REVIEW: BLUESFEST BYRON BAY 2019
Rain, hail or shine; the annual Byron Bay Bluesfest returned in April 2019 for its last hurrah after a solid 29-year streak, until a new state is confirmed to host the festival. Ready to withstand all weather conditions with a lineup so voluptuous it was bursting at the seams, Bluesfest 2019 certainly went out with a bang with an impressive string of live acts across a contrast of decades.
Light on festival activities and instead showcasing an abundant lineup, it’s clear the Bluesfest’s budget was wholeheartedly dedicated to the music… and we had no cause for complaint. With the annual festival always producing a serene atmosphere, friendly, good-spirited festival attendees and food stalls of the most mouthwatering calibre, the simplicity of the festival definitely proved that less is more and the need for daytime disco tents or group activities is an accessory it’s sometimes better to go without.
With camping conveniently close to the entrance and a breadth of facilities to make campers feel right at home, the five days felt more like a downhill stroll rather than an uphill battle. While the unpredictable weather brought rain one minute and scorching sunshine the next, it was a pleasure to see no spirits were dampened, unlike the Earth which was quick to turn to black sludge.
Highlights consisted of Kurt Vile and The Violaters, who kicked things off on Thursday night in a cruisey, nonchalant Kurt Vile fashion. While Kurt belted out some country twang without merely lifting his head, the crowd bopped along, happy to keep things at a slow and steady pace for the first night while easing into the festival.
Next on the list was The Marcus King Band, who put on one hell of an eclectic performance. Rich with powerful, bounding vocals, an impressive array of musical instruments and a performance so passionate front-rowers were probably sprayed with King’s sweat, these South Carolina Blues legends can truly do no wrong. Dancing between genres of country, blues and psychedelia, it was impressive to discover that King himself is only 22 years old.
Friday was filled with the devilish charm of Brooklyn based funk/ rock/ jazz fusion Snarky Puppy, who displayed a rhythmically seamless improvised set, exploding with innovation, passion and a clear knowledge of traditional musical genres. Not to mention the band members just fell short of 20, with 19 taking the stage in total.
An act I had never before heard of yet will find hard to forget is the seductively soulful Melody Angel, who absolutely dominated the stage with her band of angels and a Fender Strat in hand. From performing an array of originals followed by Jimi Hendrix covers such as All Along the Watchtower and Wild Child, its clear Hendrix is a profound influence on Angel’s work, as well as her aesthetic.
Locking eyes with the audience throughout the entire set while simultaneously charming their socks off, Angel’s powerful vocals and stage presence kept myself, among others, returning the following days to watch her set over.
Another band worth noting was Texas band Shakey Graves, who I had previously stumbled across on my ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist on Spotify. This indie-rock, blues powerhouse kicked things off with a little backstory about lead singer Alejandro Rose-Garcia’s romantic failures, which fuelled an energetic and captivating performance that followed. Drenched in emotion, stage presence and natural Texan charm, Rose-Garcia’s multi-instrumentalism allowed for a unique and memorable performance.
Despite these highlighting acts, there was really just the one, in particular, I came to see. Some might know him as a pioneer of punk and rock music, others as the piss-drinking, cross-dressing performer with wild stage antics. None the less, James Newell Osterberg Jr, also known as Iggy Pop, was the highlight of Bluesfest 2019.
You wouldn’t believe that Iggy Pop was 72 with the high-energy performance that my eyes were lucky enough to witness. From prancing around on stage, handing the microphone to the audience and never missing a beat, Iggy performed classics such as I Wanna Be Your Dog, Gimmie Danger, Passenger, and Lust for Lif.
Iggy exceeded all expectations that many old school rock and roll legends fail to uphold, as time deteriorates them. But no, not the shirtless, long blonde haired Iggy Pop, who’s vocals were as strong as ever. It’s fair to say myself as well as the entirety of Bluesfest were in awe.
All in all, Bluesfest 2019 went straight into the memory back as a festival that added to one of my favourite pastimes. With a lineup dense with diverse talent and rich with enchanting performances, the 2020 Bluesfest will have massive shoes to fill if the festival goes ahead.