By Kerrie Hickin.
Photos by Christina Jasmine.
Bluesfest 2017 days 2 & 3 – Friday and Saturday
By now one should have sussed out all the important logistics of a festival: where the toilets are, the optimum time to get food to avoid queues as much as possible, and until hyperspace jumps become a reality, the quickest walking route between for example Stage A and Stage E for a smooth transition. It’s also a good time to wander about without a plan, allowing fate to show you things, or to lie on the grass watching the literal stars come out. However you spend your time there’s sure to be a great soundtrack, so let’s check out some highlights.
Friday early afternoon, festival director Peter Noble welcomed some elders and representatives of the Arakwal people, of the Bundjalung nation, honouring them, as he notes, as we are guests. This was followed by a short performance of traditional dance and song, symbolically cleansing the earth and greeting the morning tide.
Eric Gales has been touted, by more than one source, as the best guitarist in the world. He learned guitar as a child from a left-handed brother, and has maintained this unorthodox style using parts of the brain you and I haven’t even thought of yet. “I’m going to play my ass off for you,” he stated at the top of the set, and proceeded to do just that. I felt very privileged to fluke a spot close to the stage, so his flashing fingers and creative brilliance could be observed at close range.
Gregory Porter‘s rich, engaging voice has set him on a course to better recognition. He has a warmth of presence that is really endearing, with a smile that lights up his whole face and seems to actually radiate love – the physical reaction of the listener is sometimes akin to that feeling, with Porter’s spine-tingling powerful voice making the hairs on your arms stand up and take notice too. Lou Rawls, Al Jarreau, Bill Withers and Barry White know what I’m talking about, and Porter can stand tall in good vocal company with them. His classy version of the Adderleys’ oft-covered classic ‘Work Song’ – breaking rocks on the chain gang – is alone worth the price of admission, with the individual instrumentalists in his band taking turns to shine, particularly a rather excellent drummer.
Witnessing Vintage Trouble‘s high-energy exciting hybrid of rock and soul performance feels like an exhilarating rush of a tidal wave. Sharp-dressed man vocalist Ty Taylor holds court in his thrall with his showmanship and style, impressively suited and booted like a modern-day Otis Redding or Sam And Dave. With his ‘vintage’ microphone in hand, he is alternately seducing and stirring up the audience in front of the band ripping it up, creating a sound-and-vision portmanteau that sits organically without stylistic clashing: “Yes, we CAN party together!” The kinetic action of Taylor’s moves seem as natural as breathing. If you love The Dirtbombs, Mitch Ryder or The BellRays, check out Vintage Trouble.
Smouldering vocalist Beth Hart is a revelation. She seems like a lady who is more than just a little familiar with the dark side of love and desire, and channels this energy like an expert lion-tamer, cooing and soaring, exposing the tender soul of a song as if it was the first time ever it was flowing from the emotional wellspring. Her jaw-dropping, stirring version of ‘I Would Rather Go Blind’ wrings every iota of passion and emotion from the familiar song, taking it to even deeper territory.
The ‘wow-factor’ was also present for dynamic guitarist Davy Knowles and his band. Influenced by the technique of greats Rory Gallagher and Eric Clapton, the accessible blues-rock workouts can likewise recall Led Zeppelin’s tour de force ‘Dazed And Confused’, in being equally at home drawing from blues tradition and revved-up timeless rock and roll.
‘Nostalgia’ acts (or as they’re more kindly termed these days, ‘heritage’ acts) can sometimes be an iffy proposition: do they still have the chops to carry it off, or are they coasting on goodwill? Well, within the first few bars of The Doobie Brothers taking the stage, any doubts were swept away. Here’s power, musical skill, impeccable tight multi-vocal harmonies, and forty-plus years’ worth of hit-after-hits (even the not-so-hits SOUND like hits), all played with a knowing smile. West-coast rock? Yacht rock? Dad rock? Who cares; even the most world-weary cynic would have to agree, they sounded GREAT. Vocals are swapped and shared among the members: the apocryphal Mr and Mrs Doobie have birthed many talented sons over the years, with original and longstanding Doobies Pat Simmons, Tom Johnston and multi-instrumentalist John McFee in fine form (though it be duly noted for the pedants, no Michael McDonald among their number on this occasion).
So let’s count ’em down: ‘Listen To The Music’, ‘Rockin’ Down The Highway’, ‘Take Me In Your Arms Rock Me’, ‘Jesus Is Just Alright’, ‘China Grove’, ‘Long Train Runnin’,’ (with the memorable refrain “Without love, where would you be now”), a call to unity declaring “You don’t know me but I’m your brother” in ‘Takin’ It To The Streets’, and one of my personal favourites, ‘Black Water’, articulating the feeling of personal freedom with “I ain’t got no worries, ’cause I ain’t in no hurry at all”.
It’s a joyous, exuberant feeling alright, and the Doobie Brothers have spent an hour or so sharing that with us, the audience. As they rightly propound, “Music is the doctor”, and even in the face of our constant buzz of underlying societal anxiety, we’re all feeling much better after a consultation with the specialists.