<i>Coromandel Blues and Roots Music Festival</i>

01:43, Jan 31 2009
GOT THE BLUES: Paul Ubana Jones performs at the Bluesfest in Whitianga.

Blues legend Buddy Guy, American alternate-country rockers Wilco and Australian multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd were the stand-out performers at the inaugural Coromandel Blues and Roots Music Festival.

Coromandel Blues and Roots Music Festival
Where: Dakota Fields, Whitianga
When: Saturday, March 22

An offshoot of Australia's popular Byron Bay Blues Festival, the musical line-up was a lot more diverse than the name suggested. As was the crowd: a veritable salad of ages and subcultures tending towards the more mature.

Held just outside Whitianga about 6,000 people attended the one-day festival and were treated to a great late summer's day.

A solid roster of local acts, including Hollie Smith, Pluto, Little Bushman and The Checks kicked things off but it was Australian Xavier Rudd who really set things alight at around 5pm just as the heat was subsiding and the cheap ($3 a can) beers and bourbon and colas were kicking in.

With a unique blend of didgeridoo, drums and guitar Rudd sounded a bit like a mixture of Cat Stevens, Graceland-era Paul Simon and a rawer rootsier Jack Johnson.


Supported by just a Canadian guy on drums Rudd got the crowd to its feet and no doubt won a lot of new kiwi fans.

Later, on the main stage, Keb' Mo reminded the punters that it was a blues fest that they were at. Just one man and his acoustic guitar singing about working his 9-5 job, trying to please the boss and questioning whether even his mother loved him.

After dark Scottish pop rocker KT Tunstall played a crowd-pleasing set on the main stage.

While Wilco might have felt a little miffed at having to play on the much smaller stage off to the side, they didn't show it. Jeff Tweedie and his bandmates showed an appreciative crowd just how good rootsy countrified American rock can be.

Tweedie joked at one stage that it must have sounded like a bit of a mash-up with ex Stone Roses front man Ian Brown (who was playing on the main stage at the time) but the band came back for an unexpected encore. "We don't get down here that much," explained Tweedie.

Due to Wilco being delayed for about an hour due to technical problems, this reviewer missed Ian Brown's set but Buddy Guy provided a more than suitable conclusion to almost 12 hours of top flight musical talent.

The word legend gets bandied about a lot these days but as soon as Guy and his band took the stage the audience were in no doubt they were in the presence of one. With his own takes on various soul and blues standards Guy was a captivating presence who simply oozed musicality.

Generally the festival was well run - beers and RTDs were only $3 each, there was a good selection of food and the security guys were efficient and unobtrusive. If I was going to gripe it would be about some of the scheduling decisions resulting in Wilco having to play the smaller stage which meant missing some of KT Tunstall and all of Ian Brown.

And the venue (some paddocks behind an industrial subdivision), while OK was a little bit uninspiring. Although perhaps after attending fantastic venues such as the Bowl of Brooklands in New Plymouth and the Splore venue south-east of Auckland, my location standards are a bit high.

All in all a welcome addition to the NZ festival circuit. Roll on BluesFest 2009.          



Fairfax Media