Sunny skies and a surprisingly dry site (only a week and a half before, a lot of it was underwater, courtesy of Cyclone Debbie's tail-end) mark the opening night of the Byron Bay Bluesfest's 28th go 'round – a cornucopia of sonic styles providing the backdrop for the traditionally laidback first night, easy to navigate from one end of the site to the other, liquor flowing freely with spirits high and light feet, dancing from Mojo stage, down to the sweaty Juke Joint by the North Gate.
Mavis Staples, the Queen of soul, still a powerhouse, still in command of a voice which is of the ages, a festival regular, hopefully for years to come; Snarky Puppy lay down thick layers of dissonant prog; the Miles Electric Band, to a small but dedicated jazz crowd, esoteric instrumental tangents (a lot of these cats were on Bitches Brew), rhythmic sojourns from which there is no return; Mud Morganfield (son of Muddy Waters), commands a crack regiment of Chicago electric soldiers, true blues on a clear night; Eric Gales ("He's the best guitarist in the world," says festival director Peter Noble) hard and heavy-hitting, hi-octane blues rock.
Into the evening via Vintage Trouble's rhythm 'n' blues, rock 'n' roll SOUL and then some, roping in the kids with the old sound; Courtney Barnett, gaffa-taped Tele, three-piece scungy grunge with enough melody to lift it above all the other stoned, greasy haired freaks; Patti Smith, still angry, spitting fire and venom, the power in no way diminished... tears from the crowd, not an old legend-cum-has-been, but still the Real Thing. Finish off with Nas, backed by the brassy N'Awlins heartbeat of the Soul Rebels, a perfect sonic marriage, reminiscent of Guru's Jazzamatazz, but harder and deeper, Louisiana sweat and grind.
All photos by Carl Neumann.