Some readers might recall the tale of my adventures at Big Day Out this year, in the kiwiboomers February 2008 issue. On Easter Saturday, I went to another music festival: The Coromandel Peninsula Blues & Roots Music Festival, held on a wide, flat field on the outskirts of Whitianga - this time with company.
Indeed, Easter this year was quite saturated with live music options: a jazz festival in Tauranga, a two day gathering of bogans and various uglies (KISS, Alice Cooper) in Wellington, and other artists (Ray Davies, Wilco) playing indoor venues in Auckland. In this tail-end of a long summer there has been a wealth of choice for music lovers - up-and-coming bands, and some a bit past their use-by-date, in a range of genres.
There is a simple reason why we are seeing so many acts touring New Zealand. In these days of downloads and MP3 players, the long-established distribution networks for shifting vinyl and CDs around is in crisis. For bands and artists, the real money is to be made in live concert tickets, and merchandising (T-shirts, posters etc).
The BluesFest in Whitianga seemed rather a misnomer as it was only marginally blues. The March 22 event was largely an off-shoot of the popular Byron Bay (Australia) festival, crossing the Tasman for the first time. It certainly attracted a much different demographic than BDO - add some thirty years to the age of average punter, plus a generous sprinkling of collapsible chairs and chilly-bins. One entry requirement was than anyone under the age of 18 needed to be in under the charge of ‘parent or guardian’, even though there did not seem to be any mechanism for enforcing this. There were plenty of teens around but they seemed a little lost amidst a crowd of advanced year and well-fed profiles.
The music was a mixed bag. We missed all the New Zealand acts which began at mid-day - not from disloyalty but because they were all scheduled before the cheaper entry ($75 rather $105) that kicked in at 5pm. Australian Xavier Rudd (no relation to Kevin) raised the tempo but I wasn’t impressed - too much like bbq reggae. Keb Mo was pleasant but not particularly challenging, K.T. Tunstall was loud and kind of engaging, ex-Stone Roses singer Ian Brown was middling, and Buddy Guy was slick and electrifying, even you though you got the feeling all the patter and moves had been done many times before. Still, it was some kind of treat to hear Chicago-style blues in full flight on a moonlit night in New Zealand.
The music offerings would have been generally disappointing if hadn’t been for the slot by American ‘alt-country’ Wilco. Initially, the crowd’s patience was sorely tested by a 70 minute delay (one of numerous technical glitches on the day), a grade B stage far too small for the band, and competition from Ian Brown playing at the same time on the main stage. I think that if the same thing had happened at BDO, cans and other tossed objects would have showered the management . Despite these problems, Wilco were magnificent - switching suddenly from Jeff Tweedy’s plaintive croonings, to a cacophony of noise and power. This is the second time I have seen Wilco in the past twelve months (last time in London in June 2007) and I reckon they are one of the most intelligent music-makers on the globe, effectively escaping the ‘alt-country’ label once given them. They certainly deserved more than Ian Brown to be on the main stage at Whitianga.
© Geoff Lealand April 2008