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BluesFest; A Trio of Delights

So the day started off rather less than perfect – covert camping involves early rises, something I’m not the best at!

It then got worse with the fact that Woolworths was closed due to it being Good Friday.


But then it started to come round when I caught an impromptu acoustic set from Donovan Frankenreiter in Byrons Billabong store. It was only a small crowd (of around 30) but Donovan busted out a beautiful rendition of “Free” amongst a few others.

Then it was off to the festival, where I checked in to the media tent for a much needed coffee!

The set of the day was another by ALO. They play alot of gigs in California to the same(ish) crowds so have become adapt at evolving songs and offering crowds different angles on them. Today was no exception – some songs from the previous nights set were reworked to create a whole new experience, and although their slot was somewhat shortened they even popped in some extra songs.

My second point of call was another return on the previous days action – Ozomatli.

Having been gutted at missing alot of their set the night before I was eager to catch more of their material. Again this repetition was no let down and they came onstage with the same energy and result they had before. The crowd (albeit somewhat smaller than last night) was soon pulsating to the mix of blues and rock – cementing my decision to stock my iPhone with some of their tunes!

The afternoon slots left me with some free time as there wasn’t many people I wanted to personally shoot. So I hit the beer tent for a few cold ones and wandered around the arenas, waiting for something to catch my eye.

Then I spotted the crowd piling out of the Apra stage – signalling the end of a set. It’s the smallest of the Bluesfest stages and I’m all for sampling the less known acts at festivals so I thought I’d get right to the front and see what treats were about to be offered up.

What I’d stumbled upon was Hat Fritz (who I later discovered was a veteran of Bluesfest circuit, having performed for the last 14 years!) an old times blues musician and fellow musician Cara.

On first appearances it looked like an odd combination, the raw bearded manliness of Fritz and the petite, sexy Irishness of Cara.

What evolved during the set was something I could never expect. Cara had an immensly soulful voice on her whilst skillfully handling a variety of instruments – from drums to washboards and bells! Fritz on the other hand had a friendly charismatic stage presence which was only superseeded by his incredible guitar skills and deep blues vocals.

For me the set epitomized what Bluesfest should be, two well connected musicians with a style and sound that would easily be suited in a smoke filled, wooden bar full of hard laborers and people drinking away their sorrows – the birth place of the blues genre.

My penultimate act of the night was Jeff Beck, I’ll be honest with you now, I haven’t really heard of him and simply reeled off a few shots for my Dad!

The finale of Friday night was a home grown Australian independant band – The John Butler Trio [JBT].

Having only discovered them since coming to Oz I had a limited knowledge of the band and only knew a handful of songs that were chucked on my iPhone by a room mate in Sydney over the new year.

Even though my selection of songs were few (around about 10 tracks) they had quickly found a firm place in my roadtrip playlist and have been heavily played on my East Coast trip – it’s safe to say that since my first listening of “Used to Get High” I’ve been hooked (excuse the slight pun…it was unintentional!) and have passed on my stoke for this band to people I’ve met along the way and to my little bro and mates back in the UK.

I also found out since being at the festival that the original trio have recently split after 10 years, and that the drummer and bassist (who were session musicians) have been replaced within the last few months, in fact the JBT’s new drummer (Nicky Bomba) is Johns brother in law!

A new line up had me intrigued (given their lack of live sessions together) over how well the set would go, would the chemistry on stage match that of the album music?

I had little to be worried about, as after a long wait (JBT got caught up in a nightmare of travel problems getting here) they launched in to their set and oozed the chemistry that is rarely seen in a reordered band.

The crowd obviously had the same thoughts as they went wild for some old Trio hits and likewise on the newer material. At no point was there any hint of newness within the group, it was flawless.

If you haven’t heard any JBT I can guarantee that their melodic and groove based tuneage will have you wanting more – which is great considering they have just launched a new album!

True to form and reputation front man John used his platform to deliver messages of discontent with how Australia has evolved (he seems to have a distinct affection for the Aboriginal roots of his homeland) and his feelings towards the superpowers of the world.

But his words aren’t of a rifle bearing, preaching revolutionary. They are subtle and poetic, conveyed in a way that informs and educates but ultimately entertains, held strong by Johns guitar riffs and his supporting artists. At some point John simply let the guitar do the talking – no vocals, no support, just one man in the spotlight, seated and pouring his soul out through the amps.

New members Bomba (drums) and Byron Luiter (bass) seemed keen to prove themselves to the crowd – with Bomba launching into drum solos which can only be described as epic. I haven’t witnessed many drum solos on such scale. He can hold the song together but seems equally at home leading the pack, something which I have no doubt may filter into the Trio sound.

The finale of the set started with Luiters bass solo, the crowd were hooked in with the deep groove before Butler appeared on set and joined in with Bombas drum backing. Then Luiter downed his instrument and joined Butler.

What then evolved over the next 10 minutes was a group of 3 friends, 3 musicians, spurred on by the crowds energy and having a jam session.

In my mind that solidified JBT as a group which can only go from strength to strength over the coming years – something which should ultimately find their success worldwide begin to snowball.

A fitting end to a day of new finds, old school blues and amazing talent.