Blues & Roots on Easter in Australia

Words & Images by Seth Rubin

East Coast Blues & Roots Festival :: 4.13-4.17.06 :: Byron Bay, Australia

East Coast Blues & Roots Festival
When you think of Easter, you probably have thoughts of church services and chocolate bunnies, but this year in Byron, thousands of music-lovin' and beer-drinkin' Aussies experienced the blues. Not your ordinary holiday blues, but rather the East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival in Byron Bay, Australia. A hippie Mecca with beautiful beaches, Byron is a small, hip town at the most easterly point of Australia. For five days in April though, this small seaside town is overrun with festival-goers from all over Australia and around the world.

Held on the local high school's sports fields, East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival features four stages (two large, one medium, and one small) and a wide variety of food, beer and arts and crafts vendors to keep the crowd smiling.

Femi Kuti
East Coast Blues & Roots
This year's line-up was quite extraordinary, covering an enormous gamut of musical styles. Musicians hailed from all over the world, with an especially large African (Somalia, Senegal, Ghana, and Nigeria) representation, including Daara J from Senegal, a trio blending very danceable hip-hop and dancehall reggae. Released in 2004, the title track of Boomerang proclaims "Born in Africa, brought up in America, hip hop has come full circle," hence the boomerang reference. Femi Kuti from Nigeria awed the crowd with his powerful Afro-beat, hip-gyrating, fist-pumping performance.

Festival Director Peter Noble concentrated his efforts on returning the festival to its blues roots this year with three of the genre's greatest guitarists of all time: Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, and Keb' Mo'. No less impressive was Australian native Kevin Borich, who played his heart out on stage and delivered a striking raw emotion to the crowd and camera alike.

Buddy Guy :: East Coast Blues & Roots
Returning from last year's brilliant performance was the Music Maker Foundation, who received a slot for all five days, the only act to be granted that honor. The Foundation is a "non-profit North American organization dedicated to helping the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern musical traditions." Also representing the American South was the New Orleans Band Aid, who is raising hurricane aid through working and touring as much as possible. The Band Aid, similar to the Foundation, played several days and brought forth a host of musicians who rotated throughout their performances. Unfortunately, I missed the New Orleans Jazz Fest this year, so the Band Aid with Bo Dollis and his Wild Magnolias were a special treat to remind me of the great times and music the Crescent City has to offer.

Bo Dollis, The Wild Magnolias :: East Coast Blues & Roots

Other artists lifted everyone's spirit from the first note they sung to the last. While India.Arie sings of the spirit and not judging others on their appearances, she couldn't help but look beautiful herself, spinning around the stage in her white dress and yellow scarf in hand. Her spirit and strength were simply overwhelming. Michael Franti was another crowd favorite for his simple-yet-powerful songs and his accompanying presence. Franti's latest film, I Know I Am Not Alone debuted in Australia at the same time as the festival and further added to his acclaim. The film serves to educate others on the war in the Middle East through the eyes and ears of other artists, soldiers, and the common folk living through it all. Franti also joined other artists on stage, like Blue King Brown for a reunion with Natalie Pa'apa'a on percussion with whom he used to play

David Gray :: East Coast Blues & Roots
To try and list all the incredible performers would be impossible. The Brits represented with Jamie Cullum and David Gray, each attacking the piano in their own way. Jackson Browne and David Lindley shared a mellow stage with some 20 guitars and brilliant lighting. The Jamaicans spanned a gap of 40 years between the 1960's ska of The Skatalites and the neo-dancehall of Damian Marley, Bob Marley's youngest son. Australians delivered a wide variety of acts from the bluesy Mia Dyson to the eclectic Cuban/jazz/reggae/pop group The Cat Empire to the Aboriginal group Yothu Yindi. And introducing Canadian/Australian Xavier Rudd were three Aboriginal elders, who were praised by Rudd and the audience alike for allowing their traditional land to be used for the festival.

Lester Sterling, The Skatalites :: East Coast Blues & Roots
Similar to Australia's WOMADelaide Festival in March, the Blues and Roots Festival did an incredible job of turning many newcomers onto the music of Australia while raising awareness of roots and blues music in general. It'll be a long time before I forget the feeling of locking eyes with Lester Sterling of the original Skatalites as I felt the notes of his saxophone pour through the speakers and into my chest, sending chills down my spine.

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[Published on: 6/27/06]

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Alex.Anastas starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/27/2006 05:47PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I didn't make it to this festival, as it was WICKED expensive (over $300 AU) but did get to the inagural Great Escape here near Sydney which was also fun, featuring bands like: Silverchair, Sigur Ros, Femi Kuti, Black Keys, Beautiful Girls, Paul Mac, Eskimo Joe, Xavier Rudd, Afro Cuban Allstars, and many, many others. You should all check it out next year as it was one of the best organized festivals I have ever been too!

All Loving Liberal White Guy Tue 6/27/2006 10:26PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

All Loving Liberal White Guy

got any more pics to show? a 20 hour flight to australia must require more pics....unless you are an aussie. anyhow, thanks for giving props to youthu yindi. jamie cullum is way too adult contempo on his most recent release. his first album called twentysomething ruled. i'll bet that jackson browne and david gray were seceretly puking while he was playing. how come no jackson browne pics?

SHRUBIN Sun 1/25/2009 05:05PM
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runnin' a little late on this reply, but if you're still interested... lots more photos!