Live Review: Bluesfest, Byron Bay (14-18 April, 2022)- Despite Covid-19 Cancellations and Devastating Floods – Still Australia’s Best Festival Experience

Following cancellations in both 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19 and the devastating floods in Northern New South Wales in March 2022, Bluesfest came back in its’ 33rd iteration, bigger and better than ever.

A large contingent of Australian artists were named in the initial artist announcements, with Bluesfest committing to getting the music industry in this country, so decimated by the pandemic, back on its’ feet. It was again set to play across its’ traditional Easter holiday period, stretching from Thursday 14th April through to Monday, 18th April, a full five days of music Nirvana for the committed fan.

Festival director, Peter Noble and his team had to take a long, collective pause before picking themselves up from the enormous disappointment of the second successive cancellation and co-ordinating one of the finest overall line-ups of Australian talent to have ever hit the stages at the one event in this country.

Along with Peter Noble’s initial address, the festival opened with the traditional Welcome To Country delivered by the Arakwal Traditional Custodians, as they welcomed us to Bundjalung Country on the MOJO stage as the opening event for Bluesfest 2022. Indigenous content at each Bluesfest is a high priority for organizers, and Spinifex Gum, a wonderful collaborative indigenous choir, helped to kick off proceedings on the opening evening, and were followed by many other First Nations acts throughout the following days.

The 2022 festival was always going to be a huge success, with legendary performers The Angels, Hoodoo Gurus, The Church , The Living End, Paul Kelly, Kate Ceberano, The Black Sorrows, Diesel, Vika & Linda, John Butler, Crowded House, Pete Murray, Kev Carmody, Kate Miller-Heidke, Mark Seymour & The Undertow, Jon Stevens, Glenn Shorrock, Ian Moss and Jimmy Barnes all lending to the atmosphere before Midnight Oil signed off with one of the last shows of their final tour, and Cat Empire performing for the last time with its’ original line-up.

This year’s festival had very quickly become the who’s who of Australian music, as a number of newer, though no-less-high-profile acts also took to the stages throughout the 5 days, with crowd favourites The Teskey Brothers, Missy Higgins, Amy Shark, Briggs, JK-47, Stan Walker, The Regime, Emily Wurramara and Baker Boy all thrilling large audiences with their undoubted talents and enthusiasm for a return to unrestricted live performance. A small contingent of international acts were also able to make their way to this year’s festival given the relaxation of Australia’s tight border controls over the last 2 years, including festival darlings, Morcheeba, who turned in two fine performances over 2 nights.

Artists from across the ages appeared, with George Benson, Tamam Shud, Spectrum, Russell Morris, Chain, Renee Geyer, Ross Wilson and Kevin Borich Express all proving that age is no barrier when it comes to delivering electrifying performances. A special 60’s psychedelic light show by Ellis D Fogg accompanied a number of these artists shows, making for a visual spectacular not previously seen at Bluesfest, and which complemented the music of the era beautifully.

Locals, festival favourites and popular independent artists were well represented, with Hussy Hicks, Minnie Marks, 19-Twenty, Lambros, Little Georgia, The Pierce Brothers, Tex Perkins, Tijuana Cartel, busker Roshani and Lisa Hunt all enthusiastically entertaining their loyal, and newfound fans alike.

Americana, folk and country fans were treated to artists as diverse as The Waifs, Weddings, Parties, Anything and Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission through to Round Mountain Girls, Henry Wagons, All Our Exes Live In Texas, Mama Kin Spender, The Buckleys, the up-and-coming Casey Barnes and Australian country royalty in Kasey Chambers, John Williamson and Troy Cassar-Daly.

U.S. based The War & Treaty returned to the scene of their triumphant 2019 Bluesfest debut and didn’t fail to impress yet again. Fellow internationals, Malian band Amadou & Mariam surprised audiences with their infectious African rhythms and former Snarky Puppy bandmember, Cory Henry delighted crowds with his electric brand of jazz-infused funk, soul and Gospel. The Bamboos, Fools and Hiatus Kaiyote added the Australian jazz/soul/R&B vibes, with all delivering smooth, well-received sets.

Roots music was well represented with premier New Zealand acts, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Six60 and L.A.B. providing more than ample support to acts such as Garrett Kato, Caravana Sun, Clarence Bekker, Xavier Rudd, Melbourne Ska Orchestra, John Butler and evergreen Jamaican legends, The Wailers.

……and true to its’ name, the blues did not miss out with a host of Australia’s finest players, from the already mentioned Kevin Borich and Chain being joined by Fiona Boyes, The Blue Empress Allstars (a near all-female super group), Kara Grainger, C.W. Stoneking, Jeff Lang, Geoff Achison & The Souldiggers, Ash Grunwald (who also later teamed up with the hugely popular Josh Teskey to highlight their collaborative album), Nathan Caveleri, Ray Beadle, Hat Fitz & Cara, Kim Churchill, Juzzie Smith and Pacey, King & Doley. To top this off, 2022 Best Contemporary Blues Album winner, 23 year-old US artist, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, thrilled audiences with his guitar mastery and soaring solos, even walking amongst the crowd during his performances.

To epitomise the festival, special mention must be made about Lachy Doley & The Horns of Conviction. Lachy had long coveted a slot on the bill at Bluesfest with his own band, and had to wait until 2022 to get that opportunity. He hit the stage at 10.45 p.m. on Friday night, and the excitement on his face and in his demeanour was absolutely palpable. This is the esteem and hugely high regard to which the festival is held by the performers themselves, and ensures that all performances are given everything the performer has.

Needless to say, if you haven’t attended a Byron Bay Bluesfest, then it is about time you did yourself a huge favour. 2023 promises to take this year’s festival to another level, with the return of even more outstanding acts, both national and international. The relaxed vibes and friendly atmosphere which permeate this festival make for a most enjoyable experience, and are tailored to music lovers of all levels. After all…….it is all about the music.

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