A festival that doesn’t worry about being cool
I was taking a short cut through the tent pegs when I came upon one of the most charming musical scenes I had ever accidentally encountered. Amid the canvas a couple of elderly blokes were on guitar and fiddle, and a little girl singing with them.
They were playing a rollicking American traditional song with skill and gusto, and she was matching them note for note and dancing her own personal jig. . The beaming old blokes were thrilled to have the youngster joining a spontaneous eruption of the joy of music. It probably made their day. It did mine.
On another occasion I found a pair of country boys, barely highschool age and neatly dressed with a mother’s care in elastic-sided boots and hats with big brims, squatting together to intently play guitar and fiddle. They looked so serious, but it was clear they were having fun.
These are examples of the unexpected delights that could be found outside the formal program of the National Folk Festival, Canberra’s wonderful Easter present to Australia and the world.
The Folk Festival has become bigger and more tightly structured since those splendid musical moments about eight years ago.
When it moved to the Canberra showgrounds in 1993 some 15,000 came along. This year the 46th National Folk Festival will draw about 50,000 people and performances will be live-streamed to the globe on a web site. But it still has the capacity to surprise and excite. This is no ordinary music festival.
It doesn’t worry about being cool; it is one of the safest musical venues in the nation; and it features artists you might never come across elsewhere.
Among the headliners this year will be Daniel Ho from Los Angeles, who has won six Grammy awards and is a giant of the ukulele.
Laugh if you must you six-string snobs, but the Folk Festival organisers point out ukuleles have outsold guitars recently, “suggesting that the uke is now the most popular musical instrument in Australia”.
However, Ho might also be playing some slack-key guitar. The bloke can play just about anything.
The Folk Festival definition of “folk” is very broad. In past years it has included The Shiny Bums, a public service choral group, and, at its lowest ebb, the Press Gallery singing group the House Howlers.
Last year featured Cold Chisel’s Don Walker. This year the five-day program will include Peter ``Wash your Face in Orange Juice’’ Combe perform for an adult audience. There will be flamenco dancers and there will some groups that sound a lot like jazz or rock.
But the core of the program is folk in all its guises, from blues to country to Australian outback.
:Folk’s demographic is changing,” said managing director of the National Folk Festival Sebastion Flynn two weeks ago.
“Young listeners are being drawn to a sound that comes from the common people, which has flowed through the ages into Australian folk culture. Folk music is the voice of the people—raw, honest and authentic.”
And people do come to spend five nights sleeping in tents to make sure they don’t miss a minute of the festival.
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