BLUESFEST 30 years...where you've gotta be better than good

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July 5th 2019
Published: July 6th 2019
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From the first note he grabs me by the hair...twists me in his fingers and swings me around...taking me on a journey to the heart and soul of black America...falsetto to base vocals...drums stamping...keys sharpening then caressing...the crowd joining in singing...not because we know the words but 'cos he owns us.

Fantastic Negrito is his name...his plaited mohawk in sync with his lead guitarist's a breathless chainsaw cutting the air.

Lyrics flashing images like a newsreel cranking...a train rattling...up to the summit where the altiplano is crisp and clear...mind sharp...adoration skidding every which way.

It has taken us 30 years to finally get here...always thought Bluesfest was too large...but now I know that the Dancing Duo are meant to be here.

As Skip McDonald (Little Axe) says, "Sisters and brothers ride on...ride on...ride on." Yeh!


This year Bluesfest celebrates its 30th anniversary.

Starting out in an Arts Factory in Byron Bay...developing into the East Coast Blues Festival...ultimately the colossus on land purchased up the road in 2010 at fields into a city each Easter...a well oiled clock with tympanic gears.

He takes time to travel from being a
Papa ElliottPapa ElliottPapa Elliott

Playing for Change
judge at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis to visit the Festival he created to promote the blues that has become much more.

Peter Noble is the promoter...big man in person and musician, agent, roadie, security, tour manager, first independent Aussie record company owner to win a Grammy, promoter of black American artists from jazz to blues to reggae, promoter of blues, blues & more blues...'Mr Blues & Roots' in Oz for sure.

Artist's roll call over 30 years well over a sold this year I was told was 102,000...not just one of the top festivals in the World...this is a 5 day mega event.

In Michael Smith's intro to Rhythm Magazine's Bluesfest 2019...let's hear from Peter Noble himself.

"I think among our five or six most requested artists every year are Jack Johnson, Ben Harper and Paul Kelly," he explains, "so I was pretty happy to get them. But I just have to challenge myself. I can't do the same festival twice. I've got to get a buzz out of it. If I'm going to be treading the boards, as I have been for a bloody long time, and I'm gonna keep doing it, well, I just need to find something that excites me and exhilarates me, that when it actually rolls out, people are gonna say, "Wow! This was a pretty good one."

"I'm not really in it for the money," he admits. "I'm in it for the music. That's why Bluesfest is what it is. Maybe that's what makes it a bit different.

You've got to be good to be on Bluesfest - you've got to be better than good."


We were at Deniliquin in 2013 for the first offshoot of Bluesfest that ventured into SW NSW to capture Victorian crowds...Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Miller Band, Jimmy Cliff, Tony Joe White, Jason Mraz, Zac Brown Band, Jeff Achison & Chris Wilson, Chris Isaaks, Status Quo...the list goes on.

We danced 16 years at the Great Southern Blues Festival at Narooma, NSW, down the Blues Highway in a Cadillac, Memphis, Clarksdale, New Orleans, the Legendary Blues Cruise in the Caribbean, Womadelaide, the Festival of the Desert at Timbuktu...countless other gigs and blues festivals grooving to the greats such as Led Zeppelin, Rory Gallagher, BB King, Buddy Guy, Wolf Mail & Popa Chubby.

Saw Samantha Fish, Larkin Poe and Playing for Change were in the lineup so this year we decided to come.

"You've gotta be better than good" ringing in my ears.

Booked a mobile home for 11 days...10 hour drive from Sydney arriving midday Thursday...lining up with other RVs on a mown green lawn...neighbours mainly virgins among them...immediately feeling at home.

Many bands...5 stages over 5 days & nights...doing my head in trying to work out how many we can fit in...gotta get into it...doing my head in...gotta get into it.

Playing for Change, Samantha Fish, Larkin Poe, Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals, The War & Treaty, Nahko & Medicine for the People, Mavis Staples, Ruthie Foster, Gary Clark Jnr, Fantastic Negrito, Tash Sultana, Shakey Graves, Mojo Juju, Marcus King Band, Deva Mahal, Kurt Vile & the Violators, St Paul & the Broken Bones, The Black Sorrows, Russell Morris, The Backsliders, Jack Johnson, Kasey Chambers, Colin Hay, Tommy Emmanuel, Yothu Yindi, Archie Roach, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Keb Mo, Clarence Bekker, Imelda May, Anderson East, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, The California Honeydrops, David Gray, Miss Velvet & the Blue Wolf, Tex Perkins & the Fat Rubber Band, Little Georgia, Melody Angel, The Saboteurs, Ray LaMontagne, Vintage Trouble, Lukas Nelson & the Promise of Real, Arlo Guthrie & Iggy Pop...spoilt for choice

And that's only our shortlist...mmmm.


Day One Thursday

Rivers of punters like ants to a hive...volunteers herding us keep left...swarming awaiting the signal to enter...bags checked...nice the police had a presence but were not intrusive...spreading over the festival area dreaming of who and when.

My 'Playing for Change' thread in Travelblog's World Music Forum a must see...musicians from around the World that believe music gives peace a chance...the Italian stallion Roberto Luti on lead guitar...Clarence Bekker lead heart beating as loud as the percussion is bound to be...the expectant vibe like the buzzing of bees.

I'd picked up "If All I Was Was Black" CD and played it to death so Mavis Staples had to be next...sharing her marches with Martin Luther King...Rick Holmstrom on lead guitar and Donny Gerrard on support vocals..spellbinding and ass-kicking an more joyful sound than this blues great swinging.

Grooved to her raunchy blues in the Caribbean, chatted to her in a lift, have her "Wild at Heart" CD that Dangerous Dave & MJ got me with the message "To Dancing Dave from Australia, love from Samantha"...time to renew the lovefest...Samantha Fish has gotta be next. Her first trip to Oz...hope she remembers me...four gigs here so as her song "I'm in Love with you" ringing in my ears!

Heard he's won the Grammy for the Best Blues Album for 2017 and 2018 so Fantastic Negrito is next...front oh man...grabs me by the hair and swings me about. My number One pick of the 30th Bluesfest...his "Please Don't Be Dead" CD can't keep out of my head.

Had to hold my position and get into Marcus King guitar young gun...skilful fingers and voice of an angel. Big man take no breath but fingers dancing about. Definitely a rising star.

Day Two Friday

Friday is Friend's Day...getting to know our neighbours...and what an entertaining lot they are.

Sky sparkling blue with pillows of clouds...every now and then bucketing down then clearing like an eyebrow enquiring.

When you feel sprinkles you learn fast that it ain't time to get to the next's a sign to run for cover...rivers like burst fire hydrants. But the venue is so well planned the rivers become defined watercourses. Explains why "Bring gumboots" was on top of What to Bring" lists.

Cameron & Roz from Brisbane to our left...lending us a tarp, ropes, poles, can opener that the RV should have included but did not. Mornings with this couple were always a delight.

Greeny from Darwin & Cait from Canberra in their matching outfits in the RV behind...the ultimate party animals...always ready for a selfie and a laugh. Cait has just advised they won the Instagram Competition and won free tix for next year!

Steve & Karyn from Brisbane (ex NZ) with their kids opposite us...Steve shirt off displaying his Maori & South Pacific tribal tattoos 'cos they have meaning to ex-roadie for BB KIng, U2, Bo Diddley & Jerry Lee Lewis.

Darren & Jenny from Mackay next to them...regulars at Bluesfest so super knowledgeable.

Mick & Kerry bringing Central Qld & Mackay to our right.

Also behind us was Ashley from New Caledonia...playing guitar and chewing the fat with knowledge of blues & World Music like kin from a previous life.

We near the South Gate but beyond the North Gate was the camp of my auditor Stephanie (ran into her at John Mayall gig years ago), encouraged us to come to Bluesfest and her husband David. Yarns and gigs renewing friendships.

Always down the front at the end of every gig was a guy begging for lead guitarist picks...the Brazilian effervescent Bruno...had 151 picks at one stage I recall. Like a long lost friend whenever we saw each other. His Aurora Borealis the best such photo I've ever seen.

In the VIP tent where we often escaped from the rain or feet up 'cos gigging is tiring...we met Leon & Kelly from Perth and formed a delightful connection. Hope they travel to some of those magical destinations we talked about...farewells as they racing to The Saboteurs and we to George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic.

With 102,000 tickets sold, no excuse for not saying "Hi" to music lovers from around the globe.

Travelblog is the World's Friendliest Travel Site.

I reckon Bluesfest is the World's Friendliest Music Festival.

The secret is not just the music...but the people you meet.


Into the small Juke/Corroboree Tent for Brotherhood of the Blues. What a pleasant surprise...about 10 or so from Lismore (near Byron Bay) with three handicapped guys up front on vocals and a sizzling array of guitarists, harp, keys & drums that blew my breath away. Only one of the front guys had a decent voice but with raw original blues and superb musicianship it really worked.

Melody Angel in her super tight leather pants...another rising star in the Hendrix mode...jumping at the end of some tracks...punters begging I forward those photos to them.

Ruthie Foster from Austin Texas with her engaging smile and beautiful voice.

Had to hurry 'cos I want a good position for St Paul & The Broken Bones. Had one track on a Blues & Roots CD that I often play in my office, "All I ever wonder", so near the front centre waiting as the crowd streams in. Paul Janeway on vocals that creep, crawl, soar and growl as he twists, turns, writhes and hides in a black feathered cape...mesmerising...the guitarists, brass and the drummer with the wildest hair ensuring this is not just a performance but an orgasmic event.

The crowds after that were like a Beijing or New York Subway...massive.

Tried Hosier from Ireland in the Crossroads but the crush was too much so we escaped and wandered with the other 100,000 also about.

Used the time to buy 20 CDs of my favourite artists at the Festival...reckon I did alright.

Day Three Saturday

Relaxing with new friends enjoying the day...then 5 hours standing in the Delta Tent commencing at 3:45.

Picked up front row right...a railing to lean on as this will be immense.

Catching the end of Caiti Baker's set...Greeny said she'd be good.

Discovered the Lovell sisters Megan & Rebecca when laying down Travelblog's 'Blues, blues & more blues'...The week of the Letter "L" (I'm the Music guy) of the reasons we're here...and here they come...Larkin Poe...worth the expectation I gotta say. Rebecca on lead and vocals and Megan on slide fronting a bass and drums that brought smiles of brilliant blues and joy to the stage...confirming that the young guns coming through will ensure great blues not only continues but endures.

Samantha Fish's third set at Bluesfest and I enjoyed it even more than Thursday night's...maybe she saw me in the front row...or maybe as the consummate professional she always plays with flair.

Different crowd for the next one. When we saw Keb Mo in the Caribbean he was with his as solo with steel and acoustic guitars...a voice that takes you places...a performer who always oozes class.

Testing on our feet in one spot for hours but when Fantastic Negrito cranks it up for the next set...all hints of fatigue lost as he carries us away. Sometimes ya gotta see a gig more than once...sometimes even more than that.

Wanted to see Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals at 10pm in the Mojo but not wanting the crush. Saw Ben Harper last year with Charlie Musselwhite at the Sydney Opera into one of the eating venues for feet up and a feed...letting the previous 5 hours of gigs sink in.

Festivals are to be enjoyed...not endured.

Day four Sunday

No better way to start the day than Yothu Yindi...the indigenous band that following their collaboration and touring USA with Midnight Oil and their hit "Treaty" took over the world in the 1980s with their fusion of rock, indigenous sounds and dance. Dr Yunupingu and Gurrimul may have passed on but some of the original band and children and friends carry it into the next generation. This was not just a gig but a celebration...the Torres Strait and South Pacific dance groups joining them on stage for "Tribal Voice" and "Treaty" that brought the house down.

5 Cruel Sea and 2 Dark Horses CDs meant Tex had to be next...Tex Perkins & the Fat Rubber Band the dream enjoying the cream.

Couldn't get into Mojo to see him on Friday so made sure we get a good position for Gary Clark Jr tonight...expecting hot blues but it was anything but. Young punters screaming each time he played extended riffs but for old rockers who have seen screaming blues from the greats, this gig was rather passé. Gary seemed either bored or disinterested so rather pleased I could catch the end of Larkin Poe's joyful gig in the Juke Joint.

Front row for The Backsliders...a 20 year old drummer next to me who regards Rob Hirst as his mentor...chatting to the converted as I regard Rob Hirst (ex Midnight Oil) as the best drummer in at Bluesfest also. With Mr Blues Dom Turner on guitar & Ian Collard on harmonica these guys conjure up a storm...a storm I am happy to soak in.

Day Five Monday

With the crowds thinning this is the day to cruise and enthuse.

So Brotherhood of the Blues for a feel good start.

Then some of the best voices at Bluesfest...Mojo JuJu...her Native Tongue CD one of the picks and the title song and her in spades.

Deva Mahal...daughter of the great Taj Mahal...carving her path so different from her Dad's but hey...gotta be great genes...'cos with her voice she's got it.

As Leon, Kelly & Bruno set off in other directions we set off to relive my old Parliament LP...the line "Chocolate City and the Vanilla Suburbs"...yep George Clinton Parliament Funkadelic in the Jambalaya.

No better way of closing Bluesfest...dancing for two & a half hours...rocking til we dropped..."Give me some Funk"...still ringing in our ears.

See ya next year.

Relax & Enjoy,

Dancing Dave

Panorama Slideshow at the top of Page One & four pages of photos

Additional photos below
Photos: 84, Displayed: 32


Megan LovellMegan Lovell
Megan Lovell

Larkin Poe
Rebecca LovellRebecca Lovell
Rebecca Lovell

Larkin Poe
Rob HirstRob Hirst
Rob Hirst

Dom TurnerDom Turner
Dom Turner

Clarence BekkerClarence Bekker
Clarence Bekker

Playing for Change

6th July 2019

Blues Fest
Good friends of ours drive up from Melbourne to this every year. We’re thinking of joining them next year, so if we do, and you’re a regular, we should try to meet!
6th July 2019

Blues Fest
We already have our tickets for 2020 so I guess we're locked in Dave. How good is that Fantastic Negrito video? Just a taste of what was on this year. Lookin' forward to seeing you there next year!
6th July 2019

Into the Blue Yonder
What can I say have obviously been in “Blues” heaven . It would be worth the drive from Sydney . Keep enjoying your music and having fun travels,
7th July 2019

Into the Blue Yonder
Thanks Lynne. I picture you in your English cottage re-living the dream of your recent Oceania holiday and maybe wishing you could visit the beaches of Byron Bay and listen to a bit of heavenly music to while away your day.
7th July 2019

A passion never dies
Time and again, Dancing Dave has gifted us with his experience of everlasting romance with the music world. Even people like me who are deprived of this fantastic music world, gets amazed to see Dave's passion for the same. Dave, you have reflected that thirst once again in Bluesfest blog. Splendid! Touch of class!
7th July 2019

A passion never dies
Thanks Tab. Even in your Canada...even probably within reach of your hometown of Calgary...there are music festivals that will open your eyes and lift your soul. I hope to hear of your ventures into such music worlds and the joy it gives.
9th July 2019

30 Years!!
When you do something well it will last. I can hear the beat and feel the the moves. Dance, dance, dance, dancing MAN. Musical legends all come together. So glad you shared this with us.
10th July 2019

30 Years!!
I take it this comment is from you MJ...or is it from Dangerous Dave?. We agreed to meet at a music festival somewhere in the World and you invited us to the Legendary Blues Cruise in the Caribbean which was in your backyard but required we travel to the other side of the planet. Yet it took us 30 years to get to our own Bluesfest. Fortunately three bands came to our shores and decreed we could wait no longer!
9th July 2019
Larkin Poe

Rocking On
10th July 2019
Larkin Poe

Rocking On
Rebecca & Megan Lovell from Larkin Poe...the most joyful gig at Bluesfest...impossible to not bring a massive smile to ones face!
10th July 2019

Once again your ‘faces’ are beautiful. I have not been a follower of the blues genre, but I do enjoy listening to any live music. Unfortunately, the nearest band is likely about 1000 on to the south. I am beginning to understand why you’re called ‘Dancing Dave’ I will listen to the wind and dance on the plateau.
10th July 2019

The nearest band may be likely about 1000 on to the south Dave, but I'm sure the Arctic winds sing and you get carried away by their tunes. May the Fantastic Negrito video in my blog take you to the streets of Oakland and give you a taste of the diversity that the many faces at Bluesfest may bring.
13th July 2019
Yothu Yindi

Haven't heard that name in many years
Yothu Yindi is a name I haven't heard in many years. I think I might have a record with them somewhere. I think I can across their music when I listened to Midnight Oil. Your blog post made me look on youtube for their music. /Ake
14th July 2019
Yothu Yindi

Haven't heard that name in many years
Ah Ake...Yothu Yindi and Midnight Oil are known in Sweden...warms my heart. We heard Midnight Oil in a taxi in Buenos Aires and of course live in Oz. We first saw Yothu Yindi when their song "Treaty" was Number 1. Their mix of didgeridoo and rock blew us away. Then again at Bluesfest 2019...still blowing us away. Hope Youtube brings back happy memories and also blows you away.

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