Steve Smyth’s one of the country’s most mesmerising performers, his voice an instrument of many varied tone. His approach to folk and rock music is anachronistic, bard-like in its delivery. Smyth, accompanied by those rock pigs from Wolf & Cub, drummer Brock Fitzgerald and bassist Wade Keighran, has also amassed a three-piece brass section and a string quartet. The brass adds a robust thrust to ‘Shake It’ and ‘Get On’, while the string section lends a gorgeous layer to his masterpiece ‘Written or Spoken’.
Soulful crooner Leon Bridges fills the Crossroads tent, accompanied by a tight band. His tunes ‘Coming Home’ and the sing-along ‘River’ receive a rapturous response. Jason Isbell, who is due to follow bridges on the same stage, watches intently from side of stage.
Isbell, joined by his band The 400 Unit, has a huge voice and is a demon on the electric guitar. He rolls through a set of fan favourites with an assured, understated presence built for a stadium. Tracks like ’24 Frames’, ‘White Man’s World’, ‘Cover Me Up’, ‘Speed Trap Town’, and ‘Outfit’ pack a raw emotional punch.
William Crighton’s second Bluesfest set manages to improve on the first, which is no mean feat. He conjures the same intensity as the first performance, but the songwriter and his band seem more relaxed and commanding. The first set had a fervent energy, but Crighton’s presence is now as arresting as ever. It’s one of his best performances.
After a heady slice of actual blues, a big crowd crams into the Delta tent to see the legendary Canned Heat, who shred harder than rockers half their age. Closing the Jambalya stage is Lukas Nelson (son of Willie) and The Promise of the Real, who’ve taken the reins from Crazy Horse as Neil Young’s backing band. Nelson is a bona fide country rock superstar, with a wailing voice that could shatter rock and a mastery of the electric guitar that’ll make your ears bleed. A jubilant showman. From playing a few solos with his teeth, to a heartfelt tribute to Tom Petty with ‘Breakdown’, Nelson plays one of the best sets of the festival (so far).