Bluesfest 2023 Day One

Michelle East
7th Apr 2023

Day One, Five days' value already in the bank

The weather gods are smiling. Repaying those who arrived on Wednesday with two days of glorious sunshine. Sparkling clear surf and a relaxed vibe about town. A full moon rising and local buskers to entertain the early arrivals.

Day one arrives full of anticipation.  Bluesfest over-delivered for 33 years straight, can they keep the magic rolling? Sure, there were some disappointments in the lead up to this year. Last minute Covid casualty: Elvis Costello & The Imposters. The Black Sorrows out due to injury. Fans will have to wait until next year, so not all bad news.  

The shuttle buses had no more than 15 minutes to wait. It is always a smaller but passionate crowd of 5 day pass-holders on day one. For 3 day and day pass-holders some new features to report.  Tap & go payment on the shuttle is a vast improvement. No longer need to find those quaint coloured rectangles called banknotes to pay the driver. Now it's tap & go on arrival at Bluesfest. $10 per trip is a large increase but on reflection $5 was artificially low for many years.  I barely had to break my stride to get through banding.  A warm welcome from the attendants scanning tickets. Nice touch, they addressed everyone by their first name. Straight through bag check. A shock to see the Jambalaya stage gone. New tables didn’t disguise the emptiness and pang in my heart as a lot of good times have been had in this space. Bluesfest’s investment in engineering works for the inevitable rain is on show. Thankfully not tested, yet. The whole area around Crossroads is now gravelled, putting an end to the field of mud. Toilets are now sanitation facilities and unisex. Solving the women’s queue and any trans-angst in one neat move. Banks of facilities are everywhere. Free water filling stations and it seems like more bars or just better positioned. All the good food vendors have returned and new ones to try out. Lockers $20 per day or $90 for the fest so if you have high everyday carry needs, you are sorted.  Day one, Bluesfest easily retains its crown as the best organised festival.

Music, we are here for the music. My plan to do a three song sample of each act abandoned at the Crossroads with St Paul & The Broken Bones. No strangers to Bluesfest audiences, they held an overflowing Crossroads captive. Bouncing and hollering in delight.  Absence has made our hearts grow fonder, the band stronger. We are again in love with their infectious Alabama soul. Damn, all band members were on fire! 

Dropped by Greensky Bluegrass still on a high from St Paul but the drop in intensity was too much. Some endearing goofy out of time dancing and modern take on bluegrass warrants a second look.  Southern Avenue was killing it with a Tom Jones cover as I walked past,  giving them a tick on the app to see later. Onto LP at Mojo.  Wow, all I can say. All the hype was under-hyped. All class, captivating performance. I'm definitely seeing her second set. 

KALEO didn't capture me the same way he captured the mostly female audience in Mojo.  The languid delivery underwhelmed straight after the two hyper engaging performances. Three songs and I was out seeking my next fix.  

I expected to find all the blokes of a certain age at Crossroads for The Angels.  Very much everyone of all ages shouting out the words, having the time of their lives. Including me, and I'm not a fan. They worked hard, played fast, and the crowd loved them for it. Favourite moments:  the Brewster solos.  Gleeson giving it all. A bunch of young guys who only stopped bouncing off each other for a group hug in Be with you. 

Eric Gales already an amazing guitarist, keeps getting better. Played to a criminally small but appreciative crowd.  Bluesfesters are spoiled by so many incredible musicians. Do get yourself to his second show.  

Lucinda Williams I've got to give a lot of points for showing up. I only caught a couple of songs, so I will come back for a proper listen. I missed Steve Earle but heard great reports. Tick on the app. 

Ate my Ya'man wrap in Mojo at Paolo Nutini so not sure if I didn't pay adequate attention or I just wasn't grabbed by his performance.  Decided to check in on Beth Hart and I'm really glad I did. She was on form, giving it 110% and despite some sound problems, easily won over the crowd. A Bluesfest special moment when Eric Gales joined her for I'd rather go blind and almost stole the show. 

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats played as if their life depended on it. Not much banter, just intense rapid fire delivery of new and old songs. Rateliff was so in the moment he literally threw his instruments to the side of stage to minimise break between songs. Breathtaking musicianship all round. After one and a half hours, the crowd were not willing to let them go. A well-deserved encore tested the midnight close. Buses were waiting, we all got home as seamlessly as we arrived. 

End of day one, I've already got my money's worth. Bring on day two.