Byron Bay Bluesfest 2022

Byron Events Farm, Tyagarah NSW
April 14 – 18, 2022

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With the country’s biggest music gathering apparently expanding its line up week by week to slowly include as many of Australia’s legendary rock acts as humanly possible, it was our dedicated mission to get to Bluesfest again this year. What began back in 1990 as a festival celebrating blues and roots now caters for “blues n’ roots music and beyond” across four and a half days and the 2022 event boasted a particularly stacked and spectacular bill that was probably missing only Cold Chisel (granted, two-fifths of them were performing) and Rose Tattoo from the list of still-extant Golden Age artists making appearances. 

The first part of the odyssey was an 800km road trip in a brand new Corolla hybrid rental, during which we came to the strange realisation that despite last going to Bluesfest in 2018, we’ve only missed one since then. That, and that travelling over 700 kays on a single tank of fuel meant more money available to spend on the festival’s $10 – $12 beers.

Any hope of a reasonably early arrival that would lead to some decent pub grub somewhere in Byron was shattered by a several hours caught in a 13km traffic jam caused by the aftermath of the cops shooting a guy in Coffs, so the first night was spent sucking back a couple of tinnies in bed before succumbing to road exhaustion. 

Long queues turned out to be the order of the next day. The first full day of Bluesfest always seems to be its biggest, but adding one of the country’s most legendary bands at the top of the bill on a day that already included some of Australia’s greatest rock veterans probably pushed the festival to the absolute limit of its capacity. Swapping out the hybrid for the shuttle bus to the show at first seemed like a bad idea after waiting almost an hour to get on, but it accidentally turned out to be a good move as apparently every Midnight Oil fan in Australia was at that very moment trying to get into the Bluesfest car park. Traffic stretched back from the venue along the highway as far as the eye could see in both directions and a trip that should have been a few minutes took almost an hour.

After a couple of quick bevvies, it was time to go back to metropolis with The Church. The jangly-guitar dream-popsters have a very different composition than when I first saw them sometime back in the mid-80s but Steve Kilbey has always been able to surround himself with guns that include ex-Powderfinger slinger Ian Haug these days and the hits and favourites poured out in an unbroken stream from Metropolis and Almost With You to The Unguarded Moment. Uninvited, Like the Clouds was an appropriate statement for a weekend staked out by showery rain.

The Angels have never appeared at Bluesfest in any guise before but made up for lost time immediately, busting out a set that was nothing but one banger after the next. Because of course they did. That’s what they’ve always done, and anyone who still hasn’t come to terms with Gleeso out front now that he’s been there for 11 years just needs to get over it. He’s not Doc and he doesn’t try to be, he’s a consummate frontman leading a rock machine that seems as potent now as they were when I first saw them at that same gig where I first saw The Church over 35 years ago. Shoot it Up was a nice surprise in a set where every track either raised the roof – none more so than Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again – or brought the house down (Marseilles) or both, like Take A Long Line. I was on only my second band of the festival and it was already more than worth it. The Angels smashed it.

Tex Perkins
Tex Perkins/Brian GIffin

The Living End are also more than capable of smashing it, but over at the far-flung Delta stage something very special was about to take place as bona fide cool person Tex Perkins transformed himself and his current touring band into his award-winning Johnny Cash tribute for the occasion. Never one to muck around, Perkins strolled up to the mic dressed head to toe in black and went straight into Folsom Prison Blues, then to I Walk the Line. For someone who grew up on Cash, watching Tex Perkins channelling the Man in Black so perfectly was almost a religious experience: Sunday Morning Coming Down brought tears to the eyes, devotional songs like Were You There and The Wayfaring Stranger were wrought with a passion for Cash’s readings and the mid-set inclusions of Rusty Cage and Hurt underlined the great man’s ability as an interpreter of any great song, and Rachael Tid as June Carter is the perfect foil. If there’s anyone alive who can not only dare to do this but pull it off so flawlessly, it’s Tex Perkins, and this was a highlight of the entire weekend.

Long lines for food and drinks and then trying to find somewhere to sit and enjoy them in what is basically a quagmire ate into the time to see Hoodoo Gurus, and as such they were halfway into their set of feelgood garage rock by the time I found a spot in the main tent to the sound of My Girl. Easy going and fun, led by the ever laconic Dave Faulkner, the Gurus serve up nothing but good times. Even their more downbeat songs have huge singalong choruses that resound throughout the tent. Come Anytime and Miss Freelove 69 even get some actual dancing happening, and the sprinkling of new songs fit right in with their funky psychedelic party time rock and closing their huge set with What’s My Scene and Like Wow! Wipeout still had fans yelling for more.

It was very clear from very early on that a big percentage of today’s enormous, almost overflowing crowd were here for Midnight Oil, and it’s tough to argue with that as one of the finest live acts of any generation nears the end of their final Australian tour. For those expecting an explosive gut-punching set from the get-go however, the Oils chose for a low key opening that included the sprawling Barka-Darling River and Nobody’s Child that became a nice jam between Martin Rotsey and Jim Moginie. 

And I get it, it’s their last tour, they have new songs and they want to make a statement. For diehards and those who bought the album and devoured it the day it came out, it’s a bold start to the set. I’m going to go against the grain of popular opinion when I say that I was a bit disappointed. They weren’t bad by any means, Peter Garrett and the band are truly formidable, but I’m not sure about the slowburn opening. It would have made sense in an arena, but for some of us who’d been standing in mud for eight hours or more waiting for this band to come on, exhaustion had started to close in by now and what we really needed was some high energy hard rock. That did come, eventually, but we had to leave after Don’t Wanna Be the One to get the bus back to Byron, and they kept playing for at least another hour after that.

Day two was ushered in by the sound of brush turkeys moving around our simple hut at the backpacker lodge. Today’s agenda was more relaxed and after a swim and breakfast it was a more casual drive to the venue and what seemed like a significantly smaller crowd today as we sought out the Juke Joint stage in the much quieter northern end of the Bluesfest site. There was just time enough to grab a couple of brews and find a seat before another Byron shower hit as Nathan Cavaleri took the stage. In between searing blues workouts and personal versions of BB King, Cold Chisel and Green-era Fleetwood Mac tunes he also proves himself to be quite the raconteur thanks to being around great musicians for most of his 40 years, providing him with plenty of stories to tell. I last saw Cavaleri at the Sando ten years ago and he’s lost none of his charm or appeal, and his playing only seems to keep getting better.

Jeff Martin
Jeff Martin/Courtney Giffin

Jeff Martin is one of our favourite artists and today was the last performance of the Led Zeppelin tribute show he’s been touring on and off recently. For the next hour on the unadorned stage, Martin and his support musicians rolled out a smorgasbord of songs from the band that’s obviously influenced him more than any other, adding his own arrangements while displaying deep reverence and knowledge of the material. Whole Lotta Love was stripped back to the roots of Muddy Waters’ You Need Love and with just two guitars and a harmonica When the Levee Breaks became a huge stomp. The highlight of course was Stairway to Heaven, which weaves in and out of All Along the Watchtower to add an extra touch of awesome.

Day two done (yes, it was a short one), we ended up at The Rails in Byron where a couple of local punk bands were demolishing the beer garden.

Having learned the value of pacing oneself in one’s middle age, we intended to last out the third day even though it was a much earlier start in order to be close to the action for Rockwiz Live. The show blazes by with never a dull spot, a thoroughly enjoyable hour and a half of off-the-cuff humour and improvisation from Brian and Julia, plus some actual rock trivia and music including a song from the astonishing Grace Cummings. Those who’ve only seen this show on TV can only get an inkling of the manic energy and sense of outright fun that permeates Rockwiz in the flesh.

 

RocKwiz
RocKwiz/Bluesfest Facebook

After that, there’s time for a bit of soaking up the Bluesfest vibe, the market stalls and assorted food vendors, parents dragging wagons with toddlers in them through mud a tank couldn’t get through, the weird melange of aromas and many many people generally having an excellent time. It’s truly a festival of good vibes. 

Jon Stevens
Jon Stevens/Bluesfest Facebook

Apparently Albo is hanging out with The Waifs, but at the next stage across, Jon Stevens is delivering one of the surprise packages of the festival. His time with INXS isn’t always remembered very fondly, but Stevens is proud of it. Back then he was pushed to be too much like Hutchence, but now with his own band he can do these songs on his own terms. He comes on late, but opens with Suicide Blonde and the place goes nuts. The set alternates between INXS and Noiseworks, two beloved acts that now exist only in the memories of the crowd, every one a winner. Stevens’ voice never falters and his energy level never drops, leading the masses in Never Tear Us Apart as it become a huge, emotional singalong. Hot Chili Woman threatens to break the place. Don’t Change almost does. A sterling performance.

By now it’s dinner time and the lines for food in the main dining hall actually crisscross each other but we manage to get a couple of extremely tasty avocado burgers before heading back to the previous stage to catch Ian Moss. There’s few guitarists in any genre that stand higher in my esteem than this man and he’s leading the crowd through the chorus of My Baby as I reach the tent. Nullabor Plain lays his country rock heart bare, Never Before is searing. Broadway eases the throttle back to a sexy blues groove. A consummate performer, Mossy is affable between songs and scintillating to watch while playing and his signature piece Bow River explodes across Bluesfest like a supernova. 

Ian Moss
Ian Moss/Bluesfest Facebook

Next up is his (and everyone else’s) old mate Jimmy Barnes – prefaced by a short appearance from Albo, promising a major arts package if he’s elected next month. Once an unstoppable giant, Barnesy’s scaled back the tours over the last few years but he still delivers the goods. Less of a scream in his voice these days, it’s now a more gravelly approach that takes us into Flesh and Blood and I’d Die to Be With You Tonight to open a hit parade. Lay Down Your Guns is huge, Seven Days is huge-er and Jimmy and his band pull out the stops. Then he winds things back to duet on When Something is Wrong With My Baby with daughter Mahalia and brings Josh Teskey out for a run through The Contours’ Do You Love Me. The latter half of the set brings out the Chisel hits and welcomes Jon Stevens fresh from his barnstorming show to duet on Good Times. Another set that can hardly be faulted, and we could have gone out on a high then if it weren’t for the final act of the night.

Crowded House isn’t a band that’s celebrated too much on this site. Their music is at the polar opposite of the excess and volume we normally talk about here, but I have always loved them. The superb pop dynamics and pure song writing simplicity made them a straight up hit machine and the main tent is bursting when they stroll out and bust into Distant Sun without pause for ceremony. Very much a family affair now with Neil’s sons Liam and Elroy in the band, the chemistry was warm and jovial with plenty of jokes at Liam’s expense from his dad. EJ Barnes joined them for new track Goodnight Everyone and then her dad came out to join Neil on Mean to Me, with Jimmy showing the restraint he’s not given enough credit for. Six songs in and it was already a winner, but there was much more to come: Elroy coming out front with a snare for Four Seasons and Sister Madly, the elder Finn flubbing the set list by going into Locked Out a song early but recovering with a joke and rolling out I Got You during their encore. I’ve used the word consummate a lot here but Crowded House truly deserve it for the pure magic they brought to Bluesfest tonight. There was still another day of music to follow, but our journey ends here. It’s one everyone should make at least once.