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Byron Shire
September 17, 2021

The biggest challenge getting to Bluesfest each year…

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Mandy Nolan. Photo Tree Faerie.
Mandy Nolan. Photo Tree Faerie.

 is getting a babysitter…

No-one wants to commit to looking after your kid when they’re shooting for a ticket to the biggest show in town.

I’d ask my teenagers, but they’ve already been planning on going for the last six months. Of course I could bring my six-year-old, but then I won’t be able to squeeze up front in a sea of sweaty flesh and become part of that wonderful joyous organism called a Bluesfest audience.

This year is probably one of my favourite programs.

The lineup is so diverse it jumps well beyond the moniker of blues and roots. This year, it’s blues and roots and gospel and vegas and rap and indie pop and avant-garde and indigenous…

Boomerang Festival heading our way
Rhoda Roberts.

The inclusion this year of the Boomerang Festival encapsulated within the event creates a wonderful Babooshka effect… The smaller festival within the Festival… a global indigenous arts and cultural festival curated with the passionate fervour and genius of Rhoda Roberts.

Roberts has fulfilled her vision this year to broaden the festival-goer experience, creating a quiet place to sit and learn basket weaving, learn traditional dance at a dance workshop or get goosebumps listening to the wisdom of Archie Roach in conversation with Craig Pilkington and Nancy Bates.

Then there’s the music… Monday showcases the genius of Brian Wilson – onstage playing an extended set with an 11-piece band playing Pet Sounds, the album that has been called the second-greatest album of all time. That’s incredible. Plus, my friend Clare is playing cello – she’s going to be one of the 11 pieces! It’s not every day one of your friends gets to play with the Beach Boys! I am not going to miss that one!

And the Residents! I saw them 30 years ago when they were skinny boys in black skivvies wearing giant eyeballs on their heads. Sure, I was full to the brim on LSD, but I think that gig altered my brain. I could see the music. In fact, I think I could taste it. Fortunately back then they neither random drug tested, nor did I drive; this year, I’ll be a middle-aged woman having consumed only her two standard glasses of Cab Sav, topped up on fishoil and probiotics, revisiting a favourite experience, and perhaps having a brand-new one. (That fishoil really comes on strong in a mosh pit.)

The Cat Empire.

Of course I love The Cat Empire. Who doesn’t? Even people who don’t dance end up dancing. The shrill thrill of that trumpet just pierces through resistance, and before you know it you’re a lather of sweat jumping to the beat.

The Cat Empire are a fully guaranteed blast of serotonin. A night with them and you feel good for weeks!

And the Blues Brothers band? Well, who doesn’t want to be part of their six-decade mission from God? I have to see The Blind Boys… ever since the first time I saw them, probably 25 years ago, I’ve never failed to be overcome by the spirit of their show, the unbridled joy that comes about in the harmony of their unison. I never thought I’d be clapping along enthusiastically to If I Had a Hammer infected with the joy of Jesus! Such is the power of great gospel! It just floods you with love, even when you’re a hard-hearted atheist. So that show is a definite Yes.

But these are people I’ve seen before…

Taj Mahal.
Taj Mahal.

This year, alongside the beloved Bluesfest acts who return every few years, people such as Taj Mahal and Eugene Hideaway Bridges there are also a plethora of acts making their Bluesfest debut. Acts such as Melissa Etheridge, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing late last year.

Etheridge brings more to her shows than just the music; she brings the passion of her activism, her clear-sightedness and her moral and creative fearlessness.

The innovator held responsible for Brit pop – Noel Gallagher, in solo mode with his outfit High Flying Birds. And Rhiannon Giddens, with a voice so remarkable that when I played her CD in the car I couldn’t get out until it was finished.

There’s the chilled grooves of UB40, the five-times Grammy winner Kendrick Lamar, and of course Tom Jones. How can you not want to be part of the Jones experience? That man knows how to deliver a show! It’s not unusual, it’s Bluesfest 2016.

– Mandy Nolan, Echo entertainment editor

See the special edition Bluesfest 2016 liftout here

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