Samantha Fish

Words: Greg Phillips. Photos: Jason Rosewarne

The 30th anniversary of Peter Noble’s Bluesfest was cause to bring old friends together with festival debutantes to celebrate one of the world’s most loved and respected music events. Weather predictions suggested rain throughout the five days yet day one proved that the forecasts can’t be trusted. Conditions for the opening day were near perfect.

With 5 stages of quality entertainment to choose from, the dilemma is always who to see. Thankfully many of the acts play multiple days, so it’s important for punters to do a little pre-festival planning. Australian musician’s first port of call was the Crossroads stage to catch the global music collective Playing For Change who are no strangers to Bluesfest. Making their Byron Bay debut was The War and Treaty featuring the inspirational voices of Michael and Tanya Trotter, performing tunes from their latest album Healing Tide.

Famed for his appearance at Woodstock, pioneering singer songwriter Arlo Guthrie enthralled the Jambalaya stage crowd with his quirky life tales and tunes.

Following Arlo, Mavis Staples always commands attention and she effortlessly won the crowd over with her legendary songs and material from her soon to be released album We Get By, which was produced by Fellow Bluesfest regular Ben Harper.

Dallas Woods won a lot of hearts with his passionate performance. Representing The Kimberleys, Dallas gave the audience as much to think about as he did to dance to. Nahko and Medicine For The People have developed their sound over the years and now output a much fatter sound than I recall the first time I witnessed them many moons ago. With their strong social messages and vibrant and uplifting rhythms, it’s no wonder they continue to build their tribal following.

Snarky Puppy always enjoy playing to the Bluesfest crowd, an audience which still appreciates a fine extended drum and percussion solo and are willing to participate and indulge the band with complex clapping patterns.

Kansas City’s Samantha Fish told crowd she was excited to be here and the feeling was mutual. Featuring a two piece brass section and accomplished band, the powerful soul, blues and rock sounds coming off stage, made this performance something special. Playing tracks from her two most recent albums, Chills & Fever and Belle of the West, Fish has been concentrating more and more on her song craft of late and it’s paying off. However it hasn’t stopped Samantha from breaking out in dynamic licks and hazy shreds often and to great effect. I can see Samantha’s audience growing with each show over the duration of the festival. Check out our video interview with Samantha at Bluesfest HERE

As we got into headliner territory, the crowd headed to the Crossroads stage to experience the huge sounds of Little Steven’s Disciples of Soul. Opening with Sam and Dave’s Sweet Soul Music, there was never any turning back, a party was to be had. The iconic E Street Band member learned much from The Boss and held this congregation in the palm of his hand. Steven suggested that he used to be much more political on stage but there is now so much of that in your face, that music is everyone’s salvation. The band was made all the more exciting due to the frantic dancing and extraordinary backing vocals of Jessie Wagner (Kid Rock, Lenny Kravitz, Chic), Sara Devine (Alicia Keys, Mary J Blige) and Tania Jones. The Disciples of Soul play again on Saturday and you don’t want to miss them.

Over on the Jambalaya stage Richard Clapton was putting in a particularly powerful, hit-laden show in front of a packed tent. Mention must be made of the sound personnel on all stages too, the PA systems are pumping out gorgeously low bottom ends and sweet, sweet mids. Returning to Bluesfest, Elephant Sessions create a moody blend of neo-trad, folk rock with appeal on so many levels, another act you need to make time for over the next few days of the festival. It’s Bluesiest’s 30th birthday and the party has well and truly begun.