Photo by Mitch Ikeda
So here we are yet again, another Fuji Rock has come and gone. However don’t fret, Fuji Rock’s younger brother, Asagiri Jam is just around the corner. The 2016 edition of Fuji Rock was one of the best ever for me. It was my 5th time attending the festival, so I knew most the ins and outs on how to get around, which food stalls to hit and how to plan a decent schedule. As usual, the vibe was great all weekend. There were some special anniversary surprises, way more hits than misses and let’s not forget the weather this year, which was almost perfect all festival. So, congratulations to Fuji Rock and Smash on its 20th anniversary of one of the best music festivals in the world, here’s to the next 20.
Choosing the best of Fuji Rock 2016 is no easy task. I must have taken in close to 30 acts over the 3 and a half days of music. The bulk of it included a whole lot of great jazz, funk and blues. So if that’s your thing, you might agree, this year’s Fuji Rock was first-class. Let me know what you think of my list and thanks for following along with us Fujirockers for another year.
5) DJ Jim
As this year was an anniversary edition of Fuji Rock, I have to give some credit to one of Fuji Rock’s hardest working performers in its 20 year history, Jim West, aka DJ Jim. If you’ve attended Fuji Rock in the past 15 years you’ve undoubtedly heard at least part of a DJ Jim set. He plays almost non-stop, all day in the world food area, spinning strictly, old, rare 45’s. In today’s digital music age, with more DJs using CDJs, Serato and Traktor, it’s refreshing to see a true record aficionado like Jim consistently get booked to the fest. The real beauty and art of a DJ Jim set is the massive size and rarity of his record collection. Jim plays tunes you’ll hear once and never again. His preferred style is ska, soul, funk and rockabilly, what’s not to love?
Report: DJ Jim
4) Con Brio
While I only had time to catch these guys on the Thursday night pre-party, the San-Francisco based funkers left enough of an impression to stick with me through to next week. Front-man Ziek McCarter performs with an insane amount of energy and busts out dance moves that would make James Brown jealous. The whole band has some serious chops to keep the people moving and grooving, playing out modern funk, soul, jazz and more. While I only had a taste of Con Brio goodness at Fuji Rock, that sweet taste has lingered long enough for Con Brio to make it into my top 5. Here’s hoping next time Con Brio rolls through I’ll be smart enough to take more than a taste.
Report: Con Brio
3) Leon Bridges
Leon Bridges was another act I only caught around 30 minutes of but left enough of an impression to make my list. This 27 year Texan channels the sweet soul sounds of the 60’s and 70’s like no one from this generation. His 2015 debut album, Coming Home, is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves as Bridges tours it the world over, impressing everyone who listens. I was disappointed I had to leave early during his set, but I know this young man has big things in store for us in the future. This was Bridge’s first Fuji Rock appearance, it most certainly wont be his last.
Report: Leon Bridges
2) The New Mastersounds
It’s always great to be surprised by a performance at Fuji Rock. Friday night’s Field of Heaven headlining set featuring The New Mastersounds, surprised me with just how much I enjoyed it. They’re a band I had always been meaning to check out and had consistently heard good things about, but never had seen live. Boy, was I glad I got the chance to see them perform at this year’s Fuji Rock. Better late than never, as they say. While only 4 members deep, these masters of funk can hold their own with some of the best of all time. Their blues/funk set Friday night, combined with the intimate setting of the Field of Heaven stage was the perfect way to spend a cool summer’s evening in the mountains and made for an unforgettable experience.
Report: The New Mastersounds
1) Kamasi Washington
While Fuji Rock brings surprises of the unknown, the festival also comes with expectations from your favorite groups. When those expectations are met, they can provide extraordinary experiences, those magic moments us music junkies search for. I had fairly big expectations coming into Washington’s Sunday night Field of Heaven headlining set and I’m happy to say those expectations were met, and then some. Washington has worked with some of the biggest names in the music world and is bringing jazz music back into the mainstream. Kamasi Washington is only getting started, too. His first solo release was a triple album and he hinted during his set, that together with his world class band, they have loads more music set to be released in the near future. The 90 minute set took us on a journey amidst the dazzling backdrop of the Field of Heaven. There’s moments of the set I still think about almost a week later. They’re a band I won’t hesitate to see again live the first chance I get, here’s hoping they make another Fuji Rock appearance sooner rather than later.
Report: Kamasi Washington