Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 May-Jun Contents Rhythms 51
Even if you only turned up to this year’s Bluesfest for a
few hours on the evening of the closing day – for less than
a tenth of the festival’s five-day span, say – you could have
experienced a substantial dose of the most significant
contributions to the history of Western music.
From Brian Wilson and band – stacking their set with a
roof raising selection of some of the biggest hits of the last
century alongside a full run through the ground-breaking
Pet Sounds album; to Tom Jones – spanning the history
of roots and rock music with interpretations from his
Long Lost Suitcase album from Hank Williams to Gillian
Welch (their version of ‘Elvis Presley Blues’ worth the
price of admission alone) alongside updated versions
of consequential milestones like ‘Delilah’ and ‘It’s Not
Unusual’; to Jason Isbell – one of the world’s most talented
contemporary songwriters pouring his guts out on stage; to
the Blues Brothers Band, handpicking from the greatest soul
and blues compositions – all in the space of, what, five hours!
Though this year’s line-up was peppered with favourite
Bluesfest alumni, I like the fact that there were some
significant risks taken. Curiosity was everywhere, most of us
not even quite sure what to expect from Jones and Wilson.
With the Indigenous Boomerang program given a space in
Bluesfest for the first time, it was certainly gratifying, and
poignant to hear ancient Indigenous rhythms and chants
ringing through the festival site, just as they might have
long before we new inhabitants invaded the place. And the
dancing circle hosted some of the most spirited dancing of
the entire event.
With the Thursday night hip hop/urban experiment
drawing a whole new audience to the festival, one act that
admirably spanned the contemporary and the traditional
was the amazing Kamasi Washington, a young LA jazz giant
who has all the training and lyrical tone of forebears like
Cannonball Adderly, Charlie Parker, even Lester Young, but
also a panoramic musical vision that was utterly compelling.
Another youngster set for a long-term Bluesfest affair
is Lukas Nelson, son of Willie – a born entertainer with
sizzling guitar chops. St Paul & The Broken Bones is another
artist you can bank on returning to Bluesfest.
Virtually unheard of in this country prior to this trip,
Paul Janeway’s voice and stage performances were on
everybody’s lips at the festival this year.
Of the batch of indie rock bands recruited for this year’s
Bluesfest, I thought The Decemberists and City and Colour
shone brightest, the former with a strong character and
great songs, the latter with lots of sonic space and sensitivity
(a rare thing at a festival).
Graham Nash arrived with a new album in hand and,
unfortunately, much of the new material is redolent with
sentimental nostalgia with giveaway titles such as ‘Golden
Days’ (that’s a subjective observation). But Nash is such
a likeable persona and his guitarist/producer, Shane
Fontayne, so skilled that you can forgive the soppy lyrics,
especially when punctuated with songs like the unaffected
Shane Fontayne also played in Jackson Browne’s band
alongside guitar god Greg Leisz. This resulted in some
of the most tasteful guitar playing of the whole festival,
and the sound was astonishingly clear (the sound quality
throughout the entire festival was notably improved this
year, but especially on the Crossroads stage where it
sometimes approached concert hall quality). Browne’s set
closing ‘Running On Empty’ and ‘Take It Easy’ brought
the house down.
Having been front row for all of Brian Wilson’s “comeback”
tours over the past decade or so, I wasn’t over excited
about seeing the Pet Sounds show yet again. But this
was a different band and a different set with Beach Boys
members Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin on board.
Though Wilson is still fragile, he performed without flaw in
a set that was a rousing celebration of some of the greatest
pop music every conjured.
You consider the immense impact that Wilson and Tom
Jones have had on the world... it’s very nearly Beatles level
(and it’s not like they’re ever going to play Bluesfest) so
I for one am eternally grateful for being granted such a
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