Report: Greg Phillips Photos: Jason Rosewarne
It’s not like entrepreneur Peter Noble, hadn’t tried to deliver a Bluesfest to us in the last couple of years. Two Easter festivals and one rescheduled October attempt couldn’t happen due to the all-conquering pandemic (one cancelled the day before gates were to open). Really, it’s enough to send any live music promoter off the edge and never want to return to the game again. However Peter persisted and on Thursday 14th April 2022, it was with much gravitas and gratitude that he stood on the Mojo tent stage at the Welcome to Country opening ceremony thanking everyone from his team to the audience for their support. The Welcome to Country ceremony itself also took on extra significance. Not only had we all endured the pandemic but locals here in the Byron Bay area have had the added burden of suffering devastating floods. Representatives of the Arakwal People of the Bundjalung Nation welcomed us all and implored us to respect the country. For the early birds in attendance, it was an emotional opening to the festival, paving the way for five days of unbridled joy.
The War & Treaty brought their southern soul, rock and gospel back to Bluesfest and they knew the weight of the moment, being opening act of a festival which hasn’t occurred since 2019. It was 2019 when we were first introduced to the husband and wife team of Michael and Tanya Trotter Jr and their powerful message of hope.
Even though it was only Thursday, a smaller but energised crowd were still able to see a host of quality local and international acts such as The Wailers, Kevin Borich, Tijuana Cartel, and Taman Shud early in the day . The feel-good vibe in the air was tangible. Spinifex Gum was a revelation, featuring Mariliya, an amazing 16 strong choir with appearances from Emma Donovan, Briggs and Cat Empire’s Felix Riebl.
Down in the Delta region of the festival Ross Wilson and The Peaceniks (featuring ace guitarists James Ryan and Aaron Schembri) were giving us an Australian music history lesson, as Ross played through the songs that made his career, from Sons of The Vegetal Mother, Pink Finks, and Mighty Kong to Daddy Cool, Mondo Rock and more.
Caravana Sun indeed took their moment in the sun (and rain) and ran with it. Preceding the final performance of the original line up of The Cat Empire, the band played to a huge crowd and showed how much they have developed from a local indie band playing small clubs to a world class stage band. Concentrating mainly on tracks from their new album Burning Palms, the loyal fans in the audience were already singing back the new lyrics. For those who hadn’t seen the band before, I’m sure they earned a stack of brand new followers.
Then came time to bid a fond farewell to the original Cat Empire, a band whose contagious rhythms have known and loved for over 20 years. As the crowd waited, the screen on stage beamed out the names of the numerous cities the band has played over the last couple of decades. Finally, a ten second countdown brought the biggest cheer I’ve ever heard for a band taking to a stage. The band took us back to where it all began, opening with How To Explain, track one from their debut album. The hits kept coming and all band members were thanked, acknowledged and had their time in the spotlight. Harry James Angus enjoyed an incredible reception when he took to the microphone. It was a remarkable performance by the guys, a party worthy of a band who have given so much happiness to so many. And we danced! Not only was live music back in a big way but crowds could now let go of all the pent up emotion and what better band and occasion to get the body pumping.
For those who still had energy in the tank, there was plenty more entertainment on offer from Joe Camilleri and the Honeydrippers presenting their Dylan tribute or guitar wunderkind Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram. Congratulations to Peter Noble and team for persisting and bringing one of the best music festivals in the world back home again