Nile Rodgers beamed out to thousands of joyful people dancing to Chic on the final night of Bluesfest, saying he was genuinely so thankful to be with us having survived two forms of cancer. After playing a full set of massive hits he’d written for Chic, David Bowie, Madonna, Diana Ross and Daft Punk among others, Rodgers laughed while telling us that a local newspaper had described Chic as “a covers band”.

Their set was among the greatest I’ve seen in my life, and in a stunning twist my first time at Bluesfest turned out to be one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to. Despite powerful names on the bill, the ridiculous quality of my experience still came as a surprise. There is an ease to the crowds who give welcoming appreciation for every band, with a dickhead ratio approaching absolute zero. What other events can make this claim?

The average audience member is “approaching retirement” and the space catered for them with a wide range of food options (appreciated!) and a couple hundred seats set back from the stage. You could even buy front row seats for any set from the merch desk. I loved that sets were allocated for 90 mins or even two hours, feeling like we’d received the full sideshow performance from each band. Our four-year-old son made full use of the kids’ area with face painting and balloon animals.

Wandering between stages, I liked everything I heard. Always something new and powerful. I was seriously caught by a couple acts I hadn’t heard before, such as Dumpstaphunk, a funk and jam band from New Orleans throwing down late on the Delta stage on Sunday night. Ridiculous players. Earlier that afternoon we saw The California Honeydrops on the Mojo stage, performers who seriously know how to work a crowd. That was a party.

Robert Plant

Of the big names, Robert Plant opened his Friday night set with ‘The Lemon Song’ from Led Zeppelin II. His show sat mostly in the acoustic and mystical Gaelic space, rather than dropping heavy Zeppelin bombs as I’d expected, but his voice is still remarkable. I heard an older guy walk past telling his mate he was going to “Go and listen to Zeppelin in my ear buds”, unimpressed by the acoustic feel of the show. I didn’t share his view.

Watch highlights from Day 2 of Bluesfest 2018

Highlights from Saturday included Leon Bridges who brought all the gospel and soul, and bursts of blues-driven rock ‘n’ roll. Canned Heat were sensational later on the Delta stage, playing hits and beaming peace, love and good times with a California twang and appreciation for everyone in the space. The New Power Generation were a surprise as we hadn’t realised they’d been the backing band for Prince from 1990 to 2013! We didn’t know we were in for some Prince but it was oh so sweet.

Watch New Power Generation at Bluesfest 2018

Jose Gonzalez’ set on Sunday attracted everyone on the festival grounds. He played tracks from his Vestiges & Claws record from 2015, along with a cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ and closing with ‘Heartbeats’, his 2003 cover of ‘The Knife’ caused a mild hysteria. Next up was First Aid Kit, the Swedish folk and country duo I’d highlighted as a major attraction but didn’t anticipate their raw power on stage, both vocally and musically. They’re a force I intend to see again.

That night closed with the double billing of Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow. Crowds surged and ran forward as Etheridge began, obviously a highlight many had been looking forward to, and she brought the gravitas of a seasoned pro.

Sheryl Crow

There was a lot of laughter, smiles, singing and dancing around in the muddy areas outside of the main tent. Etheridge isn’t afraid to rip off guitar solos for five minutes at a time; steeped in Memphis blues and heartland rock ‘n’ roll – a pure sound emanating across the grounds.

Watch highlights from Day 3 of Bluesfest 2018

Sheryl Crow was a burst of sunshine pop and country. Her short-form hits were like candy after four full days at Bluesfest, experiencing all different styles. She opened with two crowd favourites, dropping ‘Everyday Is A Winding Road’ and ‘If It Makes You Happy’. Crow is a time capsule into the ’90s. People were hugging their friends, dancing and singing. What can be better than that?

Finally, Monday started for us seeing The Wailers playing some right at-the-source Bob Marley tracks I’d never assumed to experience; deep dub and reggae. If they’re in your town, go and see the Wailers.

We cut straight from ‘Get Up Stand Up’ to the infinite life highlight of Chic featuring Nile Rodgers, followed by Lionel Richie who set about destroying the place by taking everyone back to 1978. Throwing out ‘Brick House’ by the Commodores and ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’, the man is dangerous. And for me, Bluesfest is now an annual tradition.

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