The 15 best moments of Bluesfest 2017

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The Bluesfest musical marathon is over for another year. Here are 15 of the finest moments from 2017.

There's a short moment of relief at the close of a Bluesfest. After five days of watching dozens of bands, walking countless kilometres, inhaling truckloads of dust and cheering loudly, life gets back to normal.

It's a really short moment, though. Because those post Bluesfest blues are real. Every hour for the next couple of days I'll wistfully think about what I would have been doing or seeing at this time if I were still at the festival. 

But at least we have the memories. Here are 15 of my favourites, apologies to the many great acts who didn't make it, it's a tough field in which to stand out.

Feel free to hit us up with your favourite moments from the festival and make me jealous about what I missed.

15. Madness' House of Fun

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For patrons of a certain age, Madness were a huge get for Bluesfest in 2017. But even those who didn't grow up with their kooky ska anthems would have to admit that the British stalwarts brought an impressive energy and pretty incredible stage show to their Sunday night headline slot.

14. Nikki Hill is catching on

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Seeing an impressively full Crossroads stage for Nikki Hill's set was heartwarming. Hearing her rise to the occasion and blow minds with her gritty, rockin' soul was even better. 

13. Tony Joe White's deep drone

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There was no one else on the Bluesfest bill doing what Tony Joe White does. While his set hasn't changed much in the 17 years since I first saw him (when he was headlining the main stage!), that deep voice, droning guitar and those psychedelic lead breaks are still as affecting as ever.  

12. Blind Boy Paxton's lesson in the blues

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Another overflowing tent for one of our supposedly 'under the radar' artists meant hundreds of revellers at Bluesfest 2017 were hungry for some old-time blues on Saturday night. Blind Boy Paxton's piano, harp and guitar songs all fit the bill perfectly. He's a scholar of the form and a brilliant entertainer to boot. We'd happily see him every year.

11. Buddy Guy shames us all

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When I turn 80, I want to be Buddy Guy. How does he have that much energy? How does he still sing so perfectly? How can he shred like that? His famous walk through the crowd seems defiant these days; age is not going to slow down one of the last living legends of the blues. 

10. Roy Ayers is the master of groove

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There's a reason Roy Ayers is one of the most sampled artists in hip hop. The man constructs a groove like no one else can. He showed us that at both of his Bluesfest sets. They were classy displays of jazz-funk that saw him dip into his big bag of cult hits and show us how they can sizzle in the live arena.

9. Michael Kiwanuka's timeless soul

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Michael Kiwanuka is one of the best young soul artists around. His approach is understated, but his brilliant songs and impossibly cool voice are more than enough to grab your attention. The kind of reinvention he underwent before his latest album Love & Hate has served him well; he's making better music and seems very comfortable up there playing it. A world class artist we'll rave about for decades.

8. Courtney Barnett belongs here

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The Gen Y blues of Courtney Barnett's 'Depreston' might have been lost on the baby boomers in the crowd, but the droning alt-rock of this young gun from Melbourne fits perfectly in Bluesfest's future. And was that a snarling new song towards the end there?

7. Booker T plays every great song ever

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Booker T's Stax Soul Revue was a walk through the greatest catalogue in pop music history. Every single song was a hit. Not a minor hit, or one for the trainspotters. A legitimate smash that would ignite any dancefloor. Booker T and band didn't exactly have the most high-energy live show, but they didn't need to. It was all about those songs. Particular kudos to singer Tyra Juliette, whose rendition of Carla Thomas' 'Gee Whiz' was outstanding.

6. Billy Bragg finally made it

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While his Monday afternoon set with Joe Henry was pleasant, Billy Bragg really won us over on Saturday afternoon with a blistering set of his greatest hits. He didn't play them all, that'd be impossible, but the chance to finally sing 'Greetings To The New Brunette', 'A New England', 'Accident Waiting To Happen', 'Levi Stubbs Tears' and so many more classics at Bluesfest felt validating and oh so good.

5. The pure class of Gregory Porter

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I almost don't want word to get out about Gregory Porter, because I want to keep him all to myself. His two shows at Bluesfest were flawless. Effortlessly cool, soulfully enriching and intimately engaging. It's hard to do that on a big festival stage, but the warmth of Porter's voice and character meant he made it look easy. 

4. Mavis Staples is a treasure

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The way Mavis Staples' voice cuts through any noise is unbelievable. It was an important voice in the '60s and it's an important voice today.

Her shows were a curious mix of the past and the present, with The Staple Singers and her solo material intercut with covers of Talking Heads and Funkadelic songs that she practically makes her own anyway.

We need to treasure the gift she has shared with us for the past 67 years, because we never know when we'll get to see and hear it in action again. But, if Mavis gets her way, it'll be sooner than you expect.

3. Gallant is the future

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It felt like we found a star when Gallant played his two sets at Bluesfest this year. Of course we hadn't found anything, he's already a pretty big deal in the States. But witnessing this incredible young performer (and his amazing band) felt like seeing the future of soul and R&B. The voice, the stage presence, the emotion... it was a full package.

If there's any justice, he'll be playing mighty big venues the next time we see him in Australia.

2. Neil Finn does Neil Finn

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Neil Finn provided the perfect singalong to close out the five day festival. With his band (featuring son Elroy, Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour and former Artist In Residence Dan Kelly) he ploughed through songs from across his career. Split Enz, Crowded House and solo material was all covered comprehensively, with a side of Finn's affable wit and charm and plenty of help from the big, vocal crowd. A perfect closing act.

1. Patti Smith smashes Horses out of the park

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Patti Smith and her band have as much respect for her debut album as her fans do. That's actually quite rare for an artist with such a hefty catalogue. 

This meant that their performance of Horses on the opening night of Bluesfest went beyond all expectations. The songs were injected with references to the modern world, but were still played with the same spirit as they were over 40 years ago. 

Add to that classic album a short list of Smith's finest hits, and you have the perfect poetic punk performance. Her set at Bluesfest 2017 will go down as one of the legendary moments in the festival's history.

Stream some of the highlights of Bluesfest 2017 on Double J's special Bluesfest broadcast.

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