LIVE: BLUES AT BRIDGETOWN – 11-13 November, 2016
Bridgetown, Western Australia
Review & photos by Shane Pinnegar
Community spirit is the lifeblood of Blues At Bridgetown, while the Blues in all its myriad forms is its beating heart.
The 24th Blues At Bridgetown featured an amazing array of famous and not-so-famous performers, locals and international artists, and most importantly – a huge cast of local volunteers ensuring that the not-for-profit event runs smoothly. That volunteer spirit bleeds over to the performers and attendees as well – Blues At Bridgetown has a happy, friendly vibe – neighbours helping each other out – very different from many gigs we attend up in the big smoke!
With two major outdoor auditoriums, the town hall ‘Festival Club’, a handful of hotels and clubs, there’s more than enough music to go around – and that’s not including a myriad of street stages & busking spots. It all adds up to so much music that it is physically impossible to see every act – in fact we missed some of the artists we most wanted to see, but saw many we had never heard of and fell in love with immediately.
Whilst everyone’s Blues At Bridgetown experience is unique, what’s certain is that the diversity, passion and sheer talent on show means that no-one goes home disappointed.
Music lovers started descending on historical Bridgetown early Friday afternoon, and after settling in their various accommodation it was time to head onto the streets and see what music was cooking.
Over at The Bridgetown Hotel, garage blues duo Thump started with covers such as Fortune Teller, Needle & the Damage Done and Cinnamon Girl, but conserved their energy with a long stretch ahead of them. Unfortunately this gave them a dissociative aura and the sounds of some serious shredding from the Blue Owl outdoor arena drew us away quickly.
Matty T Wall is absolutely scorching, tearing it up with no remorse through tracks from debut album Blue Skies, and his background as a young metalhead shines through his more recent blues obsession. With a couple of crack sidemen in experienced drummer Ric Whittle (John Farnham, Johnny O’Keefe, Matt Taylor) and bassist Stephen Walker, Wall’s performances all weekend would electrify the blues.
Take one thing-wearing, bushy bearded, ocker bushman, and add one Irish percussion playing, singing beauty, and you’ve got Hat Fitz & Cara, their rumble n’ roll blues infectious and uplifting and wonderful. The married couple tease each other with gentle ease and love, and as the Bridgetown temperature plummets they heat us all up with the warmth of their performance, especially when Cara intros Shakedown with a dance and strut and ‘shake the shit off’ spiel.
It’s 10 degrees of brrr by the time the duo finish, so no surprises that The Freemason’s Hotel – complete with heaters – is packed close to full. Moondog’s one-man-band has the place jumping too, local and itinerate dancers getting off on his party vibe. Party blues to a packed house – let’s face it, that’s exactly what Robert Johnson would be doing if he was of Moondog’s generation.
Back in the chilly outdoors, Eugene ‘Hideaway’ Bridges returned to Bridgetown for the however-many-time and held nothing back with a set of authentic Texan-by-way-of-New-Orleans electric guitar blues straight from the heart of the big man. Singing songs of real people and their loves and struggles, and finishing with the joyously Louisiana gumbo of Jump For Joy, and Rise Above It – a message we should all take on board.
We thought we’d lost Tex Perkins early on with a dummy spit about an out of tune guitar, but after a short fuming prowl around the stage he was back and in fine, dark form. First though, he and guitarist Charlie Owen paid tribute to Leonard Cohen’s passing earlier today, with a solemn and respectful Bird On A Wire. Once the guitar is properly tuned, Tex invites the offending guitar tech on stage for the rest of the set, and throws down a set of defiant anarcho-graveyard blues that trawls through his back pages and personal favourites, and gives little or no regard to the fact that half the crowd depart confused, or from the cold. The Cruel Sea’s Delivery Man and Cocaine, Tex, Don & Charlie’s Fake Some Emotion, Dr John’s ZuZu Man, Funkadelic’s Oh!, The Dark Horses’ Things Don’t Seem So Bad… After All are all what Perkins early on calls ‘a kind of blues,’ and this almost Nick Cave-like set is the perfect full stop for Day One.
The new rays of the rising sun were well and truly inching towards the yard arm when the action started at the famous Blues At Bridgetown Street Party. Friday night’s action was for the die-hards, but Saturday is when the party really revs up – as well as late arrivals from last night, town is packed with day trippers from Perth and surrounds.
While Richie Pavledis again entranced the Festival Club crowd with a wailing harp and impressive vocal range for a bouncy Rock Island Line, music was everywhere amidst the market stalls and food outlets lining the closed off main street.
On the Centre Stage in the midst of the carnival atmosphere, was Craig Ross, delivering acoustic classics such as Robert Johnson’s Sweet Home Chicago and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Pride & Joy; whilst young trio Mindfreakz brought a Joplin-meets-Hendrix-and-Zeppelin rip n’ tear to the WA Stage, just in front of the hot car exhibition. What these kids lack in experience, they more than make up for with raw talent and are ones to watch.
Local Bridgetown girl Mary Myfanwy impressed with simple acoustic guitar complementing her deep and haunting vocals, peppered with an edge of Nina Simone-like quality transforming classics You Really Got A Hold On Me and Fever into other beasts indeed.
Part of the beauty of the event is ‘discovering’ unique talent on the side of the road, like Juzzie Smith, who we stumbled across outside the event Merch Centre, rocking deep blues to an appreciative crowd. With a cigar box geetar on his lap and a bandolier-style belt full of harmonicas, Smith – fresh from a guest spot last night with Hat Fitz & Cara – is the real deal.
Luke Escombe was centre stage at the Blue Owl’s Nest paying tribute to Leonard Cohen with Everybody Knows, originals Rock & Roll Changed The World For Good, Woman Over 30, The Liepzig, and dark old spiritual O’ Death. Escombe combines a wry sense of humour with his blues, and finishes with Son House’s classic John The Revelator.
Like many performers, Juzzie Smith was performing multiple gigs over these three days, and here he is again at the Blue Owl’s Nest. Smith opens with Harmonica Jam – which does exactly what it says on the tin, showcasing his skill on the first instrument he learnt to play. Before you know it, he’s doing six things at once – playing that cigar box guitar (and extolling the benefits of recycling something so bad for us into something so beautiful like music), separate stomp box rhythms with both feet, harmonica, singing, and musical juggling balls.
Rick Steele – fittingly wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “The Bluesfather” – needs no introduction to WA blues fans, and his full band thrilled a busy Bridgetown Hotel with a some Dylan and originals like She Is Mine. The Blubone Boys busked up a storm on The Deck, congas, guitar and didge sounding great through Tony Joe White’s Polk Salad Annie and more, whilst up at Scott’s, Matty T Wall’s trio delivered another turbo charged hot-roddin’ set to a sun-soaked courtyard.
After a short break to recharge we found Rose Parker & Ray Martinez on the Centre Stage, playing some stripped-back commercial blues to the dwindling street walkers, before stopping in at the Bridgetown Hotel for one of the hottest tickets of the weekend: The Southern River Band.
Fronted by the irrepressible Callum Kramer (Thrust, Morgan Bain, Blue Shaddy), and playing a kind of alt-country that might be rock n’ roll (or the other way round), the Southern River Band is as much a comedy show, peppered with Kramer’s hilarious frontman rants and the band’s Daddy Cool vibe. Kramer gets his Mum up for a few songs, as well as Lightnin’ Jack, and finish with a super-cool take on Skynyrd’s Freebird. One of the best of the weekend, The Southern River Band are our new favourite act.
Dilip & The Davs followed with some rootsy party rock with a reggae edge, before we headed down to the Geegelup ampitheatre to see Blue Shaddy took command, channelling a mega block party with their blues-n-rootsy grooves. A big crowd showed how much respect Bridgetown has for Shaddy bringing the party, and they did not disappoint.
Thankfully the night was far more temperate than last night’s frostiness, and the four sisters of Stonefield. Where one might be tempted to expect girly pop or singer-songwriter fare, these girls rock hard at the heavier psych, blues boogie-end of the spectrum, making a glorious noise through their rock n’ roll acid trip with favourites from both their albums.
Back at The Blue Owl’s Nest, American Chris Cain BB Kings it up a storm, his tasteful playing, groovy singing and amiable personality easily wins the crowd over.
The rigours of a long day after a night’s interrupted camping sleep derailed plans to see headliner Russell Morris, but all reports indicate another masterful set from the reinvented and reinvigorated legend of Australian psych, pop, and now blues.
What better way to shake off a foggy morning’s head than church? NO!!! Not THAT church – the church of the blues, as evidenced by The Across The Tracks Dectet led by Paul Gaia and the heavenly vocals of Rose Parker and Victoria Newton. Playing old, old blues and gospel songs from the likes of Bessie Smith and The Staples Singers that date back to the early days of the music, it’s church for music lovers.
Lightnin’ Jack brightened up the Bridgetown Hotel with his electrified licks, stompbox and our ole mate Moondog guesting and blowing his harp. Joined later by Southern River Band’s Callum Kramer on drums, and Jack’s Dad, theirs was a relaxed, extended hard blues hoodoo jam.
There’ a bunch of encore performances to check out today, including Matty T Wall, Claude Hay, Juzzie Smith, Southern River Band, Moondog, Dilip &the Davs, Rick Steele, Luke Escombe, and as people pack up and head off in order to be ready for work tomorrow morning, we can reflect how lucky we are to have such talent on show so close to home in such an idyllic and friendly location. Sunday is also a day for the musos to guest with new and old friends, wander the crowds and chat to punters, and sell more CDs to attendees with bags already full to bursting!
Blues At Bridgetown is an iconic event which any small town would kill to have boosting their profile and economy. Well organised (with just a hint of flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants) and pure, their vision is to celebrate the blues – wondrous, joyous, uplifting and dark alike. Rarely does an event succeed so well in its mission statement.
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About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE