Across five days, Bluesfest returns in 2017 with another sprawling line-up. Local Lucy Gallant brings herself into immediate focus. She’s the greatest band in the world, or so Peter Nobel would have you believe. He puts this point across, addressing the media tent with a mad glint in his eyes. Her intimate pre-show performance absorbs those in attendance. No sooner than the private show concludes, she kicks the festival off at the Delta stage. With an even more commanding presence between towering stage pillars, Gallant woos the gathering crowd, her airy take on roots nailed to the floor with a defiant stomp and quavering vibrato.
Gallant is remarkable, but The Suffers may actually be the greatest band in the world, at least to those beholden to frontwoman Kam Franklin’s charismatic thrall. She relates how her Texans ensemble quit their jobs to embrace music, and their enthusiasm comes self-evident. The band attacks music with joyous abandon, the smiles and effortless choreography of Franklin’s brass backing an energetic counterpoint to her gut-wrenching soul vocals. A commanding torrent of ‘Oo’s and ahh’s’ spreads across the audience, sweeping them into a single climax of momentous uplift.
Embodying the larger than life cliché of their Hollywood hometown, the rhythm and bluesmen Vintage Trouble floor those in attendance. Put simply, frontman Ty Taylor demands attention. He shoots off guitar solos like he’s physically in pain. “They’re dramatic,” One punter expresses prosaically mid-set and there’s an undeniable truth to these words. Excitement sits behind Taylor’s every gesture. Capturing those present within the moment he beguiles the sense. He looks ten feet taller, sounds 20 decibels louder. There’s raunch, this is music comes from below the hips. The intensity of their sound drives the crowd into their own swivels of excitement.
Courtney Barnett’s reputation as a singer-songwriter is often the focus of media of fans. Live it’s clear that this might be secondary to a competing notion; she’s a rock star. Barnett purveys her genre with vitality and swagger, her music exists in moments of truth and reckless abandon. She projects the rarefied essence of rock and roll, a force of nature. Backed by sludge-laden power chords, a hard and heavy set reverberates across a massed audience. Her music teams with energy and rhythmic sway. Undeniably there’s anticipation for Patti Smith (whose set she precedes), but while Smith may lean back on the well-deserved status as a living legend, Barnett is living the rock narrative.
Layers of wit, bravado and talent may envelope hip hop but at the core it’s all about keeping it real. Its unassuming mainstay is Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones (NAS). As one aficionado puts it: “He’s Known to be the G.O.A.T., meaning greatest of all time.” Slipping on stage the New Yorker reiterates this claim with casual brilliance. Backing him is a wall of brass, The Soul Rebels. Sharp delivery combined with consistent instrumental drive pushes the surging audience into ecstasy.
With a creative brilliance that merges across mediums, Patti Smith is the undeniably the night’s, if not the festival’s, headline draw. Of all the poetics that have spring from her literate mind, there’s something about Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria’ is overpowering. Reciting the pugnacious three-chord clarion call, Smith puts it across live with all the resonance and vitality anyone who pushed out the words could humanly extract. "G–L–O–R–I–A" she spits. It resonates. For all her visceral genius she’s a fan at heart. Smith performs Horses in its splendour; the godmother of punk is a picture of beauty. Knowingly she casts a gaze serenely over an ecstatic crowd. Lyrics roll from her tongue like sage pearls of enlightenment. The intensity of her music is sorcerous.
Reviewer: Riley Fitzgerald
Photographer: Danny Santangelo