The forecast for Easter Sunday was a wet and wild one and it was certainly that. King Cannons brought a little bit of wild to Bluesfest again with their second set of the festival. The most tattooed group at the festival, they’ve got some grit and they proved it with another rocking show that despite having a smaller audience, still delivered all the energy and power of yesterday’s. For an hour, they rocked out as though it was the biggest crowd they’d seen in their career, commanding the stage and the audience’s attention with masterful skill.
Bluesfest regular and crowd favourite, Kim Churchill, was the reason King Cannons had to be satisfied with a smaller crowd than yesterday. Having wowed audiences in previous years, he has built up a bit of a following and doesn’t have to prove anything. That being said, he still does. Churchill’s mastery of his instruments, particularly the harmonica, is a wonder to behold and when he’s playing his harmonica, guitar and drum at the same time, it’s undeniably impressive. His songs lack that extra spark that gets them stuck in your head but in the moment, they are captivating. Churchill finishes his set of by bringing a young guy out to ‘do his thing’: Didg-boxing. Didgeridoo Beatboxing doesn’t sound like a very good idea, but in this kid’s hands it is amazing. Churchill finishes his set by rocking out to the sounds of a didgeridoo, complete with kookaburra noises, made entirely from someone’s mouth. A memorable end to a solid set from a Bluesfest favourite.
The Apra Stage had some more guest appearances not long after Churchill’s set. A family affair, today’s concert by the Mason Rack Band saw Mason’s daughter, mother and fiancée all appear onstage at various times. Of course alongside all of this, Rack’s utterly distinctive gravel-ridden trawl breathed life into each track. A lot of people in the crowd had obviously seen Rack perform last year and many more seemed to have heard about his intense sets at the 2012 festival which saw them arrive onstage barely dressed and get into their stage attire, all to Dick Dale’s Misirlou (and for the end of their final set, perhaps leave with even less than they arrived in.). Today they entered in a more traditional way and just got down to rocking out.
This group is one tight unit, bassist Michael ‘Blacky’ Cole is a masterful bass player, AZA Anson holds it all together on drums whilst Rack this year showed even more what a sensational guitarist he is. Their ability to work well together is shown when the group switches instruments to see Rack pounding the drums, Anson laying down an easy beat with the bass and Cole shredding some guitar solos that almost compete with Rack himself (the boy can play!) but more than anything, it is show-ending, amazingly synchronised drumming session which impresses the crowd: All three band members rotated between two beer kegs and the drum kit’s floor Tom (which was brought down by Mason whilst being drummed on by the drummer). Beginning by just switching between the drums, it ended up with them tossing drumsticks to each other mid-beat and catching them before continuing on. A fittingly exciting ending for such a riveting group. You do not want to miss this group tomorrow.
Saskwatch hit the Mojo stage at 3:00 having performed on the Apra stage yesterday as well. Hailing from Melbourne, the soul group was determined to get everyone up and moving and they were successful. Their funky beats and the incredible voice of Nkechi Anele are a powerful combination and difficult to resist as she encourages the crowd to get on their feet. The one disappointment was that the group fails to make the most of a sublime horn section who are only really allowed to spread their wings properly once (during their massive cover of ‘Kids’ whilst the singer was offstage) and half spread them during set-closer ‘Your Love’. Still an amazing showcase of her vocals, it was just disappointing that the band was treated as little more than backing for her, rather than the excellent musicians they are in their own right.
Whoever ‘The Voice’ winner, Karise Eden’s manager is deserves a medal. Managing to avoid most of the pitfalls that affect young artists, Eden has stuck to her guns and her sound since her time on the show. Crafting a slow-build career, rather than the rapid and ultimately flawed career trajectories so many talent show singers end up with. It doesn’t hurt that she has an amazing voice that aligns very closely with Janis Joplin’s. Eden’s manager also needs to be congratulated for getting her onto the bill here at Bluesfest: the perfect venue and crowd for the young blues-soul songstress. Eden worked her way through all of the covers she became famous for on The Voice and threw in a couple of new ones, all proving that she has an amazing voice and can keep it going for a whole show. Unfortunately, Eden lacks the stage presence to match her voice, at times looking a little bit lost on the big Mojo stage. Similarly to Saskwatch, Eden would do well to let her band become more than just a backing for her voice. They are incredibly talented but were left to do little but plod through the chord progressions underneath her. Despite being very talented singers, Eden and Saskwatch would do well to spend some time watching Trombone Shorty to see how a backing band can be used to its full potential and then they might become truly awesome live acts.
Over at the Crossroads stage, Roger Hodgson played a great set that catered to the many fans present, showing his voice is as good as ever and delivering a perfect vocal performance that had the tent packed as the rain poured down outside. He received a huge amount of support from his saxophonist, Aaron MacDonald, whose onstage charisma and outstanding musical ability provided the perfect foil for Hodgson’s softly spoken style. Hodgson is no shrinking violet either, commanding attention from the start and showing how much of a smoothie he can be, schmoozing the crowd, particularly those locals who are ‘lucky sons of guns’ or living in this beautiful part of the world. Pulling in a crowd similar in size and almost in enthusiasm to yesterday’s huge Status Quo turnout, classics like ‘Take The Long Road Home’ and ‘The Logical Song’ had the crowd on their feet and in strong voice for the whole set. A fantastic show from the voice of Supertramp and one which we’ll hopefully see returning to our shores sooner rather than later. Definitely a highlight of the day.
Nicky Bomba’s Bustamento
Prior to Xavier Rudd’s set, the crowd was told to pack up their chairs to let more people in, a directive that most of the friendly Bluesfest crowd complied with. By this point the rain outside was torrential and the festival site was transformed into a boggy marsh. That was quickly forgotten though as Rudd took to the stage, kicking things off with a long instrumental jam with himself that showed the extents of his musical talent. The rain meant that half of the Mojo tent was filled with people getting out of the rain, rather than coming to see the act which meant there were a lot of loud conversations which ruined some of the vibe. For those paying attention though, it was a great set filled with many of his classic tunes. These were eclipsed though with his reworded version of Mavis Staples’ ‘My Own Eyes’, a politically charged call to arms that does justice to Staples’ original classic. Rudd is a masterful musician and a powerful wordsmith who has gone from strength to strength in recent years, let’s hope the best is yet to come!
The Lumineers drew a healthy-sized crowd to the Crossroads stage, in spite of most people staying of at Mojo to see Fat Freddy’s Drop. Those who did make the trek over were not disappointed, as the group were clearly very happy to be there and humbled by the large turnout. Singer, Wesley Schultz, delivered an element vocal performance that was definitely the highlight of their show. Filling the tent with an impressive sound, The Lumineers kept everyone in attendance happy, with their soothing tunes and singalong choruses. The crowd was particularly vocal for lead single ‘Ho Hey’, which is the pinnacle of their songwriting and hopefully a good sign of what’s to come from this exciting young band.
We had our doubts about The Cat Empire’s ability to headline a night at Bluesfest. How wrong we were. They’ve come a long way in recent years, even since their last Bluesfest appearance in 2011. The classics were mostly there, with energetic renditions of ‘How To Explain’, ‘Sly’ and ‘Til The Ocean Takes Us All’, that got the tent pumping and had everyone smiling. Felix is still the same, charismatic and with a great voice but the rest of the band has grown immeasurably from all the touring they’ve been doing. The horn section has a broader range and a more powerful sound and most impressively, trumpeter and second vocalist Harry has grown into a sensational singer. He showed his chops off throughout the set, pulling out some huge notes that had the crowd on their feet. Whilst vocally he could pull off a show on his own, he needs Felix’s stage presence to keep the crowd in tow. In tow they were, for the whole show the crowd was on their feet and dancing, as The Cat Empire ended Easter Sunday with a party in The Mojo tent.
The night ended with a surprising improvement, as the Bluesfest crew got their act together to shepherd everyone pretty quickly to the buses, eliminating the pushing in and poorly organised queues that constricted the exits so much on the festival’s previous nights. Either adding in extra buses, or just running them a lot better, the travel experience was made a lot better due to the extra staff present. Add to this the extra tent capacity opened up by the removal of chairs and from an organisational perspective, Easter Sunday became the best night of the festival. Musically it was good, though didn’t quite measure up to the lofty highs of Saturday night. Hopefully the newly improved organisation, combined with a huge international headliner in Paul Simon will make Monday the best day so far and a fitting end to a huge Bluesfest.