UPDATE: Since the writing of this article the lineup for Bluesfest 2021 has changed due to international travel restrictions. To see the current lineup see this article.
Bluesfest has announced its 2021 lineup with some international heavy-hitters and – perhaps more importantly – a whole host of Aussie gems. Here’s what you need to know to get up to speed on the standout acts.
If 2020 finally gives us a break and by the end of the year Godzilla hasn’t made its expected appearance, Bluesfest 2021 might just be the perfect place to celebrate the conclusion of this dark period and welcome a new dawn with the best music the world has to offer.
“We are heartbroken as we believe we were presenting one of the best ever bills of talent for you” festival organisers said in a statement back in March. The festival, one of Australia’s biggest musical events since 1990, was originally scheduled for the April Easter weekend but had to call it quits after the government banned non-essential public gatherings of more than 500 people amid fears about the spread of the COVID-19.
After months of uncertainty and financial turmoil, organisers have bounced back in style, announcing for 2021 one of the biggest lineups in the festival’s history.
Next year’s event will bring back every staple that makes of Bluesfest one of the most anticipated stops in the world’s live music circuit; the spectacular camping sites, the incredible food, the idyllic scenery, and of course, the habitual host of legendary performers.
This is just a taste of what awaits in 2021:
This American band with a French name is one of the biggest acts in the indie market today. Gravitating in a range of genres that go from classic folk to electronica, their sound is the very embodiment of melancholy.
Bon Iver’s debut album For Emma, Forever Ago in 2008 is widely regarded as one of the best works of the last 20 years, ranked 29th in Pitchfork’s list of best 200 albums of the 2000s, and 48th in Consequence of Sound’s ranking of 100 best of the same period.
Song for the uninitiated: ‘33 “GOD”’
Recommended album: For Emma, Forever Ago
Honorary Doctorate from the Berklee College of Music, this man has worked with jazz icons like Al Jarreau, Stanley Turrentine, and Miles Davis, as well as pop stars like Stevie Wonder and Gorillaz. A living legend with 10 Grammy Awards and 15 nominations, simply put, Guitar virtuoso George Benson is one of the greatest musicians to ever perform in Australia.
Song for the uninitiated: ‘Give me the Night’
Recommended album: Breezin’
Smith already inscribed herself in the history of the festival with an epic performance in 2017 that we all thought would be the last on Aussie soil due to her age and health condition. But life is a beautiful thing as we have been given the chance to witness once more one of the greatest rock icons of all time.
Song for the uninitiated: ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’
Recommended album: Horses
Every act the English musician has participated in since the ‘60s has pushed one step forward the evolution of blues and rock, directly influencing everybody from Eric Clapton and Peter Green to The Rolling Stones.
Today, 86 years old and with more than 60 albums under his belt, the blues maestro is showing the world he still has a lot to say.
Song for the uninitiated: ‘Dirty Water’
Recommended album: Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton
Barnesy is practically our very own Aussie Springsteen. Born in Glasgow in an impoverished family and moving to Adelaide when he was a five-year-old, his environment while growing up was one of alcohol and violence.
Barnes tried out various odd jobs – one of them an apprenticeship in a foundry with the South Australian Railways when he was just 16 – before his legendary move into the music scene.
Fiery performances with his band Cold Chisel in the early ‘70s turned him into a local pub scene sensation, and from then on his name has become a constant presence in the Aussie Top 40 charts for three decades, even earning recognition in the American and British markets after successful collaborations with Tina Turner, INXS, Joe Cocker and Huey Lewis.
Throughout his lauded career Barnes has achieved more number one records than any other artist (Aussie or otherwise) in the Australian market and is one of the most popular and best-selling local acts within Australia of all time, right there in the pantheon of Aussie rock alongside AC/DC, Nick Cave, INXS, and Midnight Oil.
Song for the uninitiated: ‘I’m in a Bad Mood’
Recommended album: Soul Deep.
The Black Sorrows
Frontman Joe Camilleri is one of the seminal figures in Australian music of the last four decades. With his first band, Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons the singer/songwriter recorded some of the most remembered Aussie hits of the ‘70s, like ‘Walk on By’, ‘Taxi Mary’, ‘Hit and Run’ and ‘All I Wanna Do’.
The Falcons dissolved in the early ‘80s giving way to a new project, The Black Sorrows, a sophisticated blues-rock ensemble very influenced by acts like Edgar Winter, Aretha Franklin, and Traffic.
So far The Black Sorrows have recorded 17 albums, five of them reaching the Top 20 on the ARIA Albums Charts and are probably the most influential Australian blues artist of all time.
Song for the uninitiated: ‘Chained to the Wheel’
Recommended album: Harley and Rose
You know your parents or grandparents have good taste if you spot a Chain record around the house. The blues-rock act from Melbourne is considered one of the founding institutions of the Australian blues tradition, with a career that goes from the early ‘70s to this day.
Various lineups, more than a dozen records, and hundreds of iconic performances place them as one of the most influential bands of Aussie rock.
Song for the uninitiated: ‘Black and Blue’
Recommended album: Toward the Blues.
Five contemporary acts to keep an eye on:
Laura Pergolizzi, better known as LP, spent more than a decade sucked into the major record label system anonymously writing the hits of renowned pop stars of the likes of Rihanna and Christina Aguilera. It was not until 2016 when a curious twist of fate pushed her single ‘Lost on You’ to become an overnight international sensation, number one in 17 countries, and streamed over a billion times on Spotify.
Today LP is one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, an inescapable presence in radio, TV, and the live circuit.
Song for the uninitiated: ‘Muddy Waters’
Recommended album: Lost on You
Multi-instrumental prodigy Roshani is one of the most exciting new voices in today’s Australian scene, offering a contemporary mix of R&B, roots, and pop that sounds familiar yet innovative at the same time.
Her live act is a real tour de force in which she uses a range of instruments and pedals to offer an impressive one-woman-band show that reminds you of the technical prowess of artists like KT Tunstall or Molly Gene.
Song for the uninitiated: ‘Funky’
Recommended album: What if?
Writing in both English and the Indigenous language of Anindilyakwa, Emily creates a fascinating blend of gentle pop and world music that reminds you of the heyday of Peter Gabriel’s “Real World” initiative back in the ‘90s and early noughts.
Her debut EP in 2016 Black Smoke inserted itself in most Top 100 lists across Australia that year, amassing over 1 million Spotify streams, and earning her heavy rotation on triple j. In 2019, she won the AIR Independent Music Award for her follow up album, Milyakburra.
Song for the uninitiated: ‘Lady Blue’
Recommended album: Milyakburra.
This nine-piece Melbourne big band is one of those acts that you’ve definitely heard even if you don’t recognise the name. Since their formation in 2001, they’ve been slowly but steadily captivating world audiences with their heartfelt and ridiculously infectious brand of funk and soul.
Their songs being featured in everything from Hollywood romantic comedies like Crazy, Stupid, Love, popular TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, CSI New York, and curiously, even in Big Ant Studios’ sports video game Cricket 19.
A hit overseas in countries like Greece, France, and India, The Bamboos are probably the sleeping giant of the Australian music scene.
Song for the uninitiated: ‘Lit Up’
Recommended album: Night Time People
The Cat Empire
The Melbourne-based act is beloved for their passionate live performances and their unique blend of ska, jazz, funk, and Latin rhythms. Their activist side is part of their brand, having collaborated throughout their career with organisations like the World Wide Fund, the Australian Marine Conservation Society and the Melbourne Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
Another fine cultural Aussie export, curiously, their sound has found a big following in Spanish speaking countries like Argentina and Spain, where they hold sold-out venues.
Song for the uninitiated: ‘The Sun’
Recommended album: Steal the Light.