Artist applications are now open for the 2020 edition of the world-famous Blues at Bridgetown and the festival’s social media and website are beginning to crank into life, beginning with notification of the dates for this year — November 13-15. As the slumbering giant awakes, we thought it timely to take a trip through the wires of Blues at Bridgetown festivals past to get you in the mood for this year’s edition.
…doesn’t matter if you’re seeing an artist that’s just beginning to break out, someone who’s been around for a while and knows how it goes, or someone who’s at the pinnacle, you get quality all the way through.
Last year’s edition feels like quite a while ago now. Blues at Bridgetown usually hits around that mid-November sweet spot just before the silly season starts to kick in and, afterwards, Christmas and New Year are done, its already March again and time seems to stretch on for ever.
This November will be upon us before we know it. So, what should you expect?
I’m a relative newb at the whole Bridgetown thing. The first time I went was in 2017 which, coincidentally, was the festival’s 25th anniversary. I feel bad admitting that I’d never prioritised the festival before. Frankly it was the ‘blues’ moniker that had me a bit ambivalent. I don’t mind the blues, in fact I really rather like it, but somehow the thought of three days of it all in one place had me in a 24-year dither.
Blues at Bridgetown in full flight does seem to attract an extraordinarily large quantity of ‘bluesmen’. You know, the ones who wear Fedoras or Trilbies or Pork Pie hats, dark wrap around sunnies, usually sport a grizzled beard and look like they’ve already done a hundred years of hard living by the time they reach their early thirties. There’s a lot of flannel and leather that finds its way into town. It’s uncanny how many of these sorts there are. Where do they all come from?
But that doesn’t mean the festival is all about blues harps, walking bass lines and minor-key guitar solos. The musical fare is just about as diverse as you’d find anywhere at a festival.
Before we get to the music, though, there’s the town itself.
Hampton Street, Bridgetown’s main drag comes alive during Blues at… with music emanating from just about every building, alcove and public space. On the Saturday the main street shuts down and becomes a pedestrian market mall with all sorts of food and other things on offer. The sun is usually shining and the people are friendly. The locals welcome Blues at Bridgetown’s punters into their open arms year after year.
I’d go so far as to say that the town and its residents are the stars of the Blues at Bridgetown show. Without them, there would be no festival. But, also, this ain’t no ordinary country town.
There’s the bakery, and it’s a very fine example of a Australian country-town bakery and, you know what, they open late into the night while punters are trawling up and down the main street in need of a quick (sugar) fix to get them to the next gig. Some city folk could learn a bit from that.
Then there’s the lolly shop, Ooh La Lollipop. Again with the sugar theme, but this place is like stepping into something out of the original Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It has that yesteryear whimsy and is drenched with colour and seemingly endless possibilities. It’s a real-life reminder of the sort of lurid childhood that Hollywood thinks we all deserve, but few of us ever attains. Ooh La Lollipop is well worth a visit even if you don’t have a sweet tooth.
Then, on the other side of the street, there’s Santa’s Secret Toy Store where, without having any evidence to the contrary, it’s Christmas the whole year round. This store sells every imaginable Christmas decoration and fancy, and is laid out like an elfin grotto with just enough room for one person at a time to navigate through the displays that are so plentiful you’d think you’ve entered a whole different world.
There is more, much more. Cafés, pubs, everything you’d expect in a country town, but Bridgetown also has these over-the-top slices of kooky life along its main street that make it a joy to visit. Who knows they probably go back to ‘normal’ outside of the festival dates? Doubt it, but wouldn’t that be kind of strange and beautiful?
While we’re on the main drag, be prepared to do a bit of walking while you’re at Blues at Bridgetown. The two main venues are at either end of Hampton Street with most of the other venues dotted along the way. Some of the venues are a little way out of town and may even require a bit of uphill perambulation. How dare they? Well, Bridgetown is nestled in a river valley, with the Blackwood River touching the town’s outskirts. Don’t worry, the walk will do you good, I promise!
Now, down to the music.
Blues at Bridgetown features international, national and local artists and is living proof that the blues is a broad church. When you think about it, what other sort of music is there?
In the last few years the festival has booked international acts like Original Chicago Blues All Stars, The Turner Brown Band and national heavyweights like Ian Moss, Diesel and Russell Morris. The undercard hasn’t been too shabby either, with Blues at Bridgetown having charted the rise of locals The Southern River Band for three consecutive years and included the likes of Lightnin Jack, Kat Wilson, Helen Townsend and Dan Howls.
For the full history of the Blues at Bridgetown lineup 2014-19, click here.
For this punter, the highlight of 2019’s Blues at Bridgetown was Diesel. Playing as a hot little three-piece, Mark Lizotte was just about jumping out of his skin as he put on a performance for the ages, bringing new life to his perennial hits and throwing in some tasty covers as well. He really cut loose with the guitar wizadry, just about melting the faces off the punters up against the crash barrier with his hot licks. It felt so good to see an old stager playing like he was 21 again. You could tell he really meant it and it meant a lot to the festival crowd, if their reaction was anything to go by.
That’s the thing about Blues at Bridgetown, you get a whole lotta music crammed into three looooooong days and nights, and it doesn’t matter if you’re seeing an artist that’s just beginning to break out (breakout artist for 2019 as voted by this writer was Kat Wilson), someone who’s been around for a while and knows how it goes (my stand out in this category for 2019 was Hussy Hicks), or someone who’s at the pinnacle (and the 2019 winner is, Diesel), you get quality all the way through.
Rumour has it that Ooh La Lollipop, that fantastically impossible lolly shop half way along Hampton Street, sells Blues at Bridgetown sticks of rock with the names of festival stars past and present coded all the way through to the centre. It’s called Good To The Very Last Lick, of course, because so is Blues at Bridgetown. When you go there this year, ask them for some. They’ll have to go out back to get it, they don’t put it on display, it’s too precious. Don’t forget to tell them Around The Sound sent you.
Artist applications are open now. Click here if you think you have what it takes to get your name in that stick of rock.