From King Kunta to Delilah Bluesfest nails it again
The opening night of Bluesfest had a very different energy in 2016. Historically the quietest of the five days, favoured by locals looking to enjoy some pre-tourist vibes and Grey Nomads keen to annex and tarp a slice of earth, this year saw the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm swarmed with punters on Holy Thursday. Younger, louder and just that little bit more enthusiastic, the new wave of attendees was accounted for in two words; Kendrick Lamar.
Many were shocked to see the Compton superstar and oft-dubbed ‘greatest rapper in the world’ billed on a festival more associated with camp chairs and hall-of-famers. Yet Bluesfest regulars, a club I’ve unexpectedly become a member of since 2013, immediately saw the logic. First, there is the undeniable Bluesy dip Kendrick made with 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Secondly, the absolute sonic precision with which Bluesfest handle live music make it the perfect arena for a world beating artist.
As my wrist was banded with this year’s plastic passport, I had a feeling this might be the best gig of my life.
I was right.
In a 90 minute masterclass, Kendrick’s flowing poetry pierced through the beaming audio walls his stripped back band produced. Yet the crowd proved his main instrument, spitting full verses, bouncing in unison and hitting each chorus as though channelling divinity. As the chant ‘We Gonna Be Alright’ flooded the Mojo tent to sing in the final track, it felt like one of those rare moments when a performer transcends pop culture to become something bigger; an embodiment of the Zeitgeist.
With the Kendrick anticipation well and truly satisfied, there was still four days of festival to soak up. And what a damn fine festival it was. With the fundamentals of sound, traffic and infrastructure all executed to perfection, the beautiful soul of Bluesfest shines bright. We dined in the countless restaurants and floated amongst the hypnotic soundscapes, often more blown away by unknowns than living legends. There’s a consistent theme of musicianship and community that is irresistible; it’s a beautiful Bluesfest trope for singers to introduce their entire band, each offering a mind melting solo to emphasise the signature sound they contribute to the mix.
As my legs grow older and my tolerance thinner, Bluesfest feels like a party lifestyle I can sustain (and indeed many have for nearly three decades). It’s truly rare to congregate with tens of thousands and experience no hardship or animosity, yet somehow the Bluesfest team have curated a culture where love of music and respect for one another reign supreme.
Closing the stage that Kendrick had graced five days earlier, Tom Jones belted out a stunning rendition of Delilah (which I learned is actually a haunting murder ballad about stabbing his adulterous lover). With tired lungs, I yelled, ‘Why, Why, Why, Delilah!’ and marvelled at what a majestic experience the past days had been.
See you next year, Bluesfest.