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Originally Published July 28, 2004
Fourth Annual Blues on Broadbeach Festival
By Dave O’Sullivan
It’s not often, at least in this part of the world, that you get a music festival to run for five days where the punters [attendees] are not charged for the privilege of listening to some world-class music in a beautiful part of Australia. The Broadbeach Management Association, a not-for-profit organization (sounds very Blues now doesn’t it?) has the unenviable task of not only keeping the event free, but also keeping it interesting. Combining the diversity of Blues in Australia in southeast Queensland’s dining mecca (more on that later) fits in well with the festival motto, “Food for the body…Blues for the Soul.“ But, with one of the most majestic stretches of beach in Australia less than fifty metres away from the festival center, there are a lot of reasons why this festival continues to grow.
The event kicked off on Wednesday, May 19 with performances by Mojo Webb in the Broadbeach mall and Blind Lemon at Sopranos Café and Bar, and I gotta tell you, the food here is great as was the band…a really great way to ease into the festival.
Thursday lunchtime saw Mark Easton’s Limousine take to the Broadbeach Mall stage under magnificent blue skies to a small but appreciative crowd. (Another good thing about this time of year is it’s out of holiday season so crowds are down and accommodations cheap.) Top Shelf Shuffle were the evening’s entertainment at McGintys Irish Bar.
A relaxing warm-up was just what the doctor ordered, as the weekend was really a test of stamina from early until after midnight. A late breakfast on the mall was within earshot of a group of up-and-comers called Out of School Blues who were strictly covers of all the usual suspects, but carried them off very well. The lunchtime performance by Blues Vein was similar, nothing risky, but solid grooves and some great guitar.
Two of Australia’s truly great players were featured early Friday evening. Phil Manning, founding and still current member of Australia’s elder statesmen of the Blues, Chain, did two solo spots in two Italian restaurants (don’t think Phil was actually playing for food, but you never know). He was followed by one act that U.S. readers might possibly be familiar with in Geoff Achison and The Souldiggers. Geoff’s guitar playing just gets better all the time and he is definitely worth catching live (no, he didn’t play in an Italian restaurant!). Geoff was followed on the main stage by Psycho Zydeco, who, as the name suggests, really give that genre of music a workout and had the crowd up and dancing from the start to the finish of their set.
The Queen of Oz Blues closed the evening and though Renee Geyer has had limited overseas success, she has never sounded better with a band comprising some of Australia’s best players and featuring songs from her new album Tenderland. Truly wonderful!
Saturday kicked off with another surprise in a group of kids calling themselves Sciatica and tearing through a short but great set of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hendrix covers…they had the spirit and the talent to back it up…hope to hear more of them in the future. A short walk back to the mall in time to catch expatriate Canadian Bo Jenkins and Roadtrain, who played a mix of cover and originals influenced by Creedence, The Band, and others of a similar vein. Some great slide work was the highlight of the set. Over lunch at another outdoor restaurant not 30 metres from the main stage punters enjoyed a fantastic set from Pete Cornelius and the Devilles. Pete has had two U.S. visits and his playing is great, but he will need to spend a lot more time in North America to get noticed…this kid is the goods and will go places in the future.
Back to the mall to catch a band of which I had heard a lot about, Airborne Blues Virus, who seemed to play forever; it was well light when they started and dark when they finished to a big crowd who snapped up all their CDs at the conclusion of their set. Very harmonica-based, their set drew heavily from the Chicago Blues sound.
The beachfront stage kicked off an early evening’s entertainment with the Delta Blues sound of Ash Grunwald from Melbourne. Ash literally lives on the road and his constant touring and performing are paying dividends for him at last with some regular airplay and quite a few awards. Slide, dobro, and stomp box are his one man band and he received a well deserved ovation.
Australia’s favourite Rhythm and Blues band, Bondi Cigars, have a large following everywhere and are constantly on the road as well supporting a fine catalogue of albums, including the excellent double live set Down in the Valley. Any U.S. readers looking for some great Oz Blues can get this from www.bluesbeat.com.au and will not be disappointed. Their set was as solid as ever…this band never has a bad night.
The main street was beginning to get crowded with a predominately young crowd as Mia Dyson took the stage to play a fine set showcasing her album Cold Water. The daughter of Australian luthier Jim Dyson naturally played her dad’s guitars and her fiery, yet sublime, playing and poignant songs left a lasting impression on those new to her music.
Currently in the middle of his seventh U.S. tour, Harper was up next, accompanied by Sydney’s Darren Jack Band. This was the last show before his U.S. tour and the culmination of a tour that had basically been going since October…stunning the crowd with his incredible harmonica and didgeridoo playing, combined with some very thoughtful lyrics covering a range of subjects not always popular yet always thought provoking. Harp;er is one of Australian music’s finest exports. [Editor’s Note: Watch for an interview with Harper in an upcoming issue of BluesWax]
Brannigans Bar played host to The Expats at day’s end; comprising former Canned Heat member James Thornbury, Doc Span, and Dirk du Bois, this is a band of veterans that really know their stuff and a well oiled crowd showed them great support. They deserved a spot on the main stage…that surely will come next year.
Early starts for Blues fans are not all that good, especially on Sunday, so an 8 a.m. (yes AM!) breakfast with the great Dutch Tilders was thankfully an acoustic performance at Mario’s Restaurant attended by only those with a strong constitution or those who had not been out the night before. Dutch confessed to being one of the latter. The elder statesman of Australian Blues was as polished and professional as always, gracious, and gregarious with fans old and new. Back to the motel for a nap (yes, it was catching up) before the final swing lead by the fabulous Backsliders, followed by Collard Greens and Gravy and finally Chain with Phil Manning and Matt Taylor showing what being together since 1969 along with original drummer Barry Harvey can do. Like I said to the young guys nearby…practice makes perfect!
So there you are…a beautiful part of the world, something for everyone, great restaurants, and THE BLUES for FREE…just another great reason to head down under.
By Dave O’Sullivan
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