Jackson Browne dropping a cover of The Eagles' 'Take It Easy'? Classic Bluesfest. Kendrick Lamar echoing across Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm with "This. Dick. Ain't. Freeeeeeeee."? New Wave Bluesfest.
Bringing over 200 performances to seven stages over five 12-hour days, Bluesfest returned to the hallowed, well-gumbooted grounds of Tyagarah just out of Byron Bay over the Easter weekend. This outrageously-loved festival brought in its 2016 chapter with one of its most eclectic lineups yet (but importantly, brought back the festival's renowned yearly menu of fish tacos, Yemen rolls and organic doughnuts). From Celtic voodoo to pre-WWII 'minstrel blues', Icelandic indie folk to truly avant garde performance art rock, this year's festival took the genre-spanning game next-level.
Kicking off the first night, Kendrick Lamar drew one of the most dominantly Young Person crowds of the festival. Following widely praised shows in Melbourne and Sydney, the 'King Kunta' gamechanger brought his wildly eloquent unpacking of race and identity to the festival's opening night — from 'Backseat Freestyle' to 'Alright'. Lamar gave ups to fellow festival headliner and R&B legend D'Angelo, who, helped the Bluesfest crowd find new hinges in their pelvises with his two highly seductive sets — even though multiple reports from Thursday's set saw Kendrick fans actually booing the R&B icon. Really. Booing D'Angelo. Kids today.
Big favourites Tedeschi Trucks Band and Grammy award-winning, face-melting multi-instrumentalist Grace Potter made most Bluesfesters highlight lists, alongside a swathe of relative newcomers to many Aussie ears. Jerron"Blind Boy" Paxton had the festival well abuzz, the twenty-something multi-instrumentalist specialising in '20s and '30s blues a la Fats Waller and "Blind" Lemon Jefferson. Our jaws are still on the floor in the Delta tent after seeing San Francisco's super fun outfit Con Brio, lead by the unforgettable Ziek McCarter — the lovechild of Michael Jackson and Bruno Mars with better abs.
Punters stood open-mouthed and wonderfully freaked out watching legendary avant garde experimental art rock collective The Residents. We raised plastic cups to Mojo Juju's "love song to Newcastle", attempted terribly to sing along Nai Palm-style with Melbourne's Hiatus Kaiyote, madly Googled 'Shooglenifty' and generally flailed around in bona fide Dad Dancing style to Mick Fleetwood. Big ups have to be paid to Friday night's heart-in-mouth set from The National, ending with frontman Bryce Dessner genuinely gobsmacked by one heck of an emotional, to-the-syllable singalong.
Bluesfest delivered yet another feelgood, like-clockwork festival, nabbing only one and a half days of downpour and less mud than usual. More than one artist, including the legendary Jackson Browne, called it "the best festival in the world". With police happy, punters happy, sleeping kids in wheelbarrows happy and artists happy, we reckon that calls for another organic doughnut.