The sun rises on the final day of Bluesfest 2018. The finish line is in sight. An early stroll through the festival ground suggests that many people have gone home already, which is definitely a blessing. Drink lines are shorter, ducking in and out of tents to see bands is easier. There’s enough room in the central communal area for a game of touch footy.
Steve Smyth delivers his fourth and final performance, marked by one of the entire festival’s highlights. When his guitar string breaks before ‘Written or Spoken’, the songwriter convinces his string quartet to take the reins. The result is Smyth’s aching voice accompanied by only the strings – a moment of true sonic splendour.
William Crighton and his band bring an end to their first visit to Bluesfest. Musically, it’s been an absolute triumph. There’s no doubt that the Hunter-based artist has reached new listeners, and the shows around this second album release, Empire, will be his loudest and rockiest. The towering musician might have scared a few people with his imposing stage presence, but no one will forget these shows any time soon. You can be certain you’ll see William Crighton on the bill of Bluesfest again.
The must-see act of the festival is Chic featuring Nile Rodgers. Formed by Rodgers in the early 1970s as The Big Apple Band, the group’s name was changed to Chic in 1977. Rodgers as a producer and studio musician is a giant in the music industry, having worked with artists such as Madonna, David Bowie, Diana Ross and INXS. A major proponent of disco and funk, Rodgers has had a modern resurgence thanks to his work with Lady Gaga, Sam Smith, Avicii and, most famously, Pharrell Williams and Daft Punk.
Such is his voluminous back catalogue, that this performance is guaranteed to be a hit-loaded party time. Rodgers and his band do indeed steal the show from every other artist at Bluesfest 2018.
The band are as tight as a fish’s clacker
and drop seamlessly in and out of songs as if they’re at the whim of an unseen omnipotent DJ. Opening with the one-two punch of ‘Everybody Dance’ and ‘Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)’, the audience more than complies. In fact, there hasn’t been a crowd response as unbridled and blissful at this year’s festival. Not a single person is standing still in the giant Mojo tent. Then it’s into the smouldering ‘I Want Your Love’.
Then it’s a sizzling medley that includes ‘We Are Family’ and ‘Upside Down’, before we start getting to some mega-hits. Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’, Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’, Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’, Chic’s ‘Le Freak’ and the very hot and sweaty closer, Chic’s ‘Good Times’. Punctuated by Rodgers trademark chugging rhythm guitar, and a live band that could pound for pound match any other outfit on the planet, this has been one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen.
Chic’s a hard act to follow, but Nicole Richie’s dad gives it a red-hot go. Opening with show-stopper ‘Easy’, the music legend draws on an even split of Commodores tunes and his solo material. He plays all the hits one would want to hear, from the heavy funk of ‘Brick House’ to the Richie-penned piano ballad ‘Three Times a Lady’.
Lionel’s voice is by no means a big instrument (it’s dwarfed by what we heard coming out of Seal the previous evening), but in certain songs that soulful timbre that we’ve grown up with comes to the fore. In the absence of Diana Ross, the music legend gets the audience to sing her parts in ‘Endless Love’. They happily oblige.
Another big singalong in ‘Say You, Say Me’ is followed by Lionel sitting at the piano for ‘Hello’. Looking around the audience, revellers are visibly disappointed that a giant, creepy pottery bust of Richie hasn’t been wheeled on to stage for the song’s duration. We’ll have to use our imagination.
‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ kicks the show into a higher gear before the saccharine ‘We Are the World’, written as a charity single by Richie and Michael Jackson (produced by Quincy Jones), brings the show proper to a close.
But there’s a track he hasn’t sung. And he ain’t getting out of Byron Bay alive until he plays it. So Richie returns to both the stage and the opening strains of ‘All Night Long (All Night)’. With its tropical ‘80s production, the track is Richie’s crowning achievement, one of those songs that’s so irresistibly danceable that you could play the track through a boom-box in the town morgue and raise the freshly dead.
Richie’s set is one of dynamics – big show-stopping pop hits punctuated by his tear-jerking ballads. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of Chic and Rodgers, but between that group, Richie and Seal, the sex triumvirate does ensure that more babies will be conceived at Bluesfest 2018 than any other festival in Australia’s history. Hello.