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Report and photos by Jason Rosewarne

Bluesfest Byron Bay is the festival that just keeps giving. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better after three days of world class entertainment, along comes day 4 and blows us all away again. Another sunny day in paradise!

The Whitlams Black Stump Band is the latest venture from acclaimed singer songwriter Tim Freedman and they’ve just released their debut album Kookaburra. Bringing his distinct tales of Australiana to Byron Bay, Tim has put together a classy band featuring Rod McCormack on banjo and guitar, Ollie Thorpe on pedal steel, Whitlams stalwart Terepai Richmond on drums, Matt Fell on bass and George Washingmachine on the fiddle.

Allman Betts Family Revival are truly blues music nobility. Formed in 2018, the band was founded by Devon Allman and Duane Betts, both of whom are the sons of founding Allman Brothers Band members Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts, respectively. This earth band also includes Texan blues/rock guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter  Ally Venable and acclaimed American blues guitarist and singer  Larry McCray. Allman Betts Family Revival are a jam band in the truest sense and the Bluesfest audience is the perfect accompaniment. Opening with an epic 9 minute version of the classic Allman Brothers song ‘Jessica’, the band won the crowd over instantaneously. We also had the privilege of shooting their show from up on stage thanks to their bassist Justin Corgan (yes, related to the great Billy Corgan), so we were able to capture them up close in all their tropical-shirted glory!

Dirty Honey from LA was one band many fans have been hanging out to see since their celebrated 2019 debut single, “When I’m Gone, and tonight at Bluesfest they didn’t disappoint with their powerful cocktail of bar room-style rock, with a splash of AC/DC.

There was no shortage of classic blues, R’n’ B and soul tonight either with the return of both Taj Mahal and PJ Morton doing their thing in their own unique way.

With all of the pre-show hype about country artist Brad Cox, we went along to the Mojo Stage to check out his set of country rock and found the rumours to be true, he sure puts on an energetic show with a great band backing him.

Steve Poltz had us in stitches from his opening monologue, a reading from his diary post from the night before. He did apologise to the young kids in the audience who probably learned a few new phrases from the diary recital. He’s extremely engaging, witty and has the audience in the palm of his hands from the minute he walks on stage. He’s also extremely aware of the job us photographers do and he makes a point of letting everyone know which is extremely rare these days. He has special guest artists, Australian Imogen Clark on stage to assist too.While many Bluesfest attendees are ticking off bucket list artists over the easter weekend, sometimes it’s the artists too who are fulfilling longtime dreams. It was definitely the case for US singer, story teller Steve Poltz who got to sing with his music hero Rickie Lee Jones. On his social media pages after his set, he posted “Anyone who knows me knows of my love for RLJ. I’ve loved her music since her first LP. Well, last night during my set she was sitting side stage and I covered her song On Saturday Afternoons In 1963. I walked over and serenaded her and then she came out and sang the song with with me. I was crying. I couldn’t help it. Uncontrolled tears. Yikes!! My fave song by my favourite artist.” That’s what Bluesfest is all about. Anyone who has seen Steve Poltz on stage will know he’s part musician/songwriter and equal parts comedian, with a wealth of tall stories to tell. You can add happiness creator to that list too.

Jimmy Barnes made his return to playing live shows after his recent heart surgery and played to an absolutely jam packed, bursting at the seams Mojo Big Top, probably the biggest crowd we’ve ever seen for a single act, joined by his good friend Ian Moss on guitar. Unfortunately, in yet another over zealous rule by management, snappers were denied pit access for his show, so we couldn’t cover his comeback.

Jackie Venson was back to deliver yet another stunning set. After showing us what she’s got  during her first trip to Australia for Bluesfest, hopefully she’ll be back time and time again. More people need to discover this amazing performer and composer. Start with her new album Ghost in the Machine and work your way back.

Off to the Jambalaya stage to check out Finnish guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Erja Lyytinen and her amazing band played a fantastic show, although crowd numbers were down due to having Barnsey playing next door.

For many, Rickie Lee Jones’ music has been the soundtrack to their lives. Carefully crafted songs, performed with dramatic intent. It may have been decades since she first came to our attention but her music is no less commanding now as it was back then. Rickie Lee delved deep into her extensive catalogue and delighted fans with some of her most famous songs including Danny’s All Star Joint, Pirates and the gorgeous Last Chance Texaco. Of course she had to play the obligatory Australian hit The Horses. 

We finished our night watching audience favourites The Teskey Brothers, playing to a crowd almost as large as Barnesy, then next door to see Bluesfest royals Ben Harper and the innocent Criminals. Opening with the beautiful a cappella tune Below Sea Level, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals set the scene for a night of top quality roots music, entrancing us with ‘Amen Omen’ one minute and funking us up with ‘Mama’s Trippin’ and ‘Steal My Kisses’. Ben knows how to work a crowd, especially here at Bluesfest. One day to go folks!

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