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Bluesfest 2017 presented a diverse lineup jampacked full of highlights

The stage lights dimmed and The Doors 1967 track Light My Fire accompanied the infamous scenes of the Big Flood at Woodstock 1969 across the big screens of the Crossroads stage. Mixed in was footage of a 22-year-old Carlos Santana and band in the middle of playing their legendary set. Having never released a studio album before then, it was the energetic live experience of the Santana band at Woodstock that cemented them in the history of the event. The band took to the stage and the organ intro to Soul Sacrifice rang out through the tent. If this is the first track, how good was it going to get? Across two hours, the nine-piece band played classic tracks from Santana’s five-decade career including Jingo, Evil Ways, Black Magic Woman and even Enya’s Orinoco Flow. It truly felt like we were on the sands of Copacabana beach.
 
From chatting to numerous people both on the way to and at the festival, it seemed the trait that makes Bluesfest so entirely different to others like it, is the diversity of the lineup. Peter Noble and Bluesfest team can truly be proud of the amount of female artists on the lineup this year. With Laura Mvula, Kasey Chambers, Mavis Staples and Corinne Bailey Rae to name but a few, in a world where festivals are over saturated by male artists, the ladies shone bright. 
 
With the task of playing before Patti Smith on the Mojo stage – a task that most would be daunted by – Courtney Barnett really came into her own. Microphone feedback rolled out over the PA as Barnettlaunched into Scott Says, the bass and drums grooved away as punters began to let their hair down and dance away their troubles.
 
The all familiar tremolo of Avant Gardener rang out as the band locked into a groove, something they have really been perfecting over the past few years. Having seen the stage show a few times before, it's easy to say that they really fit on the Mojo stage. Channeling her inner Wil Wagner, Barnettbelted through Pedestrian At Best with intensity and flair. It was loud, raw and rough around the edges, finishing with the squeal of guitar feedback before a solo guitar and vocal intro sawBarnettand band launch into Depreston.  
 
Having previously heard her new album Freedom Highway in parts, I was excited to see how
 
Rhiannon Giddens album translated in the live setting. Many friends had told me about her killer vocal range and I was excited to see what was about to unfold. Early in the set was the emotionally driven At the Purchasers Option. The track was inspired by a newspaper ad from the 1700s asking for the purchase of a woman slave and the option of a child being included. Giddens is a big advocate for singing about human rights and the crowd hooped and hollered as the band launched into a Louisiana Cajun Creole track that transported punters to the deep south of America.
 
If you were unable to catch an artist at a particular time at the festival due to a timetabling clash, chances are they were playing again. This was the case for UK pop singer Corinne Bailey Rae who played both on the Thursday and Saturday night on what was her debut tour of Australia. Thursday's show included the jazzy stylings of Come Save Me, but it was Saturday’s slot that saw one of the biggest singalongs of the festival. The packed tent was immediately onboard with Bailey Rae wholaunched into Get Your Records On, resulting in a good two-minute singalong of the chorus.
 
Attending Bluesfest is all about the unexpected journey you go on when you step through the gates on the Thursday afternoon. To fully experience everything this festival has to offer, you need to camp. Despite a little rain on the Wednesday night when the camp opened, the companions I met and friendships made are something I'll never forget. Friends of all nationalities banded together to help fix each other’s camping issues and over the course of five days, promises to meet at the festival in future years were made. One camping interaction I will not forget anytime soon, was the friendship of Rory, Scott and Dandelion. The latter of which presented me with a bead necklace to pay forward to whoever I deemed worthy by the festival’s conclusion. 
 
Patti Smith and her band playing the iconic 1975 album Horses on the Thursday night was just one of the legends on show in 2017. In addition to Smith, there were also sets from Buddy Guy, Roy Ayers, Mud Morganfield and Ian Anderson playing Jethro Tull. Opening with Living In The Past, fans comprised mostly of middle-aged bearded men were treated to iconic tracks such as Thick As A Brick, Songs From The Wood, Aqualung and the set closer Locomotive Breath.
 
There are countless other highlights of Bluesfest 2017 and they are hard to all fit in this review. Gregory Porter playing Take Me To The Alley and Jake Shimabukoro leading the crowd in a complete singalong of Bohemian Rhapsody immediately come to mind. As this was my first Bluesfest, I can confidently say that I will be back. Thanks Byron Bay for being fantastic, see you in 2018.
 
Words by Tex Miller
Image by Tess Hall
 
Highlight: Too many to mention.
Lowlight: Rain on the first day making camping a challenge.
Crowd Favourite: St Paul and the Broken Bones.