Friday, April 17, 2009

Trench warfare

Well, call me an idiot, but standing around in mud up to one's elbows whilst listening to a drongo like the excerable Ben Harper doesn't sound a lot like my idea of fun. But that's what thousands of tripped-out punters did on Monday night at the Bluesfest, attesting to the theory that lousy ecstasy and lousy performers go hand-in-hand.

Meanwhile, your happy curmudgeon of a reporter was bunkered down in the ladies' change room at Kids' Korner (spelling not being a high point of Australian culture just yet) waiting for a break in the torrent that had turned Byron Bay into a mud-fest. I'd just seen the phenomenal Ruthie Foster deliver a set that could make a grown man (me) weep. I was standing there with a friend, and we just had to hug each other as the beauty and power of Ruthie's voice washed over us.

So why did the majority of the festival's punters trudge their way through the mud to see this Harper feller? One can only guess, but I'd say that Ben Harper is a mere symptom of the impending downfall of western society. He, and the atrocious John Butler, and a gentleman by the name of Xavier Rudd, etc etc, represent the colossally stupid end of the "new" music spectrum.

These are characters who are, undoubtedly, sincere. They write and perform songs that lament the extinction of gay aboriginal whales, and celebrate the idea that the world will be saved if only you will form a circle with your friends and chant in a made-up language.

All of these blokes, and more, have only one tiny downfall: their music is shit. Dumb, boring and repetitive, their tedious strummings have at best a soporific effect on the sophisticated listener. In my case, Ben Harper makes for a useful purgative. While various entrepreneurs made a killing at the fest selling gumboots to slide around in the mud with, I think next year I'll see if I can make some money flogging vomit bags and buckets to the discerning.

Anyway, none of this was to be the point of today's post. Apart from the mud and a few brain-damaged performers and their adoring minions, the Bluesfest was, for me, an Easter of perfect happiness. Why? Because I was surrounded by family and friends for a week in one of the most picturesque parts of the country, drinking wine, relaxing, and listening to some great music from time to time. One friend, whom I hadn't seen for a number of years, nearly hugged me to death when we met. These catching ups with old friends, the peaceful hours spent lazing about at our campsite at Lake Ainsworth, the sounds of hooting, chuckling and screeching emanating from Leigh's tent at 3.30 a.m. as he remembered yet another hysterical anecdote from the night's proceedings, and in turn had the rest of the campsite in fits of laughter - these are the phenomena that make the Fest my most enjoyable time of the year.

And, of course, there's some great music to be had. As usual, Angelique Kidjou was glorious. But so were Zappa Plays Zappa, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and the irrepressible Ruthie Foster. What a voice. Each one of these performers was worth the price of admission alone.

A highlight was the Voodoo Daddies - 30s and 40s swing, with a five-piece brass section that was amazingly tight and luscious. Tia sitting on my shoulders rocking and rolling as they launched into a version of Minnie the Moocher that would have had Cab Calloway sitting up in his grave yelling "Ho de ho de ho de ho!". When the cameras found Tia, she was plastered all over the giant screens, and waved to herself with frantic joy, singing the chorus at the top of her voice with about eight thousand others.

There were some quibbles, of course. The sound quality was poor, compared to previous fests. I have no idea why the sound at such a venue should be less than perfect, as there are no reverberation problems to overcome. Some acts, including Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, achieved brilliant sound, so one can only wonder at the state of ears/brains of other engineers behind the desk. As well, the whole mud thing was poorly handled. At one stage on Monday night I was wandering around shin-deep in the stuff. Rivers of slush were pouring through the site. There was not enough shelter provided to get people out of the rain. 

Nevertheless, I came home after a relaxing eight-hundred kilometre drive feeling energised. Can't wait for next year. Now, which gumboots? Cherries or leopards?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009