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Day one report: Greg Phillips. Photos: Jason Rosewarne

Another Easter, yet another Bluesfest, the music festival which runs like clockwork and presents one of the most eclectic lineups you’ll see anywhere in the world. Despite rain the night prior and overcast conditions in the morning, gumboots, the traditional Bluesfest footwear was not required.

Former Carolina Chocolate Drops band leader Rhiannon Giddens was one of the early festival starters, following up on a stunning 2016 Bluesfest performance. Armed with a banjo and an incredible voice, Giddens powerful message, delivered with humility and love touched many. Soon after on the Jambalaya stage, festival regular Mavis Staples played to her ‘Byron Bay family’ garnering the respect she deserved from an adoring crowd. A particularly funky version of Talking Heads’ Slippery People had the masses moving. Another artist making their Bluesfest return was soul diva Nikki Hill, who turned in an energetic set, accompanied by a killer band.

Over on the Crossroads stage, jazz rock ensemble Snarky Puppy treated themselves to a short soundcheck to eliminate a few last minute glitches before launching into a dynamic electric set. Borrowing from the past and pasting that DNA into their mix, Snarky Puppy deliver an exciting, futuristic form of music which is difficult to categorise.  Snarky play another set tonight.

The find of the festival so far for this reviewer was a band making their Bluesfest debut. The Suffers, led by enigmatic front woman Kam Franklin were bold, brassy and one of the most soulful acts I’ve seen for a long time. Franklin told the Juke Joint stage crowd that only 6 years ago, all of the band members were still in their day jobs but finally made the fateful decision to quit and follow their dreams. Those in attendance tonight were glad they did, as they were treated to an A-grade lesson in Gulf Coast Soul. The Suffers return today, Sunday and Monday and shouldn’t be missed.

Eric Gales is a highly rated American singer guitarist who has overcome hurdles to achieve his goals and relishes in every opportunity to bring his music to the world. Playing music from his fabulous new album Middle Of The Road, Eric delivered a classy set of  blues mixed with the fiery rock licks he’s famous for.

Playing to a packed house in the Mojo tent, Courtney Barnett has transitioned from a shy local troubadour playing small Melbourne clubs to a world class arena act with a huge rock sound. Despite appearing on all the cool American TV shows and playing to audiences globally, Barnett has lost none of her innocence and suburban insight, as she brings a little bit of Northcote to us all.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue surely has the phattest sound in music. The multi-brass instrumental assault makes it near impossible not to dance. The band is back again on the Mojo stage to night to fill your soul with joy.

For many, Patti Smith and band’s final Australian performance of one of the most influential albums in rock … her 1975 debut Horses, was the reason for their Bluesfest ticket purchase alone. Patti didn’t disappoint. Although recovering from laryngitis, Smith powered into the album opener Gloria. The Bluesfest faithful road every note and lyric from every track of the album, singing along to the soundtrack which has been so important to so many. Mourning the loss of Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Lou Reed, art photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Fred Sonic Smith, Bowie and Prince, the song Elegie  took on even greater meaning, given the loss of so many legendary artists in the last eighteen months. With Horses completed, Smith was free to mine her catalogue and deliver iconic songs such as Dancing Barefoot and Because The Night. Receiving one of the most heartfelt ovations, I’ve ever witnessed, Smith was not only being thanked for an unforgettable performance tonight but for such an inspiring career and life, one which made a difference. And that was only day one of Bluesfest.

More of Jason Rosewarne’s fabulous photos


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