Bluesfest 2019: Day 4 Highlights

Day Four at Bluesfest 2019 continues to up the ante, with plenty of blues-rock and country-rock to get the toes tapping, as well as a hefty dose of funk and robust indigenous program.

Yothu Yindi and the Treaty Project

Yothu Yindi and the Treaty Project was one hell of a party up on stage – I’ve never seen so many people having such a great time, crammed into one stage. Present were not only the founding members of Yothu Yindi – Witiyana Marika, Stu Kellaway and Kevin Malngay Yunupingu, but there were also former band members and popular Indigenous songwriters, cabaret artist Kamahi Djordon King and emerging Yolngu singers, Yirrnga Yunupingu and Yimila Gurruwiw. But wait, there was more – rounding out the lineup was multi-instrumentalist Ania Reynolds (the current musical director of Circus Oz), Kellaway’s son Roy on guitar, along with DJ/producer Gavin Campbell on additional percussion and the Toraiz SP-16 sampler. Oh and at one stage, there was a crew of traditional Islander dancers. There wasn’t an inch of space to be had either on stage or on the dance floor and as the band played hits like ‘Timeless Land’, ‘Djapana’ and ‘Tribal Voice’, the crowd energetically waved hands, shouted along and danced. Mixing traditional Aboriginal instruments with beats, the songs were irresistibly catchy, reminding all of us of the powerful sound of the didgeridoo. Throughout the set, the charismatic frontmen drove home the message for black and white Australia to come together, and given the smiles on everyone’s faces and the beautiful energy in the air, this seemed more of a reality than ever before.

Tex Perkins and the Fat Rubber Band

Armed with a full band, Tex Perkins was in his absolute element. With his big, bold guitar sounds and super smoky voice, ‘Pay the Devil’ kicked off a set that encompassed all of what the Bluesfest is all about. Everything about Tex is big – his stature, his guitar riffs and his presence on stage, which is what makes people so drawn to his performances. Belting out swaggering country-esque hits such as ‘Ice in the Sun’ and the melodic ‘Dreams’, Tex and the band looked like they belonged on stage and when they played an old Cruel Sea hit, ‘Anybody But You’ there wasn’t a person in the room not singing. Tex’s sound has that unique Australian rock-feel that is almost impossible to describe. I guess it’s like a smooth-running engine that is operating on bourbon. Effortless to swallow but definitely packs a punch.

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats

This eight piece band were all about country and smooth-sounding blues. From the word go, Nathaniel’s strong and solid voice meant business and given it was their second time at Bluesfest, the band, unsurprisingly, had a loyal following. Giving the traditional southern style blues a modern twist, ‘Be There’, ‘Say it Louder’ and ‘You Worry Me’ had all eyes on stage and everyone hand clapping along to the funky blues beats and impressive guitars. The energetic organ playing and back up vocals by the aptly named Joseph Pope III, was mesmerising and both he and Nathaniel made sure every eye in the room was on the stage. These guys had an alluring sense to their music – you could almost feel the words of the songs and at times Nathaniel’s emotions. By the end of the show, there wasn’t a single person in the room who hadn’t broke out in a ‘night sweat’.

Melbourne Ska Orchestra

You can’t help but dance when you see Nicky Bomba’s Melbourne Ska Orchestra (MSO) live. MSO’s mix of Ska, Reggae, Mento, Dub, Funk and Jazz is so infectious the entire audience can’t stand still. Right from the get go, Nicky Bomba had the audience involved with a call and response involving himself and the brass section of the 30 piece band. He kept up the energy throughout, jumping and running around the stage, all the while conducting the orchestra. The ska beat is rapid fire and everyone onstage was having a great time. This is no sit down orchestra, everyone including the brass section gets up to dance at some stage while playing their instruments. Even Pat Brown, the band’s bus driver, gets up to sing ‘Bus Driver.’ The fun included handing out a ‘prize’ to two guys in the audience dressed in Mr Squiggle costumes. Nicky and MSO just love performing and everyone walked away from Crossroads with a smile on their face.

Gary Clark Jr

Watching Gary Clark Jr is like watching a man possessed – he truly is at one with his guitar and his music. His band’s passion is infectious and impossible to walk away from. With an incredible vocal range, unbelievable electric guitar skills and heartfelt lyrics, Gary had the crowd stunned into silence throughout tracks such as ‘What About Us’, ‘Hold On’ and ‘Stay’. The sexy, yet angsty ‘Our Love’ and the explosive show opener  ‘Bright Lights’ had the crowd swaggering as once again, Gary’s stage presence and charisma was palpable. Clark has the qualities of some of those classic blues singers like BB King or Buddy Guy, yet his music feels darker and you sometimes get the sense that he’s at crossroads with the devil. Regardless, demons or not, this show was all about the music, the guys were on stage to play their songs and seemed so intensely focused on what they were doing, their professionalism and dedication was evident throughout their outstanding performance. This was a show that will definitely linger in many a mind.

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic

There ain’t no party like a Funkadelic party. This was the message well and truly received by the mammoth crowd gathered at Crossroads to witness the penultimate live performance of the 85 year old behemoth that is George Clinton and the loud, colourful, balls-out energy of his Parliament Funkadelic. Dreads flying, colours waving, feet jumping and bodies writhing, the eclectic hip hop – funk – blues fusion crew brought a life and energy back into the flagging four day old crowd not seen since night one. With one more performance to go (Monday night of Bluesfest) until his retirement, George Clinton is clearly determined to leave with his name on everyone’s lips.

Jack Johnson

Seeing Jack Johnson onstage at Mojo singing the lines “Slow down everyone you’re moving too fast” from his song ‘Inaudible Memories’ on Day 4 at Bluesfest really epitomised the whole mood of his performance. Johnson was as laid back as ever just swaying from side to side, guitar and uke in hand, and singing all his faves into the mic. The crowd seemingly knew every word to his songs and dutifully sung along. Even those who weren’t familiar with all the lyrics could sing “La di da di da da” in tune. Johnson could have phoned it in, however the performance was kept upbeat by his friends joining him onstage. Lukas Nelson was first up and the combination of Nelson’s raw electric guitar with Johnson’s Ukelele somehow seemed to work on the song ‘Breakdown’. Gary Clark Jr was next up shredding his guitar while Johnson strummed his. Paula Fuga joined him for the last three songs and her powerful voice added amazing depth to ‘Good People.’ An encore was inevitable and more sing-a-alongs. Jack Johnson will be forever a Bluesfest favourite.

IMAGES (c) JD Punisher Photography and Danny Santangelo

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