Mary J Blige performs at Bluesfest in Byron Bay at Tyagarah.
Mary J Blige performs at Bluesfest in Byron Bay at Tyagarah. Marc Stapelberg

Polished performance still saw punters drift

THE great diversity of the roots pool Bluesfest draws upon was in evidence once again in the closing acts on the two main stages on Friday night. 

At Mojo, queen of hip hop soul Mary J Blige drew a huge crowd and entered in a true royal fashion, striding onstage in blond bob and black shades to a synth crescendo, neon purple and blue light beams dancing around the tent. 

The veteran performer quickly had the crowd bouncing around to her impeccably orchestrated full-blast set: the party-hard posse had rushed in for a bop but their efforts to emulate the queen's sinuous moves were defeated by the sudden changes in tempo, resulting in a lot of flamboyant flailing. 

Bligh maintained her cool while radiating warmth and fun, mining her her extraordinary canon, so rich and rapidly changing it was hard at times to keep up. 

Then, turning serious, she slowed down to offer a set of commandments to the "fellows" on behalf of the ladies: "You can only have one queen; women are powerful but you gotta do things for us too; you can't be abusing women; and don't compare your GF with other women." 

The fellas paid attention, and listened up to the next number, I Found My Everything. It's all about trust, you see. 

The show was slick, polished, professional but some of the lovely subtleties of Blige's music were lost in the volume - maybe a little too much so for the ragged Bluesfest punters, many of whom drifted away. 

Meanwhile, at the Crossroads, a show of a very different order was kicking off - the only similarity between the two acts being their American origins. 

Where Blige was electric, urban, black, quick-fire, glossy, The Lumineers were acoustic, folky, white, drawing on the past: an upright piano, mandolin, tambourines, a bit scruffy.  

Founder member Neyla Pekarek's cello added a rich sonic texture to proceedings, its woody timbre a welcome change to the blaring brass of many other of 2017's acts. 

They opened with Submarine, and pressed all the right buttons with singalong Ho Hey, Dead Sea, Cleopatra, Slow It Down, Stubborn Love and a full complement of yearning tunes from their two smash albums. 

The intimate vibe captured the large tent, with fans hanging on every word, walking out with unforgettable choruses ringing in their ears. 

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