Tuesday, April 13, 2010

damn right i got the blues

A couple years ago I as sitting in a pub in Bridgton, enjoying a Red Stripe, and I heard a local woman sin, "Angel From Montgomery." I'd never heard the song before, but it blew me away. It stuck in my head for weeks. I poured through iTunes looking for the song, and probably downloaded seven or eight different versions. None compared the one I heard live.

I asked a friend of mine who as there with me that night (and who knows a great deal more about music than I do) if she had a favorite version of the song. She told me, "I think we heard the best version." I new the moment she said it that she was right.

I think that's why we love live music. Nothing compares. No matter how many times you cook, you can never duplicate grandma's recipe. Live music is the unforgettable experience, and music on your iPod is the photograph.

The Byron Bay Blues Festival was a five day celebration of popular, up and coming, and legendary musicians. Six different stages ran from noon to midnight every day. It featured the blues, folk, country, rock, pop, Cuban dance, tribal beats, and even a Freak Show. With six different live acts going on at once, there was something for everyone.

And it certainly drew a wide variety of people. I heard they sold somewhere around 10,000 tickets. There were hippies, backpackers, families, college students, retired couples, musicians, and the elderly. There were Dead Heads, Acid-heads, Parrot Heads, yahoos, chronic trippers and white Rastas. I think the Freak Show would have been wise to do some active recruiting.

The Festival was a place where there weren't many rules to live by, and even fewer were enforced, yet most everyone got along. There were drug-sniffing dogs at the entrance every day, but I think they may have all had a cold. I also fear I may have been exposed to enough Petchuli to ruin my sense of smell forever.

It was a place where you might see a twelve-year old with a can of beer, a grandmother smoking a joint, and little toddlers running around with their parents' phone numbers scrawled down their forearms. Bad parenting and self-awareness together at last.

To accommodate such a crowd, the festival provided three bars with a stock of drinks that could have safely carried the city of Boston through Prohibition, dozens of portable toilets, an extensive merchandise tent, a food court with every style of cuisine imaginable, handfuls of little stands selling jewelry, hats, and even guitars, a 20 meter Ferris Wheel, First-Aid huts, a day care center, a massage station, and a tent set aside for your friendly Jim Beam retailer.

They were prepared for everything. Even the rain. Every stage and stand was covered by circus-style tents. They shipped in truckloads of woodchips to battle the fields of mud. It only rained for one night and the mud lasted all week. Every night I had to hose down my sandals and feet.

The headliners were Jack Johnson, The Fray, The John Butler Trio, and Crowded House. After that, the most popular shows were Buddy Guy, Lyle Lovett, Jeff Beck, Bela Fleck, ALO, and the Buena Vista Orchestra. Highlights for me were hearing Justin Townes Earle sing Atlantic City, The Swell Season (the duo who won an Oscar for Falling Slowly), and The Old Crow Medicine Show's entire act. Anything with a banjo and a fiddle is enough to keep me riveted.

Well that's the full report on Blues Fest. Not as comprehensive or timely as I would've liked but internet access is more of a rarity while touring NZ and my material for more entries is getting backed up. Right now I'm on a bus tour and traveling south through the North island. Will check in again soon.