty damn satisfied.
So much music, so much sunshine, so many great people and so many good times.
I couldn’t see everyone, so my apologies if your favourite artist doesn’t make the cut here.
13. The Wailers
No strangers to Bluesfest, The Wailers turned in five big performances across the festival's duration. They’re never bad, but this year it felt like they connected more than ever. Everyone was dancing as their set reached its peak.
They are engaging performers who effortlessly kept the energy pumping throughout their set, I guess it helps when you are working with a catalogue of such amazing songs.
It’s tough to do justice to the work of a genius, even when you were a part of his life and work for so long.
The New Power Generation handles Prince’s legacy with care. They didn’t make it a mawkish tribute, they made it a party. No members tried to make it about themselves, it was all about the songs.
It’s easy to be cynical about acts like this – in fact, it’s probably healthy – but it’s nice when an act is able to put your fears to rest.
Great musicians, great singers, some of the best songs ever. What a party it was. Are they the best Prince-related tribute around? We don’t know that yet. But they’ve set the bar high.
11. Bobby Rush
Hopefully anyone who laments the lack of blues at Bluesfest caught 85-year-old Louisiana entertainer Bobby Rush at one of his three shows.
With almost 70 years of hard-touring experience, Rush knows how to entertain. The fact that anyone of that age can sing and dance with as much gusto is awe-inspiring. His stories about segregation, about other artists (particularly turning down ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ and telling Willie Dixon to give it to Muddy Waters) and about a life on the road were almost as gripping as his
There were undoubtedly times where his show lacked taste, but he stopped short of ever being disrespectful. And his sparkly white suit was the undisputed fashion highlight of the weekend.
10. Dan Sultan
Dan Sultan’s live show has become absolutely world class. It deserved the prime spot on the main stage that it received on the final day of Bluesfest and Sultan and co. made good use of that opportunity.
With a set largely comprised of tracks from his latest record Killer, Sultan showed both a relatability and a sense of effortless cool as he led his brilliant band through an ultra-slick and totally engaging show.
9. Benjamin Booker
Noise and grit are two elements that are sometimes lacking at Bluesfest, but Benjamin Booker ensured that things got nice and messy with his two Bluesfest sets.
He wasn’t too keen on chatting, preferring to let his music do the talking. This heady blend of garage rock, soul, blues, rockabilly and even a little T-Rex style boogie-rock really cut through at Bluesfest this year and Booker’s gruff voice was among the most interesting and exciting of any act present.
Here’s to more noise at Bluesfest in the future.
8. Hurray For The Riff Raff
Alynda Segarra writes powerful songs. But that power is amplified tenfold when she performs out the front of Hurray For The Riff Raff. She’s one of the great frontwomen in the world right now, bringing both a kind of untouchable attitude and a more cordial warmth to her performance at different moments.
The band’s punkish, political take on Americana is exactly what the world needs. And more visits from Hurray For The Riff Raff is what Australia needs.
This is a band that would easily fit on just about any festival bill in this country, they have the adaptability to cross over. Here’s hoping they do.
7. Mia Dyson
Mia Dyson brought the best songs from her past couple of records to life upon her return to Bluesfest this year. The set was a reminder of her versatile dexterity as a guitarist, but also a reminder that she is writing the absolute best songs of her career right now.
Every time you listen to her latest record you’ll probably find a new favourite song. At Bluesfest ‘Whole Is The Bleeding Heart’ stood out as a Dyson classic in the making.
The support from her bassist and drummer made this a taut power trio and, quite frankly, it didn’t feel as if the show was lacking in any way despite the relative sparsity of its line up.
6. Ms. Lauryn Hill
The weekend’s most controversial set by far.
I’ve already written enough about this performance. So, I’ll give you this quote from the great Talib Kweli.
“When you pay for a Lauryn Hill concert you are not paying for her to do what you want, you are paying for her to do what she wants. She is not an iPod nor is she a trained monkey. She doesn’t have to do her hits and she doesn’t have to do the songs the way you want to hear them. She doesn’t owe you that. The world does not revolve around you, and you ain’t gotta like it. Get over yourself.
"If you have a negative experience at her concert, go home, put on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and the next time she does come through your town, don’t go to her concert. Problem solved. Just because you had a negative experience at a Lauryn Hill show doesn’t mean her contribution to the world is invalid or deserves to be disrespected.”
5. Leon Bridges
The slick Leon Bridges radiates absolute cool on stage. He pulls off incredible dance moves without missing a note, as he works through songs from his killer debut record Coming Home and his forthcoming follow-up Good Thing.
It sounds like that new record will be a bit of a mixed bag and first single ‘Bad Bad News’ mightn’t exactly be an indication of what’s to come.
While Bridges band were pretty much perfect, we would have loved a horn section to fill out some of those songs. But at this point that feels a bit nit-picky.
Bluesfest is not about the headliners. It never has been. It’s always about the discoveries, the artists you’ve never heard of, who you stumble across accidentally and completely fall in love with.
As I approached the tent as Solomon Islands band Narasirato were playing, I thought it was a shame that they’d decided to play to a backing track. I’ve never been more wrong about anything in my life. Not only was there no backing track, there was no classic western instrumentation, just a series of drums and bamboo pipes that these artists
It’s difficult to express just how powerful and beautiful this show was. The kind of set that brings tears to your eyes but makes you want to dance uncontrollably.
“My country is my life,” the band leader said towards the set’s conclusion.
This band was so proud and threw every bit of that pride into their music. It didn’t feel like they were entertaining us, it felt like they were sharing their culture. I arrived sceptical, I left raving and deeply affected.
3. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
One of the best songwriters on the planet lays down 90 minutes of his best work with one of the most powerful rock’n’roll bands on the circuit right now behind him.
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit are a force to be reckoned with, and we can only hope that Amanda Shires is able to re-join them the next time they come to Australia.
2. First Aid Kit
It’s a damn pleasure to see and hear First Aid Kit mature into the kind of brilliant songwriters and performers they have become. Their latest album Ruins is a heartbreaking masterpiece and their live show has stepped up to match it.
It was often beautiful, sometimes a little brash and angry, occasionally fun and silly and always completely charming. These two sisters are setting the bar high for modern folk artists and they deserve to be considered at the top of the pile when it comes to this kind of music.
1. Nile Rodgers & Chic
Nile Rodgers came on stage ten minutes early to say hi to the crowd and was eager to strike up his band well before their starting time. “We can’t go over time. It’s going to go really quickly!” he pleaded.
He was right. He and his band laid on a nonstop party from start to finish, featuring some of the best songs of all time played with utter precision.
The music of Donna Summer, David Bowie, Sister Sledge, Daft Punk, Madonna and, of course, Chic, were all celebrated in this epic disco extravaganza that showed that really great music truly is timeless.
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There was never a dull moment. Each part of the band threw in unexpected choreographed dance moves at will, which meant you could look anywhere on that stage and see something completely unexpected.
It was the ultimate party on the final day of Bluesfest, forcing us to push through the pain and use all those dancing muscles one more time. If you weren’t smiling at the end of it, you were in the wrong place.