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Australian Guitar x Bluesfest 2022: Jeff Lang

Jeff Lang
(Image credit: Press/Supplied)

It’s been a long and bumpy ride to the next edition of the Byron Bay Bluesfest – especially after its attempt in April got nixed a day out from opening, with the site and its stages already built – but lo and behold, Bluesfest is finally (finally!!!) making its return in 2022. 

Taking the form of an exclusive special edition, sporting an all‑Australian lineup, the four-day celebration of all things blues, roots, rock and beyond will take place at its established home of the Byron Events Farm (formerly Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm) across next year's Easter long weekend of Friday April 15th through Monday 18th. 

And although the usual suite of international icons are sitting this one out – y’know, travel bans and all that fun stuff – the lineup couldn’t be more enormous: headliners include Midnight Oil, Paul Kelly, Tash Sultana and Jimmy Barnes, with over 50 of Australia’s biggest and best names set to raise the barn over four epic days.

To get ourselves prepped for what is undoubtedly going to be the most exciting weekend of the year for any Aussie music fan, we’re catching up with handful of the acts we’re beyond keen to see. 

This week, we're going one-on-one with Jeff Lang!

THE CHEAT SHEET

Okay, so who’s this?
A triple ARIA-winning folkster who takes to the fretboard with an inhuman level of skill. In addition to his mind-melting solo work, Jeff Lang is a collaborative superstar, whipping out riveting records with the likes of Bob Brozman and Angus Diggs, Chris Whitley, Mamadou Diabate and Bobby Singh, and Danny McKenna. Lang also soundtracked ABC’s drama series The Gods Of Wheat Street in 2014.

What would I know him from?
Bluesfest, probably – Lang is an honoured veteran of the festival, making his first appearance there before he’d even put a record out. Since then, he’s released over 30, so if you haven’t managed to catch him onstage, there’s a good chance you’ve heard him (vocally or via his guitar playing) somewhere down the line.

Why should I see him?
You should give Lang a shot for the inescapably wondrous twang and twinkle that rings out from his fretboard. He wrangles slide guitar like it’s what he was born to do, and he wields a mighty voice to sing over it all with.

When is he playing?
Lang has two shows lined up for this year’s jaunt – he’ll be strumming ’n sliding up a storm on both the Saturday (October 2nd) and the Sunday (October 3rd).


So Jeff, what are you looking forward to most at Bluesfest 2021? 
It’ll be mighty to be playing at Bluesfest again! It’s always a good event, but with all the delays and anticipation, there’s this extra sense of, “Yes! We can do this!” It’ll feel like I can say, “I’ve been good! I’m getting rewarded!” I mean, hats off to ‘em for getting it to happen at all – y’know, running a festival of that size is a big effort normally, feels herculean now, in light of all the obstacles they’ve had to face.

You’re obviously no stranger to Bluesfest, having playing it a decent few times since your debut in 1994. What is it about the festival that keeps drawing you back to it? 
Well I mean, any event like that, where the event has a certain pull of its own aside from whoever is on the bill… Y’know, the big drawcard for the performer is that you’ve got a lot of people who just really want to see live music – you know that there’s going to be a gathering of people who all know what you do, and they’re all in one place together. So it’s always got a good vibe to it. There’s also likely to be people who haven’t heard of you before, and are checking you out for the first time. And that’s always a good thing, because the context is a positive one. 

Do you remember much about that first time you took to the stage at Bluesfest? 
I vaguely do! I remember it was at Belongil Fields, and I remember it for a couple of reasons. It was before the first album, Ravenswood. I recorded that in April of ’94, so I think I was just about to head into the studio, and Bluesfest was my first outing for a few of the songs on it – songs that I still play to this day! The title track is one of those – I remember I played it for the first time ever at Bluesfest that year. I also remember that I didn’t know it would be overcast all weekend, and I got sunstroke [laughs]. That one’s not a great memory, but y’know, it tends to make things stick in your mind!

So being a veteran of the festival, how would you say Bluesfest has evolved over the years? 
It’s definitely grown in size with the change of venue, which I think has been a really good thing. Having their own purpose-built site has meant there’s a little bit more separation between the stages, so you don’t get the sonic clashes that used to happen a little bit. It never used to be anything horrendous or foul to the ears, but these days, y’know, you don’t hear the mainstage’s low‑end washing over one of the smaller stages or anything like that. So there are certain things, logistically, that they’ve really thought through and gotten right with the venue as it is now.

It was probably a little bit more strictly blues-driven, initially. But then again, when I first played in ’94, they had me on there, and I’m not strictly a blues act – so there’s always been a little bit of an eye to broadening it beyond traditional blues and roots. That continues now, and I think it’s a good thing, because it draws a wider audience into the event. They have people that might be more into the more mainstream artists on the bill, but they’ll happen past a stage where someone is playing a more traditional form of the music, and they’ll check it out and end up liking it. So it kind of broadens the appeal for that reason as well.

What can we expect to see from your set at Bluesfest 2021? 
I haven’t thought much about what I’m going to do! I mean, I tend to wing it a little bit.

Well, you do have over 30 albums worth of material to draw from. 
That’s right! That helps keep it a little bit more energetic, if I don’t plan it too much in advance. There’s always gotta be a little bit of improvisation in there. I’ll be bringing a slide guitar with me to play some of that stuff, and there’ll be some regular guitar stuff as well. But aside from that, it’s unknown even to me!

What kind of guitars are you jamming out on these days? 
For regular, non-slide guitar duties, I have a guitar made by a guy named David Churchill over in Ballarat. I also have an instrument made for lap-style playing, and the one I’m using right now is made by a fellow named Ross Coole, from Fremantle, and he also made the guitar that I’m using for the bottleneck playing. That’s the most recent guitar I had made for me – I had it made with a flat fingerboard with no radius on it. Because I do a few solos in the set, and oftentimes they’re played with a bottleneck slide and a capo, and what I was finding was that playing with a radius fingerboard, the middle strings would be prone to rattling against the fretboard. 

Over time, I’d start noticing it at gigs and it would give me the shits. Eventually I thought, “Y’know, I’ve been playing slide guitar at gigs for decades now – maybe I should address this.” I debated getting a hold of an electric guitar to see if it would actually work, but then the only guitars in electric land with flat fingerboards
are usually real shredder machines, and those don’t work for slide either. But then a friend of mine, Shannon Bourne – a great guitar player – he loaned me an old Harmony Stella 12-string, which happened to have a dead flat fingerboard. 

So I experimented with that, and even though it was a 12-string, which has got a very different action to it, I was pretty confident that the idea would work. And it has! Finally, after decades, I did a simple thing that fixed an issue that was annoying me!

Who are you excited to catch at Bluesfest 2022? Take a peek at the lineup below, then start getting your schedules ready!

BYRON BAY BLUESFEST 2022 – LINEUP

  • Midnight Oil
  • Paul Kelly
  • Jimmy Barnes
  • Fat Freddy’s Drop
  • John Butler
  • Xavier Rudd
  • Pete Murray
  • Ian Moss
  • Kate Ceberano
  • Kasey Chambers
  • The Waifs
  • The Church
  • Jon Stevens
  • The Living End
  • Mark Seymour & The Undertow
  • The Angels
  • Russell Morris
  • Kate Miller-heidke
  • Vika & Linda
  • All Our Exes Live In Texas
  • Ross Wilson And The Peaceniks
  • John Williamson
  • Troy Cassar-daley
  • Briggs
  • Tex Perkins The Man In Black
  • Hiatus Kaiyote
  • Josh Teskey & Ash Grunwald
  • Weddings Parties Anything
  • The Black Sorrows
  • Cw Stoneking
  • The Bamboos
  • Chain
  • Backsliders
  • Ash Grunwald
  • Melbourne Ska Orchestra
  • Jeff Lang
  • Nathan Cavaleri
  • Kim Churchill
  • Henry Wagons
  • Jk-47
  • Garrett Kato
  • Mama Kin Spender
  • Dami Im
  • Pierce Brothers
  • Emily Wurramara
  • The Buckleys
  • Fiona Boyes & The Fortune Tellers
  • Ray Beadle
  • Pacey, King & Doley
  • Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission
  • Hussy Hicks
  • Roshani
  • Daniel Champagne
  • Little Georgia
  • Lambros.
  • Round Mountain Girls
  • The Regime
  • Electrik Lemonade
  • Palm Valley
  • Byron Busking Competition
  • Rockwiz Live

Tickets to the 2021 Byron Bay Bluesfest are on sale now – head to bluesfest.com.au for more info!