A Festival Season In the Time of COVID

With the first warm weather of early Spring we start to think folk festivals, connecting up with old friends, making music together or just soaking up the atmosphere and being part of the wonderful spirit of inclusiveness that is synonymous with our festival scene. From the big to the small, folk festivals spring up in show grounds, by rivers or just about any place where people can come together and, for the most part this typically involves a road trip and camping.

Who knew this time last year that in 2020, come the start of Spring when our festival season traditionally kicks off, that we’d be suspended in a COVID time warp. And, even when we saw the early impact of COVID, shutting down festivals at the tail end of our 2019/20 season, the sector was buoyant and positive that we’d come through it and be back to normal by the end of the year. Fast forward to now and even 2021 is looking like a pipe dream. Forget the perils of weather and compliance, COVID is the bogeyman at the gate and it’s starting too wear us down.

With the season awry some festivals are exploring options though the situation is varied across our States and Territories. Fairbridge (WA) is planning an “inspiring, community-focussed event which promises to be an amazing, cathartic celebration”. Of course, unless things change dramatically by April 2021 no-one from the east will be attending. Cygnet FF (TAS) has cancelled its January 2021 festival but is looking to run a community based one day event and Fleurieu FF (SA) has a similar plan for this October. Woodford FF (QLD), creatively thinking outside the box, is holding an inspired camping experience called “Bushtime”, making excellent use of their 500-acre site and incorporating elements synonymous with their festival event. Sydney FF (NSW) recently hosted SFF@HOME, a highly successful, albeit small, online event to support performers.

Festivals are the hubs of our folk communities providing a reason for us to come together, to engage in shared experiences. They provide the opportunities for us to connect and network with our peers. Indeed, during my time as Director of the National Folk Festival I always saw that event as a major get-together for exchange and interaction, a gathering place for the celebration of all things folk.

While festivals have been at the epicentre of the main shock, COVID has shaken our very foundations sending devastating waves across every facet of the folk sector. Performers have been severely hit seeing their gigs and tours just evaporate and that has had a flow on effect for agents and managers. Community music groups such as choirs and sessions that are at the heart of the folk ethos and amongst folk’s most dedicated and committed supporters are struggling to keep in touch. Volunteers that are critical to the success of the sector have been left high and dry… what about our audiences? Staying connected with our folk communities has never been more important than now if we are to avoid the possibility of a huge disconnect as COVID continues to prevent us from coming together. To this end FolkFedNSW has been hosting a series of forums titled State of Play, bringing together folk advocates, festival organisers, performers, agents and interested individuals to tease a way through the COVID fog.

The State of Play forums have brought together an amazing cohort of people keen to support the sector and keep things moving through a difficult time and, to ensure that when we finally emerge from COVID we can rebound in control and with a strong voice. In fact, unwittingly COVID has presented our Folk Sector with a unique opportunity to review and reassess the value of folk, both culturally and economically. A recurring theme from State of Play 2 was the call for an audit of “folk”, an honest appraisal that would also address its needs and shortcomings. Another was for a national body that could provide knowledge and insight about the Folk Sector and represent its interests to government and public agencies. And, there were also a myriad of ideas and detail on how we can support each other and make those all important connections.

Our sector has often struggled to mobilise with one voice and folk is frequently viewed as traditional and amateur. Yet the very nature of folk is contemporary and ours tells a very distinct Australian story, it’s music that carries our core identity. Bringing people together has shown us that there are many with the commitment, skill, talent, expertise and experience to see this through and, to articulate a vision for the Folk Sector.

This is folk and we love it!

To view the most recent State of Play Forum see the link below and if you would like to join the conversation or receive forum updates leave you name and email details and we’ll add you to our growing list.

View State of Play 2 Forum 


Folk… the next instalment

As we are all well aware, folk music and its related activities are very social experiences. Whether playing it, singing it, watching / listening to it, dancing to it, talking about it or simply just hanging out with friends on the listening end of a session the social interactions are a big part of what makes “folk” special. Hopefully you’re all managing to negotiate these rather interesting times in degrees of isolation and still finding plenty of folk music on line to keep you engaged. For the present however scenes like those depicted in the photos below are just a thing of longing.

Crowd1 Crowd2
     Festival goers packed tight enjoying the show                                  A social night of the set dancing

I recently zoomed into a meeting with a few festival organisers to catch up and talk over the current state of play and, the big question that is on everyone’s mind is… what will our folk festivals look like in a future where COVID-19 is still prevalent in our communities. And, even beyond that point, should a vaccine be developed, what will our folk festivals of tomorrow look like? Mind you, thinking and discussion about what “folk festivals” might look like has always been on the agenda even going right back to those first so-called national festivals held in the late 1960s. An article in Australian Tradition No. 22 May 1970 titled “Folk Festivals – Which Way”, following on the heels of the Port Jackson (3rd national) Folk Festival  attracted much comment and discussion on what constituted the main ingredients of a “folk” festival. The common theme both then and now is that folk festivals are more than just a series of concerts.

73 2ndPtJackson FF-cover

Back in the 60s the “folk revival” in Australia, was a fledgling movement.  While “folk” festivals were few and far between an interest in collected material, traditional songs and styles was growing. By 1973 Shirley Andrews wrote in Australian Tradition (No. 31 March ’73) that “folk festivals are burgeoning all over Australia. As well as the 7th national festival, 1973 will see festivals in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Alice Springs, Wagga Wagga, Newcastle, Nariel and Nimbin”. In present times, up until COVID-19 hit us for six we have been spoilt for choice with more festivals available to the Australian folk enthusiast than ever before.

From the big to the small, festivals are the lynchpins of our folk scene. Not only do they provide the stages where performers collectively share their art, more importantly, they are the gathering places for our communities and a common ground for sharing and participating in folk in all its diverse forms. So, in these unpredictable times of social distancing, strict rules for gatherings and degrees of isolation, how can we plan for our festivals to come back, if indeed, they can come back? Some may not. Nothing is certain and there is no manual on how to achieve this.

While restrictions may be relaxing in some parts of the country the coronavirus is still wiping our folk festivals off the 2020 calendar, the most recent cancellation being Maldon in October/November. Many festivals scheduled in the early part of 2021 are also holding back on announcements as to whether they might go ahead albeit on a smaller scale. It may well be that, with the additional costs of ensuring the safety, wellbeing and health of audiences, organisers and artists, running smaller events may not be viable. Some festivals may find themselves operating at a loss just to maintain a presence.

The danger for our folk festivals is that, if these scaled down events become primarily concert driven, our vibrant and inclusive festival communities may diminish or be lost entirely. Folk festivals cater for broad audiences and age demographics and there is a risk that the scaled down festival experience might miss the mark and please no-one. What is the alternative? Fold or go into hibernation or, look for creative ways to engage. Easier said than done but many festival organisers are exploring options.

The scaled down session – from 17 down to five. Do they need to register? Who misses out?

Folk festivals survive and thrive because of the networks of people who support and engage with them and, who collectively shape the characteristic spirit of each individual event. It may well be those festivals that can build their COVID survival programs around their distinctive and individual identities will have the best chance of enduring the current crisis. There may be a cloud hanging over our festival communities but we must remain positive. We’re all hanging out for that silver lining. Let’s hope we see it soon. Can’t wait!


Imagining the National Folk Festival 2020 #8

Oh, is it Monday already…

Sunday night was very BIG and everyone is just a tad weary as the sun comes up on the last day in our perfect world. In fact, the very early morning risers heading to the showers are crossing paths with session players from the wee small hours sneaking quietly into their tents, instruments tucked under arm.

Last Night’s FunIMG_0113

So yes… it is Easter Monday already

One last Poets’ Breakfast, one more Settler Session, though this morning’s is just a little more measured than on that first day, a final Zumba class to get you started. You might notice Campbell the Swaggie in the bottom RH corner of the photo on the left. He was a regular most mornings at Rosie’s Zumba class. I’ve been thinking about Campbell. Sometime before the Festival a carefully written and very weighty letter would arrive at the Festival office. It would be from Campbell relating his adventures at festivals up and down Australia. His arrival at the National was always much anticipated. When he came onsite somehow it all felt just right. Click on Campbell and Rosie for an article on this amazing man or on Sabine Friedrich’s photo of him reciting at the Nash to hear him.

Zumba  Screen Shot 2020-04-13 at 9.06.24 am  Poetry Reciting - Campbell

Final rehearsals for the Festival Fiddle Rally, Festival Choir, NFF Percussion Ensemble and Bush Orchestra. Last chance to catch some of your Festival favourites and pick up a CD. No chance of Festival merch. That’s long sold out! Last chance to dance. Last chance to catch up with friends before they start the long drive back to Brisbane, Wodonga, Adelaide or where ever… and still so much to see.


Who haven’t you heard…
Did want to see Alan Downes (NZL) and there are a couple of shows in the Borderland to get to, Bush Gothic and Norskiosk if we can fit them in. 


Really keen to catch Susan O’Neill aka SON (IRE) and absolute Festival favourites, Equus who are both on the Hope for Folk Stage. Have also marked Little Quirks, Shelly’s Murder Boys (enjoyed this clip – note the guy at the fridge), The Fiddle Chicks and the brilliant Jellyman’s Daughter (SCOT).



And try catch these guys if you have time… Alana Wilkinson (part of the Smalls Halls Tour), Dan Baker, ScrogginThe Raglins and Teri Young and the Restless. 

   Dan Baker - National Folk Festival    Image may contain: 2 people  Teri Young image

OMG!!! The Infinite Song Competition… finals today
2020 was to have been Infinite Elton John and we can but imagine what that would have inspired amongst our artists… and there’s MC Kate Austin in her signature hat, basket of Easter eggs in hand running the show in her inimitable style. Celebrate what might have been with these highlights from past Infinites. 2015 NFF Infinite Reggae Highlights  SpookyMen’s Chorale: Infinite Glam Rock 2019  David Hallett: Infinite Beach Boys 2017

It’s Monday evening…  😢 Much of my day will have been taken up with programming the Farewell Concert which also features performances by the recipients of various awards. Alas, no awards! I’d also be liaising with the Woodturners’ Guild who make our lovely “Effies” (the trophies) so that the names can be engraved. I’ll need to spend some time with the MC Coordinator (Andy Bevan) and tonight’s MC – that’ll be Kate Austin. Oh, and preparing the concert running order and briefing the Venue Manager plus meeting with the Choir Coordinator (Giselle Nathan) and the Directors of the Fiddle Rally and Percussion Ensemble. The last afternoon act in the Budawang finishes at 5:30pm and the crews have 45mins to reset everything before the doors reopen for the audience at 6:15pm.

6:00pm… 60 or so string players and their various backing musicians (keyboard / double bass) are assembling backstage in the Budawang. With so many performers the Venue Management crew have their work cut out keeping everything orderly. In the meantime the Festival Choir enters the venue via the Trocadero corridor doors and take their places on the bleachers, stage right (LHS for the audience). All the performers must be ready by 6:15 when the audience reenters the venue. There will be long queues forming outside waiting for that moment. The excitement builds.


The Farewell Concert of the 54th 2020 National Folk Festival…
Since I’ve been Artistic Director we’ve started the Farewell Concert at 6:30pm with a 20min set by the Festival Fiddle Rally followed by the Festival Choir. Unfortunately I don’t have access to the high quality NFF footage so the sound could be better but the links below will hopefully set the scene. Nothing like that big Budawang venue filled will the sound of massed fiddles and then the joyous voices of the Festival Choir.

The 2013 Fiddle Rally under the direction of Trish Barker (who would have directed in 2020)

The 2019 Fiddle Rally (including sound effects) directed jointly by Judy Turner and Chris Duncan. The third is one of my very favourites, t

The 2017 Festival Choir, (one of my very favourites) singing Take a Walk in My Country directed by Rachel Hore with Genise and Nicholas Williams.

OMG!!! The tears are welling up as I’m writing this 😢 😢 😢

As the Choir takes a bow Kate Austin steps onto the stage. She thanks them warmly and, as they move silently from the bleachers urges another round of applause. Kate formally welcomes you all to the Farewell Concert and without further ado introduces the Honey Dew Drops.

Now things get a little tricky because usually the next act, and several others during the evening will be the various award winners. You will also hear the NFF Percussion Ensemble directed by dynamic percussionist Peter Vadiveloo. Click on the pic to hear their 2016 performance and you can join in too. No age barriers. This is for everyone.

Percussion Ensemble

There will also be a couple of Australian acts programmed throughout the concert in addition to the awardees. This year I was hoping Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse would be one of those but sadly they had to leave on Monday afternoon. So many to choose from so why don’t you program your own special act into our Farewell Concert. Go to the National Folk Festival Website, choose who’d you’d like to hear and find a favourite clip on Youtube to play.

We’d also have the raffle draw with Jacqui Price and her team who do a fantastic job throughout the whole festival weekend. Sorry to indulge myself but below are a couple of my favourite photos (and I don’t have many of myself) and again, thanks to Sabine Friedrich for giving me these. Of course, it wouldn’t have been me drawing the raffle this year but who cares, I’ve loved doing this with Jacqui each year.

Raffle Ticket Draw - Pam and Jaqui Price .jpg1    Raffle Ticket Draw - Pam and Jaqui Price .jpg2

And now sadly, it’s time for the final act…

Tonight I’m closing out the Farewell Concert with  Rosier (CAN – formerly Les Poules à Colin). It should be a lively 20min set before Kate comes onto the stage for the very last time in 2020, thanks you all and then, as she does every year asks the audience to stack the chairs as they leave. Magically within 8-10 minutes it’s all done and suddenly the house lights come up on an empty venue and the magic starts to fade a little. By this time I’ll have been watching the end of the Concert from Chris Neill’s sound platform. I usually hang around for a short chat, give a big thanks to him and his crews, a hug and it’s all over for another year.

The NFF provides a unique moment in our year where we come together to experience and celebrate everything “folk” and, it encompasses so very much that it really has been difficult to include every facet of the Festival. If I’ve missed a performer or an activity they are no less valued than any that have been included. I love each and every performer and each and every activity that I program for the very special qualities that each brings to the event. Thank you everyone. It’s you who make the National what it is.

I’ll leave you with a lovely song from one of our past festival favourites whom I had the pleasure of including in my very first Artistic Program in 2013, James Keelaghan singing Safe Home.

Imagining the National Folk Festival 2020 #7

It’s Steampunk Sunday

We’re in our Perfect World and we never want to check out. It’s time though to find all those acts you haven’t yet seen and mark them in your program. Don’t leave it until Monday because you might just miss something. And, while you’re doing that, start your morning with this fabulous video clip from The Royal High Jinx. It’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Thanks guys, you are simply brilliant!

Sunday is my favourite day at the Nash… so what on?

Activity Title

Just time to grab a coffee then head to the Budawang for the 10am final performance of One Sky Many Stories. Missed the first on Friday and yesterday’s show in the Troc. This clip of highlights will give you an idea of what it is all about. A collaboration between indigenous Arrernte singer Warren H. Williams and members of Canberra’s Griffyn Ensemble. It’s also worth staying in the Budawang for the 2020 National Folk Fellowship Concert. This will be presented by Luke Byrnes and to find out more click on National Folk Fellow.

I’ve marked a few artists and activities you might get along to today and the kids are on board too so you’ll need to find things to entertain them as well. I think you’ll enjoy Neil Adam and Judy Turner Band and their show Sing Me A Song: The Robert Louis Stevenson Project. The Link will take you to the music. While you’re in the Troc stay for Bruce Watson‘s The Man, the Woman and the Edison Phonograph. No songs from that show but enjoy Amazon.  And make sure you catch Whitetop Mountaineers (USA) and, Whoa Mule and David Spry are on in the Scrumpy between 4 and 6pm so you could grab a pizza and eat while you watch their shows.

Sing Me a Song     Image may contain: 2 people, people playing musical instruments, people sitting, hat and guitar  Heading west: Whoa Mule from Sydney will perform in Katoomba on Saturday, October 19.  David Spry

The special Climate Matters Concert NOT ON MY WATCH (thanks Chloe Roweth for the title) which is a combination of songs, spoken word and some debate and commentary is on in the Budawang at 4:30pm. It’s preluded by Climate Matters Live@ with Maddie Diamond the 2020 ACT Young Australian of the Year. Susan O’Neill aka SON (IRE) and Colum Sands (IRE) will appear on that concert. BTW did you catch Colum Sands’ Song Bridges workshop this morning?


Meanwhile… over in KidzFest

The kids were hanging out to see the Amazing Drumming Monkeys. Got in early and saw the 10am show but now they are begging to go back for the 2pm. Unfortunately you aren’t going to meet the new girl monkey at today’s show but enjoy the clip.

Have you just met up with friends for a quick drink in the BoHo. They’re raving about the Sydney Irish Dance Ensemble‘s Percy French Show on the Piazza and are now rushing off to take part in the Haka for Women workshop in the Coorong with Māmā Mihirangi & the Māreikur. Your mate Bob was wondering if he should risk it but decided to give it a go anyway. 

A few more suggestions for the daytime hours… in case you can’t make up your mind.

Jenny Mitchell (NZL) – I must admit, I adore this young woman’s voice; Maggie Carthy Band – I don’t have a clip of the band but if you’re into trad you’ll enjoy this house concert with Maggie and John Carty; Mark Moldre – this one’s from his new album; Chloe and Jason Roweth with Matt Nightingale – great festival favourites; BTW did you hear young Megan Roweth at this morning’s Poets’ Breakfast; Anna and Jordan – they have a great song titled Running On but I went for the clip below as it’s more recent and a live performance though sorry about the radio promo at the start.



Sunday is a BIG night at the Nash…

It’s just gone 6pm and dancers are busy preparing and dressing in their finery for tonight’s Heritage Ball. A highlight in the dancing calendar for experienced dancers, newbies are always keen to be part of it too. Regardless of whether you dance or not it’s a must see for festival goers even if you only stay for the Grand March to experience the wonderful costumes on parade. Tonight’s band is The Heritage Ensemble under musical director, David Johnson, and with callers, Heather Clarke, Don Richmond and Cath Richmond. No clip of the band but you can certainly take a turn around the room with these two lovely schottisches Cheer Boys Cheer and High Low Loopy played by Cath Ovenden, Barry McDonald and Wendy Hodgins.

Night has fallen, it’s 7:30pm and you know there’s more…

There’s Tango on the Piazza, a singing session with Canberra Shanty Club in The Terrace and a Poetry Slam on in the Carnival. Over at the Flute ‘n Fiddle Greg Hudson has pulled together and amazing ensemble with some of our international performers teaming up with a few festival favourites and apparently it’s “going off”. Can’t get in the tent for love nor money.

It’s another big night in the Budawang with Elephant Sessions (SCOT) kicking off the evening so you can bet there’ll be dancing. It’s a brisk walk to the Hope for Folk Stage but if you hurry you might catch the end of Pagoda Project (though the clip I have for you is the Quartet version not the duo). Heard Pachamama yet? You should and they’re virtually right next door in the Majestic. After their set you could pop down to the Cog and Wheel for a drink and be back in time to take in The Barkers Vale Brothers. Feeling a bit “trady”, then pop along to the Marquee for a hit with Cloudstreet. So now, decisions, decisions… do you go back to the Budawang for Moishe’s Bagel or stay in the Marquee and catch We Mavericks and Hat Fitz and Cara. Mmm! or you still have time to get down to the Scrumpy for Hello Tut Tut.




Really, it’s all just too much this running between venues. No reason not to retreat to the Session Bar or the Flute ‘n’ Fiddle for the evening; check out the nightly showcase at the BoHo or sit with a few friends by one of the braziers glowing warmly around the site. There’s always some nice music around the one just outside the Session Bar and you could slip along to Yiannos for a bite to eat or try Wafflemania if you fancy something sweet. It’s a chilly night but we don’t feel the cold when we’re in such high spirits, surrounded by our friends, our folk family. 



Imagining the National Folk Festival 2020 #6

Easter Saturday

With a busy Friday over, the campsite nicely bedded down and quite a few concerts under our belts there’s a little more time to relax and really take everything in, participate in a little retail therapy if the mood takes you or sit with friends for an extended catch up. There’s really no rush, after all, it is our very own perfect world and the wonderful thing about the National is that you can be just who you want to be and get out and choose your own adventure, try something you haven’t tried before, dress up and show your best face or simply just chill.


Patrons - Flute'n'FiddleBehind the scenes though there are many working hard to make sure that perfect world remains just so. David Pinson and the Waste and Recycle Team ensure the site is clean and tidy and John Dalton and the Comms Team are always busy relaying messages and assisting with trouble shooting any problems that might occur. I’ll be up until the last venue finishes liaising with the sound engineers to ensure we don’t violate EPA restrictions. To some extent each of my days starts and ends with a repeat of the last plus all the bits, including the unexpected that fall in-between and I absolutely love it!

One of the National’s strengths is in the core communities that invest in the event, each year providing a wealth of experiences and knowledge in the preservation and transmission of folk culture. This morning I know many of you, instrument in hand, will be off to the Bush Traditions Settler Session or maybe you’re hanging out for the Festival Choir or the Bush Orchestra. All these sessions transcend age barriers and are led by musicians with many years of experience and our Festival community is blessed to have them and loves getting hands on. 

I didn’t have videos of the Settler Sessions or the Bush Orchestra however you might enjoy the links to Australian tunes played by some of our finest Australian traditional musicians. I’m saving one of my favourite choir clips until Monday so no link there today.

There’s lots to hear, see and explore! You can hop between venues to catch your favourite acts or just lose yourself in the buzz and excitement. Like the the group scooting off to see a concert in the Borderland who chanced upon Uptown Brown, the most amazing street performer, and lost themselves in the moment for a good ten minutes or more. Earlier in the day the PNG Peroveta Singers were heard on the Village green performing their ancient tribal and gospel folk traditions and the Morris teams seemed to be popping up everywhere with their bells and sticks and dressed in bright regalia.


Concert Picks
So who ya gonna catch today? Again, spoilt for choice but here’s my humble selection to keep you entertained on another virtual folky day.
During the Day…
We’ll start with a very powerful unaccompanied song from Tenzin Choegyal because today is your last chance to hear him this weekend. Festival favourites Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse are doing their first gig and it’s a lovely concert experience starting with Koorlangka from a suite of children’s songs in Noongar language. I love this next song from Lucy Wise & Stephen Taberner, Wake Up Hill an Old Man Luedecke Cover. Fiona Ross & Shane O’Mara are launching their new CD at the Flute ‘n’ Fiddle tonight and The Spooky Men’s Choral are on in the Budawang. Isn’t it great that you can catch them both. Hope you saw Georgia State Line earlier this afternoon in the Borderland and then, did you race up to the Majestic so as not to miss Fay Hield. I love this unaccompanied version of Oak and Ash and Thorn. Imagine if they all turned up to tonight’s singing session in The Terrace. Now here’s something a bit special. The National was presenting a Concert for Cobargo today as a bushfire fundraiser and, not on the official program Den Hanrahan and the Rum Runners were to be special guests. Programmed on the Cobargo concert was Ruth Hazleton and Daisywheel. Ruth was kind enough to send me two videos from her new album so you get a double treat. And this is all just the afternoon. Still more to come.

  Songs in Rooms - Lucy Wise & Stephen Taberner

Fay Hield (UK)

    Find out more or download Ruth’s music

Did you find some time to eat amongst all of that? I thought I’d try Salads to Go Cuban Cantina and maybe some Chippery Pomme Frites. That should get me through. I’m going to play keys for the National Irish Ceili tonight. My one little indulgence. Alas! no video.

There was a terrific Contra Dance on this afternoon in the Coorong with Tangent  (USA/CAN/UK) (Everest Witman & Kathleen Fownes with Marjolène Forest calling). A must for all dancers. Get into the spirit of it with this great video clip.

As we head into the night… More Concert Performances
Let’s start in the Budawang with Kutcha Edwards and we’ll hang around in there for Jon Boden. I actually want to  be in the Scrumpy now to catch The Royal High Jinx. What a party band they are! I’m flying now between venues as I rush to the Marquee to get the end of The Stiff Gins set before I settle in for Lloyd Spiegel. I don’t often book major acts two years running but Lloyd is a consummate performer and bringing his support musicians with a different show for 2020 however, I’ve chosen a video clip from his 2019 performances. Two more shows to catch. Paul McKenna Band first up. They’re at NFF as part of the Festival of Small Halls. They’re actually performing as a trio but enjoy the full band clip. Oh, and I’m just ducking into the Trocadero to see what The Chipolatas are up to before making my way back to the Scrumpy for All Strings Attached. That’ll see the night out and pretty much me as well.

  JB Cambridge.JPG    No photo description available.


As I make my way, just a tad weary, back to the campsite I can’t resist going via the Session Bar. Some of the best sessions are heard late into the night and sure enough, tucked up into the little back corner corridor I spy Ado Barker, Maggie Carty and Ben Stephenson with a bunch of cracking musos. I hover, leaning against the wall quietly, soaking up the sound, the rhythm, the lilt. That’ll do me…

And guess what… we’ll do it all again tomorrow and simply love every moment.


Imagining the National Folk Festival 2020 #5

With Festival First Night and the Opening Concert behind us Friday dawns and the 54th National Folk Festival is well and truely on its way. This really is going to be a long one today and I hope you will find something you love, discover new music or a special artist you’ve not heard before, enjoy a festival favourite or be inspired to play some music yourself. Dancing might be a little difficult unless you are with your partner or a few family members. Oh, and just scroll over the artist photos for links to their performances or other links that you might enjoy or find useful. Please note: not all have links… Sorry 😦

My day starts with a quick breakfast at the family campsite after which I jump in the trusty “artistic team” buggy and head into the entertainment zone. It’s 8:30am and my daughter-in-law Rosie has already left to get her Zumba class underway on the Piazza. My usual morning routine is to grab a coffee and then check in on all the morning activities. These are all run by community groups or volunteers and are a big part of the heart and soul of the National. I like to start upstairs in The Terrace with the Dru Yoga class. No time to join in but it’s very soothing to watch. From there I pop down to the Session Bar for the Session Experience. Moir and Gavin Holmes, and Linda and Alan Swift play tunes at a moderate pace for those less experienced on their chosen instrument and it’s always a full house. If I can I’ll also pop in on the Uke Muster with Ukulele Republic of Canberra. Sometimes I’ll take my ukulele and join in up the back of the Scrumpy for a quick song though this is rare as the mornings are busy.


The Poets’ Breakfasts 

The daily the Poets’ Breakfasts in the Flute ‘n’ Fiddle hosted by our featured poets (L-R Emily Crocker; Gabrielle Journey Jones; Gregory North; John Peel; Melinda Smith; Rob Barratt; Sarah Temporal; Tug Dumbly) are another early morning activity. In 2020 I was incredibly excited that, for the first time the women had parity with the men. I was also excited by the diversity each of these poets bring to the program.


Phew! and all that is before any of the concert venues open. I’m heading off to a briefing with the Venue Management team to flag what we call “hot spots”, concert performances and other activities likely to draw exceptionally big crowds that might require extra bodies on board to manage. The early risers have been and done their yoga or Zumba class or played some tunes at the Session Experience or the Uke Muster. Others are still sitting leisurely around their campsites pouring over the program and deciding what to do and see. The day trippers are filling the car parks and again the ticket offices are busy.

Many are already off to the first scheduled workshops. The NFF Percussion Experience is always popular and the Festival Fiddle Rally draws a big attendance.

Percussion Experience

In the Trocadero people are settling in for the themed shows covering everything from a presentation of the VFMC’s Joy Durst Memorial Songbook, Rob Willis from the NLA with his special guests, The Scary Family Band, Keith McKenry’s Yet More Lies That Made Australia, That’s Alright Mama – Elvis Folksinger (I’m really intrigued and wanted to explore that one), The Good Girl Song Project and the Adelaide Scottish Fiddle Club CD Launch.


In the meantime dance groups are adding colour to the Piazza with their lively and intricate displays and the Concert Program is going full throttle across another seven venues. Don’t forget to eat. I’m off to Little Paris (one of my fave festival foods) to grab a bite to eat then I’ll pick up a coffee and sit and watch the Container Blackboard while I take a breather, consult my program and plan the afternoon’s activities.

Audience - Container

So much on and spoilt for choice… below are a few of my concert picks for Friday that you might enjoy. L-R Daoiri Farrell (IRE); Chaika; Liz Frencham Trio; Deline Briscoe; Hillbilly Goats; Curtis Eller’s American Circus (USA); Seanchas; The Peppercorns; Elephant Sessions (SCOT); Yellow Blue Bus; Henry Wagons; The Mammals (USA); The Freewheeler; Rosier (CAN); Pete Wild and the Only Ones; Colum Sands (IRE);

  Chaika with Kristin Berardi and James Sherlock 


   The guys have enjoyed a rise to fame on the Scottish folk music scene

  Image may contain: 1 person, beard and glasses.

  .Pete Wild & the Only Ones    TaikOz2_850px_web

Just for a bit of craic, you might also find Daoiri’s Farrell’s Live Online Concert a bit of fun. This one’s from last Sunday, 5 April. In these times of CoronaCrisis he is doing one every Sunday.

The Scottish Dance

This is one of the National’s most popular dance events and 2020 saw Chris Duncan, Catherine Strutt and Jennifer Strutt booked to provide the music. I wanted to create some of the atmosphere of this event and so, I’m bringing back a lovely memory from 2015 when the trio were joined onstage in the Coorong by Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas. Enjoy!ScottishCeilidh - Coorong

I’m exhausted after that turn around the dance floor but it’s not even midnight and there’s a lot more to see and do so don’t go to bed just yet. For something a little different stick around in the Coorong for the first of our late night Dance Parties with Māmā Mihirangi & the Māreikura (NZ) or get down to the Scrumpy, meet up for a drink and a pizza with friends and get your late night fix with Afro Moses (GHA/AUS) and Lady Valiant.


Well… that’s Friday and that’s me done. See you all tomorrow and, like a broken record with the stylus scratching away… please, please support all these fabulous artists. If you enjoy their music check them out and purchase your favourite track/s on line.





Imagining the National Folk Festival #4

The Final Touches & Festival First Night

Easter Thursday… it’s a big day. We’re almost there and I haven’t yet mentioned the Operations and Production staff and their sub-contractors. They’ve been working on site for the longest time, a full week prior to the main staff move, liaising with EPIC and the ACT regulatory agencies, overseeing the site build, managing deliveries and the placement of equipment and infrastructure on site, directing the volunteer teams and a thousand other minute details that ready the site for us all to experience a fabulous Easter weekend. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the Stalls Manager and her team. We’ve got to eat plus… what would the NFF be without our bit of retail therapy in between all those concerts, workshops, community arts activities and dancing.

Stocking the Festival Shop and the final touches in the Bohemia Bar Venue

In the meantime the Master Classes continue into their second day and the Annual Folklore Conference gets underway at the National Library of Australia. 2020 would have seen the 15th edition of this popular event facilitated by the Australian Folklore Network, the National Library of Australia, the National Folk Festival and the Australian Folklore Unit, Curtin University. The conference is a hub for those interested in collecting, researching, archiving, performing, teaching and facilitating folklore and is a prelude to the National Folk Festival. If you want to get a little folklore fix before tonight’s Opening Concert click on the pic below and visit Bush Traditions. They have lots of interesting links.


Finally… it’s time
The gates open and the expectant festival goers gathered patiently at each gate move into the Entertainment Zone for a first glimpse at this year’s Festival. What’s new, are their favourites stalls back, where will they grab a quick bite to eat? New patrons are checking the program map and getting their bearings before night falls.
Stall - Nuts It starts as a trickle but soon gathers momentum as more people flood into the site and the afternoon wears on towards the much awaited Opening Concert. Some will be heading straight to the Session Bar for a tune or a drink while others mill around the Flute ‘n’ Fiddle checking out the blackboard at the entrance to the beer garden to see what Greg Hudson has lined up for the evening’s pop-up concerts. I’ve spent the afternoon in the Budawang briefing the MC and Venue Manager rostered for tonight’s Opening Concert and meeting with Chris from Eclipse who will be doing the sound as well as speaking with each of the scheduled performers prior to their sound checks. Jess Henderson will have spent her afternoon back and forth with Brett in Performer Services,  liaising with Dane who runs the cameras in the Budawang regarding the video footage, and checking details with Festival Transport about performer airport arrivals. Later she will meet Aunty Agnes and the Wiradjuri Echoes performers who will present the Smoking Ceremony and Welcome to Country.

And so it begins…
ConcertWelcome to the Opening Concert of the 2020 National Folk Festival  – Budawang with your MC for the evening, Mr Jock Hossack
There’s a full house in the Budawang and right on 7:30pm a light comes up on centre stage and the sound of the didjeridu fills the space as the Wiradjuri Echoes enter through the main doors behind the audience. The smell of smoking gum leaves permeates the venue. Aunty Agnes welcomes you all on behalf of the Ngunnawal people and as she leaves the stage a lone piper is heard. In 2020 we are also celebrating the Year of Scotland in Australia. As the piper continues Jock Hossack, regaled in his trademark kilt, gives a description of what this entails. As the sound of the pipes fades he introduces the first act for tonight’s concert. To listen to each of these fabulous performers click on their photo…

Kejafi – 7:45pm; Kyshona (USA) – 7:55pm; We Mavericks (NZ/AUS) – 8:15pm; Presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Alex & Annette Hood – 8:30pm; Saije – 8:50pm; Jon Boden (UK) – 9:05pm; Cloudstreet – 9:25pm; Moishe’s Bagel (SCOT) – 9:40pm



For an extra bonus Meet Moishe’s Bagel

Festival First Night
Our First Night Concert under the Borderland big top is a brilliant triple header of exciting acts. Get ready to rock when “veteran” wild man of the blues Hat Fitz and Cara, the soul inspired woman with the sensational voice open the night with their refreshingly vibrant unique combination of folk, roots and gospel blues. If you’re not already up dancing Melbourne’s premiere world music party band Hello Tut Tut are sure to get you on your feet with their high energy show. We round the night out with Danish band Himmerland. Their music is a genuine melting pot casting a wide net from Ireland to Africa and Eastern Europe under-pinned by the dynamic African rhythms of Ayi Solomon, the bands’ percussionist. To listen to each of these fabulous performers click on their photo…


Party till late in the Scrumpy
The Scrumpy is a favourite venue with many festival goers and some will spend the majority of their time in that space enjoying all the divers experiences it offers from inside the tent to the spacious beer garden. It even has it’s own food outlets. During the day you can enjoy a sit down concert and after 9pm out go the seats and it’s all about party time and dancing. You’ll be hearing more about the Scrumpy but check out Muddy Wolf (below) closing out tonight’s Scrumpy program for a little taste of the late night programming.

The Welcome Dance
Just want to dance… then get thee along to the Coorong and join Cameron Corner Bush Band.
They play music for Australian and colonial dances and, together with callers from the Melbourne Colonial Dancers you’ll be treated to an evening program to welcome you to the 2020 NFF.

What else…
Pop-up gigs in the Flute ‘n Fiddle and a singing session in the BoHo (That’s shorthand for Bohemia Bar).
Oops, forgot to eat. Might grab a Berlin Banger and check out the Flute ‘n’ Fiddle before heading off to the the Session Bar for a few tunes. See you there or see you tomorrow…
Oh, and please, please support all these fabulous artists. If you enjoy their music check them out and purchase your favourite track/s on line.


Imagining the National Folk Festival #3

The Penultimate Day: Master Classes, Folklore and more… 

Wednesday dawns. We’re expecting a top of around 17 degrees and maybe some rain too. We’re always watching the weather, especially during the Festival build but traditionally we don’t talk about it. With just over a day until the “virtual” 54th gets underway the site is buzzing. In addition to those working in the Set-Up and Construction teams others are busily setting up their areas; the Festival Shop, Festival Transport, Volunteer Centre, Performer Services, Instrument Lockup, Waste & Recyling, Venue Management, Comms… the list goes on. Later this evening all the volunteers will meet in the Session Bar for a final briefing and, as much as it is an opportunity to bring everyone up to date with Festival procedures it will also a wonderful social gathering.

Underpinning the National Folk Festival is the wonderful army of volunteers who give so generously of their time and experience.

Jess Henderson and I are also extremely busy at this point. Ah… for those reading this who might not be aware let me introduce you to the Artistic Team. Jess Henderson is the Program Administrator and does a brilliant job dealing with all our performers and their many needs and, then there’s me, Pam Merrigan (Artistic Director). Jess and I also work with a fantastic group of Coordinators who, along with their teams look after the nuts and bolts of all things artistic. Let me introduce you to them.
Bohemia Venue: Linda Tune; Rick Saur; Scott Sneddon
Flute ‘n’ Fiddle Venue: Greg Hudson; Lynne Hudson
Instrument Makers: Helen Ludellen
MCs: Andy Bevan
Performer Services: Brett Yates
Spoken Word Program: Jacqui Malins
Street Choir Program: Giselle Nathan
The Challenge: Jillian Browning
The Container Blackboard: Marianne Lewis; Bob Carr
Venue Management: Samantha Cain; Lucy Crawford
Jess also works very closely with the Instrument Lockup and Festival Transport teams.

Apart from all the briefings and trouble shooting Jess and I are across, the 2020 Master Class Series kicks off today at Ainslie Arts Centre with four of our international artists presenting classes. Were you booked in or thinking about attending? For the first time classes were a very English affair. We’ve had a big focus over the years on Irish traditions so I was just so delighted to be featuring the English tradition, especially with such “folk royalty” on board. It was also a bit of a coup to have them all coming exclusively to the Nash.

  I really wanted to have a dance focus this year and while I was in the UK last July I was fortunate to meet up with Paul Hutchinson. Festival goers might remember Paul as one half of Belshazzar’s Feast that performed to packed venues back in 2018. Paul is also a great authority on English dance music so that was to be the focus of his class, open to all instruments making it ideal for dance musicians. Click on his pic to experience Paul teaching for InstepRT. Play along and learn a tune. You may even already know the second one in the set.

  File:Fay Hield in The Full English (14851541383).jpg - Wikimedia ...  Singing is always very popular and there were two classes lined up for 2020. One for those who love to sing in groups and choirs with Karen Wimhurst (click on her pic to see her working with her choir in Shaftesbury though this one’s not especially folky) and the other with Fay Hield for those looking to develop their singing technique and performance skills. Fay is an amazing singer and teacher. If you click on her pic you can hear her very haunting rendition of Go from my Window or, click on the link to hear her speaking about singing and the English tradition. If you’re interested in folk traditions and collecting music you’ll find this interesting so just bear with the 4 seconds of Ads at the start that I couldn’t get rid of. Sorry, not very folky!

File:Bellowhead's Jon Boden (6001883468).jpg - Wikimedia Commons The fourth Master Class was to be with former Bellowhead frontman Jon Boden focusing on the English Fiddle Tradition. Click the link to read his article or, on his pic to hear him talking about his fiddle and how he sets it up for performance.

The other event that happens on the Wednesday night before the National is the annual Illustrated Folklore Talk at the National Library of Australia. This year it was to be given by Fay Hield and Jon Boden. What a formidable pair and what a treat attendees would have had in store. I’ve set out to give you a bit of a taste of how this talk might have gone and copied a few links below for you. These will give you an idea of just how engaged in and passionate about their own traditions these two are and also how they’ve taken old songs and made them new. The video below is Fay talking about a folklore project she was involved in called the Full English and how that project led to the forming of a super group of English folk musicians who took the music on tour. There are also some links to performances both by the Full English Band and by Bellowhead that Jon Boden fronted and was a driving force for some 12 years. Would that we’d have been able to have Bellowhead at the Nash before they disbanded. Alas, not to be, but listening to Jon Boden with the band will demonstrate the scope of what can be possible.

Here’s Fay with the Full English Band performing Arthur O’Bradley at the 2014 Folk Awards. You’ll recognise a few of the members of this supergroup who have previously performed at the National in other incarnations.

This is one of my very favourite Bellowhead songs. Enjoy the full treatment of Roll Alabama and then, when you’ve finished listening to the full version click on the link below for Jon’s solo, acoustic version of Roll Alamaba. What a consummate musician. Just brilliant!

God I love folk music! It’s so diverse, so uplifting, so haunting, so entertaining… it just wraps me in sheer joy.

And I do keep saying it… please support these musicians by purchasing their music if you enjoy what they do.

Oh, and join me tomorrow for Festival First Night. See you at the Nash.

Imagining the National Folk Festival #2

Counting Down

It’s now the Tuesday before Easter and the camp site is beginning to fill. Judy Baker and her volunteers at the Old Well Station Road ticket office are busy. There had been a steady stream of campers for most of Monday and now more arriving this morning (Tuesday). Little communities begin to spring up all around the camp ground marking out their spots with special decorations, flags and all manner of camping paraphernalia. Excited exchanges mark rekindled acquaintances and friendships from previous Nationals. Those already set up and settled in lounge casually on folding camp chairs perusing the program, checking out performer bios and marking up their copies of the program grid with potential must sees. Decisions, decisions… spoilt for choice.

Marking up the program grid with felt tipped pen or highlighter is a time honoured pastime for festival-goers before the National gets underway.

On the ground it can sometimes look like a ragtag army; volunteers, contractors, staff, but believe me, they are all busily working on a myriad of tasks to have the site ready for the Thursday opening. Below on the left that’s Ted flying the flags, his unmistakable yellow van in the bottom left hand corner of the pic. Amazing that he does it all by himself (with the help of his dog of course). On the right are the bare bones of a stage in the Marquee. Just close your eyes for a moment and imagine it’s Friday night and the tent is seething with people and filled with glorious music. It’s getting close! Stall holders are also arriving and setting up, the most anticipated being COFFEE. Once “Coffee Pete” is firmly established and trading, we all sigh with relief. There’s something very memorable about that first on-site coffee taken up to the staff office and consumed with hot cross buns of which there is never a shortage.

Flags going up Stages are built

By Tuesday evening much of the infrastructure is actually in place and the lighting, dressing and refining of venues and the entertainment zone in general becomes the next major focus. Feeling exhausted? You should be. Thank the stars then for the 1200 or so volunteers who work across some 61 teams to deliver over 24,500 work hours and give so generously of their time and experience. Of course, that’s not counting the extensive preparatory work by Coordinators and the many additional hours offered by volunteers in the Set Up & Pack Down teams. A massive effort. Phew!!!

As night falls it’s time to have some down time back at the campsite, relax, catch up on the day’s activities, play a tune or share a song. Maybe you’d like to check out some of the artists circled on the grid above by our mystery camper. Go for it.

                                            Crystal Robins image             

Mike McClellan     Jellyman’s Daughter         Crystal Robins               Super Rats


Alaska String Band        Aidan Connolly              The New Graces                 Zambezi Sounds

And don’t forget to click on the artist’s photos to check out their websites and support them by downloading some of their music.


Imagining the National Folk Festival 2020

Ready, Set… 

With Easter fast approaching many of us might be imagining the annual pilgrimage to Canberra for the National Folk Festival, our much anticipated celebration of folk in all its incarnations. Whether this would have involved a road trip, flights from places far away or just a short drive from home, whether patron, performer, volunteer, stall holder, contractor or staff, all our festival plans have been turned upside down by the Coronavirus COVID-19 world pandemic. So, like me, instead of the much looked forward to catch up with friends or tunes with fellow musicians, you are probably bunkered down at home.

Tents rising up – stages are built.

In a “perfect world” today would have seen the campground gates open and so it would begin. People streaming in to secure their favourite camp spot, volunteers busily working on everything from putting up colourful fence mesh to building dance floors and moving equipment into place, contractors raising up tents and building stages and a myriad of other activities. Festival staff would be settled into their office above the Conference Centre (known to festival goers as the Trocadero) and downstairs the Festival office volunteers would be buzzing away getting everything ready for that wonderful moment on Thursday afternoon when the Festival opens to the public.

Build 3
View from the staff office – Watching as the EPIC site comes to life.

As a member of the Festival team, watching the National seemingly grow from the ground up on the EPIC site has been one of my greatest joys. Each day you’d peer from the staff office window and watch with excitement and exhilaration as another piece was moved into place, transforming the EPIC site into a special, magical world. And when Ted Bradley arrived with his dog to put up those iconic flags it felt like the roof was going on. A rainbow canopy under which the Festival comes to life in a riot of colour and sound. The penultimate activity before the culmination of 12, in some cases 18 months of dedicated work for the extended team that realises the event.

Iconic flags – the National’s rainbow canopy.

From an Artistic Director’s perspective it’s often a longer lead time than 18 months. Getting The Honey Dewdrops (USA) to the National was a two year project and for other artists there are often many meetings, emails and phone conversations before they are locked into the program. Some of our Scottish acts were booked on the strength of a showcase that took place in Scotland in 2018. And of course, every year you agonise over whether the program is going to work on the many levels it needs to in order to engage the diverse audience the National attracts. 2020 is a great mix and it is so very disappointing that you won’t have an opportunity to experience all those wonderful artists in a live context however, join me on Facebook over the next week as I share their music,  some insights into the program and generally celebrate my eighth and final artistic offering for the National Folk Festival. Below are a few links to whet your appetite.

The Honey Dewdrops      The Stiff Gins     Moishe’s Bagel     Tubonika     The Barleyshakes

By the way, if you enjoy any of the artists featured check out their music and support them by purchasing your favourite track/s on line or directly from their websites.

https://www.thehoneydewdrops.com     https://augustmgmt.com/talent/stiff-gins/     http://moishesbagel.com/about-us/     http://www.tubonika.com/bio/    https://www.barleyshakes.com