Lanyard and program? Check. Sunburnt feet? Check. Heartbreaking decisions? Check. A totally awesome day watching some of the world’s most talented musicians. CHECK. The West Coast Blues & Roots Festival 2014 was a great day out hanging with legends, emerging artists, and a bunch of nice people looking for a good time.
The day began with a short walk through. The main gates were complete with security overkill like sniffer dogs and bag searches (where staff even opened makeup cases). However, leaving that behind to enter the festival space was instantly a feast for the senses. From the smell of food wafting through the air and the sound of something chronic on a guitar on-stage up ahead, you knew where you were. The welcome was exactly what was expected – and the day got only better from there.
First up was the Soul Rebels on the Big Top stage. Haling from New Orleans, the large band sported trumpets, drums, trombones and an attention-grabbing sticker-covered Sousaphone. The gathering crowd, who got down to the brass band’s songs and interacted with the guys on stage, appreciated the energised performance. During the song “504”, they got the crowd to wave their hands with the music. Saxophone player, Erion Williams, introduced most of the songs wearing a bright blue shirt reading: ‘Haters gonna hate’ while cranking out their version of well known hits like ‘Sweet Dreams’ (Eurythmics) and ending the energised set with the current worldwide hit by Pharrell Williams “Happy”. This got the younger people up and dancing. Heartbreaking Decision no. 1: Get a box chair and not be allowed in certain areas and also have to carry it around for the whole day or get a damp butt. Damp butt it is.
Meanwhile, Aussie legend Russell Morris was partway through his set on the other stage, after the Soul Rebels, and busy telling the audience about random stories of his past. One involved a guy they nicknamed ‘Sharkmouth’ who thought he was always in with the ladies. He proceeded to play the song inspired by the guy ringing to the giggles of people around him. His bluesy voice went down well with the audience who cheered excitedly when he started his household hit “The Real Thing,” after telling everyone that his descendants came to Australia for stealing women’s underwear and would be proud of the clothes he wore in the 1960s.
Wondering around, I was intrigued by a youngish woman wearing a Jake Bugg shirt. The name didn’t ring a bell despite my vast and varying taste in music. After finding a spot at the Big Top again, out came a trio of kids that looked about ten years old. First thought: even I could kick their butts. Easily.
Bugg walked up to the mike and unleashed a sound that was a combo of something far beyond his years and, at the same time, something from decades before he was born. The British 20 year old, blew everyone away with songs that ranged from the sombre subject-mattered ‘I’ve Seen It All’ to the fast paced, crowd-livening ‘Kingpin’ with a surprising drop in octaves between each song as he spoke to the audience in a deep voice that seemed to come out of nowhere. Heartbreaking decision 2: leave Jake Bugg two songs early to catch the beginning of the Morcheeba set.
Ageless, Skye Edwards bounced onto the stage wearing a white-feathered tutu dress, coifed hair, and dark blue eye shadow. She told the crowd it was beautiful but scorching, and didn’t know how we stood in it for so long, before Morcheeba broke into the their hits such as ‘Part if the Process’ and ‘Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day’ which had people of all ages singing along with Edwards’ angel-with-an-attitude voice.
Steve Earle and the Dukes took to the stage in the Big Top after and got the crowd going right way with a big bass, a harmonica, and a violin to add to the rest. The audience consisted of mostly older people, laughing and swaying along to the music, chuckling at the Steve Earle’s anecdotes. At one point he said figured he was from New Orleans – he should be able to play piano so he tried to write a song once *cue a few seconds silence* then said: “I can’t f**king play” before introducing the first song he ever wrote using a piano. He then made his way back from the side of stage to play guitar for ‘Someday’.
‘That all you got?’ was also a crowd pleaser as doll-like Eleanor Whitmore sang as well as played her violin. The audience highlight was ‘Copperhead Road’, which started up with the tell-tale sounds of bagpipes and was executed well. This left everyone dancing and singing.
What can you say about the Doobie Brothers? Well, they’re the Doobie Brothers. The Big Top was packed as they began their set with ‘Jesus is Just Alright’ exuding punchy energy that surprisingly far surpassed the other acts performing on the day. The veterans of music showed their amazing can’t-be-taught stage presence as well as a clear down to Earth attitude. Sax solos and duel drum-kits set the pace as well, as songs that many people have grown up with like ‘Taking it to the Streets’ and ‘Without Love’. The showmanship was immensely satisfactory.
Swapping stages again, audience members could catch Elvis Costello churning out hits like ‘Pump it Up’ while donning all black with a black leather vest thrown over the top with a black hat with a yellow band around it. ‘Oliver’s Army’ and ‘Walk Us Uptown’ were crowd pleasers along with a tribute to the (recently) late Jesse Winchester who Costello credits with inspiring him when he was 21. The Doobie Brothers’ John Mcfee, doing a guest spot halfway through, made fans lose their minds with songs that were mostly covers of Winchester’s. Heartbreaking decision no. 3: Sitting on the damp dirt in front of the stage after Costello so that sore legs and feet could recover enough to stand during the next hour and a half.
Next up was John Mayer. The crowd was closer than any other. Many under 18s were sardined together towards the front with diehard fans. Forgetting about the press, the antics in his personal life and all that, John Mayer rocks. He just does. His extreme talent is undeniable.
He sang ‘Paper Doll’, rumoured to be about Taylor Swift, as well as old hits like ‘No Such Thing’ and favourites like ‘Half of My Heart’. The key point of the set was his sombre song ‘Dear Marree’ which was performed after he told the audience it was his favourite song and the best song he’s written. But he can’t be sure, and needs to write more to find out. He told the crowd to live for the day and not to be that person on their deathbed saying they should have written that book. Ending with a much-anticipated performance of ‘Gravity’, Mayer left the mostly young crowd chanting for an encore which sadly never came.
Winding down the spectacular day was Michael Franti and Spearhead who made sure they were fun to watch. They even released yellow balloon balls for the audience to play with during ‘Sounds of Sunshine’. While talking about how he wrote it in hospital after having his appendix out, the audience laughed and kept the balloon balls up in the air throughout the whole thing. Later, Franti jumped the barrier and sang while surrounded by fans and let some touch him, shake his hand, and sing with him. Heartbreaking decision no. 4: leaving.
Walking out to the Dave Matthews band’s ‘Satellite’ was made sweeter by the purchase of a souvenir blanket with the Blues n’ Roots logo on it and realising just how well-organised the whole day was. The acts were bang-on twenty minutes after an interval and the crowd, possibly due to the demographic, was mostly laid back and willing to let the younger people crowd in front of the stages while they sipped drinks and ate the “sexy food” from around the venue. The weather was beautiful and there were smiles all round.
If you didn’t go this year, you definitely have to go next year. It is worth every cent and is a fun day out for the whole family (I even saw a baby in earmuffs near the main stage). Seeing bands my parents played in my childhood, as well as discovering I am now a Jake Bugg fan and walking around surrounded by music and great people, made an impression. The West Coast Blues and Roots Festival is definitely something you need to experience!