Day 3, BluesFest 2018: My Horse Is Eventually Going To Die, So I’m Keeping Things Upbeat Around Cowboys


Chris Graham continues his ‘reports’ and his very public mid-life crisis from the 29th annual BluesFest in Byron Bay.

Apparently, I own a horse. His name, I think, is Keiser. Or something German-sounding like that. My birth mother (I’m adopted) keeps him in a paddock north of Sydney. I expect a call one day to inform me that my horse has ‘gone to Candy Mountain’. See below.

I bring this up now because yesterday, at Day 3 of the Byron Bay BluesFest, I managed to catch Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, an American award-winning country music band. Isbell not only comes from Alabama, but he sounds like he comes from Alabama. So basically BluesFest Friend (BFF) and I understood pretty much none of what he said in between songs, apart from the occasional ‘whoooooppppp’ and ‘yiewwwww’, the mating calls of cowboys and Alabamans everywhere.

Which is how, at one point during a song, I swore he sang “Cover me up and know you’re enough to use me for glue”. Naturally, I assumed he was singing about a beloved horse he was sending to the knackery. BFF thought glue was “glow” – i.e. he could be used as an energy source (BFF was a scientist in a previous life). So we googled the song.

“Cover me up and know you’re enough, To use me for good.” Which admittedly makes a lot more sense, but is far less interesting.

American country music star Jason Isbell, performing at the 29th Byron Bay BluesFest. (IMAGE: Chris Graham, New Matilda)

And that also got me thinking – country music is depressing as fuck. By the end of a concert, I don’t just want to end my life, I want to end it in a way that makes the news. In the space of an hour, Isbell referred to a girl who caused his mumma a heart attack and put her in the ICU; a gap swallowing you whole (maybe he’s spent time in Aboriginal affairs?); a winter that was so cold his hair turned blue; a daddy who was dead and gone; and a family farm that’s now a parking lot.

My favourite song – sort of – was one about a woman he loves who’s potentially going to die. Which is certainly sad, but not in the way you’re thinking. She’s possibly going to die… in 40 years or so. Or maybe he will first. Either way someone is dying in 40 years and that’s a source of considerable angst for him right at the fucking moment.

That got BFF wondering if she comes with a “Best Before Date, or just an expiry date” (BFF was a Planner in a previous life)? And it got me wondering… why don’t you just enjoy the 40 years (or possibly more) that you have in front of you and cross that fucking bridge – literally and/or figuratively – when you come to it?

In any event, it was still, musically speaking, an excellent song, and Isbell, also musically speaking, was an excellent performer with an excellent voice. Like, genuinely excellent – explains why he’s won four Grammy’s.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

As for his look – because what ‘music review’ would be complete without some randomly pointless comment about appearance #iamafeminist – it is, in my opinion, reminiscent of ‘The Minister for Agriculture and Water’. BFF for her part thought he “looked like he had tats under that suit and he’s a hard-core criminal” (BFF used to be Dog The Bounty Hunter in a previous life).

Not that that really had anything to do with his music… which as I said was excellent. I’m buying his latest album as we speak.

Speaking of wasting money (that’s just a handy segue, and not actually intended as a factual comment), I also briefly saw William Crighton, an Aussie performer with more intensity than Michaela Cash at a Senate Estimates hearing into bringing back public executions.

William Crighton, intense as fuck, and twice as talented.

Crighton is a hulking, bushman-bearded figure, and his default setting is ‘brooding… after my latest successful serial killing’. His on-stage persona is all very ‘performery’, but five minutes or so into the show Crighton walked away from the microphone towards the front of stage and started yelling things at the audience, and staring menacingly.

It’s at this point that BFF and I beat a hasty retreat, in part because we were both in the mood for something a little lighter, but mostly because it reminded me quite a bit of Phil Davison’s performance when he ran for Stark County Treasurer’s office, particularly at the 1:23 minute mark. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Crighton’s band is no less confronting. His bass guitarist sports a mullet that, all things considered, really should be on display at the National Museum. The guy also has a beard that went out for dinner and never came back.

Put simply he has more hair below his shoulder line than above it. His beard deserves its own Instagram page. He’s a walking fire hazard. His body hair exerts its own gravitational pull. If he owned a mattress factory… okay I’ll stop.

Human Wookie and William Crighton’s guitarist, performing at BluesFest 2018.

My point being, William Crighton And The Hairy Mates is all very in your face. But having said that, Crighton has a stunning, stunning voice, and he’s the man behind by far one of the best Australian songs released in recent history, 2000 Clicks (you can hear it here).

I’d like to hear it here, at Bluesfest, and Crighton is playing again before the festival ends. The challenge will be to sit through a live performance long enough to hear him sing it. And having just dumped all over Crighton’s intensity, it’s this same personality trait that no doubt underpinned his decision to wear a STOP ADANI t-shirt on stage, which admittedly, gives him serious bonus points in my book. Nothing to do with his music, but it handily reminds me that maybe the problem is with me and not Crighton… i.e. the guy makes me feel ’emotion thingies’, which I really don’t need at the moment.

The last performance I saw for the evening was Jackson Browne, not someone, admittedly, I know a great deal about other than he’s a veteran performer, and it showed. His voice is as controlled as it is silky smooth.

I retired early for the night, but BFF headed to the main stage to watch Michael Franti & Spearhead (she used to be an Insomniac in a previous life). BFF later texted me photos of Franti playing in amongst the crowd, hugging people, getting pawed at by over-zealous fans, inviting multiple punters on stage to perform with him, including children who should have been seen and not heard (and in bed), and talking about peace, love and humanity.

There was even a marriage proposal on stage… note to Hillsong Church – that’s how you create a movement.

I’m hoping to hear from BFF some time later today or tomorrow, assuming that she manages to escape the cult in which she was swept up overnight. I’ll update you tomorrow, or you’ll possibly hear about it on the evening news. In the meantime, BFF’s parting words were ‘share this with your readers’, followed by ‘STOP ADANI’. And this is the ‘this’ BFF wanted you to see. It works at several levels.

Until tomorrow….

• YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: I Got The Blues From The Monkey In The Music Room | Day 1, BluesFest 2018

• YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Waiting For Lauryn… And The Loo | Day 2, BluesFest 2018

• YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Attention Seeking Versus Seeking Attention | Day 4, BluesFest 2018

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. In more than three decades of journalism he's had his home and office raided by the Australian Federal Police; he's been arrested and briefly jailed in Israel; he's reported from a swag in Outback Australia on and off for years. Chris has worked across multiple mediums including print, radio and film. His proudest achievement is serving as an Associate producer on John Pilger's 2013 film Utopia. He's also won a few journalism awards along the way in both the US and Australia, including a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards. Since late 2021, Chris has been battling various serious heart and lung conditions. He's begun the process of quietly planning a "gentle exit" after "tying up a few loose ends" in 2024 and 2025. So watch this space.