Top musical acts from around the globe gathered on the grounds of Laguna Phuket the last weekend in February to perform their unique styles of music at the 7th annual Phuket International Blues Rock Festival, presented by 91.5 FM. For the audience it was a feast of sensory delights.
MCs Ricky and Marc welcomed the first performer, Australian Jack Derwin. This acoustic solo artist served up a beautiful appetizer of the blues while accompanying himself on numerous instruments.
Moscowfish were up next. This Canadian duo exhibited tremendous energy and passion. They let loose a fine blend of ‘old timey’, reggae and blues and standards that got everyone in the right mood.
The Rockin’ Angels followed and again Patt filled the stage with talented musicians: Richard Wright of New York on guitar and flute; teenagers Rannze on drums and Paul on guitar. Rounding out the group were Ya and Nida on backing vocals and on percussion Drew and William. A highlight was ‘Cocaine’ – opening slowly with Richard’s flute and Patt’s understated guitar, then rocking to a sizzling ending with blistering guitar riffs. Bravo!
TOKEN is a Santana tribute band fronted by the highly talented Hatsamret aka Khun Teung, who won the 2011 Singha-sponsored Santana Guitar Legend contest and got to meet and open for the man himself at Impact Arena in Bangkok. He and his fellow young Phuket musicians wowed the crowd with their faithful versions of Santana classics.
Rain fell for about five minutes, but the marquee covered the audience as SKY HIGH took to the stage. Clas Yngström (Sweden) and his band have toured the world and recorded numerous albums since their launch in the seventies. With original drummer Uffe Åhman and ace bassist Arne ‘Mr. Dynamite’ Blomqvist, the band plowed through original blues & rock material mixed with great classics. In what was perhaps the boldest wardrobe choice of the festival, Clas was dressed in what appeared to be Leopard spotted pajamas. But this big, talented veteran performer managed to pull it off.
AkashA is a 7-piece Malaysian band playing what some call World Fusion Music, but it’s more than that. They explore all corners of the globe by experimenting in Jazz, Blues, African, Latin, Celtic, & Asian rhythms. This was their third appearance at the Bwlues Festival, and their solid Phuket fan base eagerly awaited their performance, opening with a sitar playing Ragtime banjo runs, followed by straight-ahead jazz piano riffs, all coming together on an Indian melody, under laid with vocal and rhythmic percussion. They did not disappoint and no doubt picked up many new fans in Phuket.
Saturday night the crowd was ready to rock when the Stuart Bush Band took the stage. This affable Australian quartet, playing regularly in Koh Samui, are a tight rock-based group that got everyone warmed up with their solid set, including a beautiful version of Jimi Hendrix’ ‘Little Wing’.
International was the operative word for this year’s festival, and so also the Colin Hill Band. Colin fronted bands in his native Australia for decades before making Phuket home a few years back. Pjae Stanley from Texas sang a riveting version of ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’. With Jeffery on keyboard, Tom on bass, Mauro on drums and saxman Milo, the band was up to speed when blues shouter Jimmy Fame and Arvid ‘Snakeman’ Munthe on harp joined them and got the crowd rocking.
Few artists can claim to have played the legendary Glastonbury Festival, but newcomer Grainne Duffy had that honor in 2008. She won over the crowd immediately with her wonderful mix of blues, rock and soul. Grainne’s set featured songs from her albums ‘Out of The Dark’ and ‘Test Of Time’, including ‘Bad To Worse’ and ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ (two versions of this powerful song in one night – tribute to the late great Etta James). Duffy sang with raw emotion, felt by all fortunate enough to witness her stirring performance.
Representing Australia, yet again, were John Meyer’s Blues Express. They also played in 2011 and the crowd was eagerly awaiting his return. John, Peter and Ric performed songs to perfection from their self-titled debut album. John’s slide guitar was particularly noteworthy and we hope to see him back yet again – soon!
Andy Andersen – organizer and founder of the Blues Rock Festival – is to be thanked for having the forethought, energy and perseverance to deliver this wonderful event year after year. But when the tent pegs are pulled and the trucks roll away – what makes this festival so unique is Andy’s ability to seek out fresh, new acts from around the globe. He has turned die-hard blues fans on to artists they didn’t know, such as Victor Brox & Rich Harper and made us aware of established names like Charlie Musselwhite, Eric Bibb & Curtis Salgado.
This year Andy has done it again with headliner Chris Thomas King – who showed Phuket why he has sold over ten million records. Chris had an early baptism in the blues and in his twenties was touring and recording for Warner Bros. Securing a major role in the Coen brothers' film ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ in 2001 gained him international fame and a mainstream audience.
Veteran bassist Jimmy Bell joined Chris and drummer Jeff Mills for almost an hour and a half of fantastic music. Drawing on songs from his latest albums ‘Rise’ and ‘Antebellum Postcards’, Chris’s sweet vocals and intricate guitar runs were all the crowd needed to cap off a fantastic weekend. From the first song ‘Dirty Water’, it was obvious that we were in the hands of a master, but it was ‘I Wanna Be Your Drug’ that got everyone on their feet. With infectious hooks, precise timing, changes, raw energy and sheer showmanship – Chris delivered perhaps the best performance ever seen at the Blues Rock Festival. My Fedora hat is off to Chris Thomas King!
IMAGE asia was a Media Partner of the Phuket International Blues Rock Festival for the second year.