The crowd is huge on the second last day, a seething, roaring, shouting mass of skin and bone, sweaty muscle in multi-coloured muslin and floppy hats, beer-stained smoke swathes enveloping all as they lope along to the next in a long line of musical delights, myriad sounds from all around. The second to last night at Byron Bay's Bluesfest is traditionally a loose and carefree affair and people dance in bar lines and toilet queues, happy to be there, rather than anywhere at all.
Buddy Guy, his second set of the fest, is starting to show his age – the last of the old school, he's tired no doubt and his set lacks much momentum (instead of a traditional medley of Clapton, Marvin Gaye, Peggy Lee, Guy plays a song for a minute, stops and talks, plays the next and so on, losing any power), but when he does wail, when he does set his fingers right on that fretboard, he's one of only a handful who you know is playing before you see him – he's still got it, make no mistake, it's still there.
Carlos Santana, following on from Guy, builds his own street party from scratch, a booming set heavy on percussion, his inimitable guitar style also recognisable from miles away (they do "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va" under a starry sky, and it's a thing of immense beauty) – this is the biggest set of the weekend thus far, a true festival within a festival.
Elsewhere, Mavis Staples (The Queen) plays out with aplomb once more on the Jambalaya Stage; Nikki Hill and band (what a band), shred the Delta Stage into millions of tiny pieces; Booker T gets his old school groove on (more on that tomorrow); and finally, the Zac Brown Band – their big country, their shiny and precise C&W was never on my radar, I don't particularly care for their records, but their live set is something to take notice of – they're all consummate players, they all mesh intricately (whether the song is slow, or rip-roaring flat out), it's almost orchestral in its organisation. And even if you don't think the songwriting is much chop (at all), it's country music and it fills the Crossroads tent and I find myself starting to like it, against my better judgement perhaps, but I'll be back for more.
All photos by Carl Neumann.