I love music festivals…. and I know I’m bloody lucky to have attended and enjoyed a few – this year was no exception.
I have huge gratitude for the enormous effort that (mostly volunteer legend) folk festival organisers do, particularly in the face of the growing challenges facing festival organisers from ham-fisted government knee-jerks (eg NSW. Also, how’s that for an image!? Ham-fisted-government-knee-jerks…. sounds like my next dance move). With that gratitude in mind, here’s to more festivals being more financially and otherwise accessible to a wider range of folks. Would love your thoughts on how to do this (other than variations of my default: tax the rich)…
I very lucky to play a few beautiful, uplifting and nourishing festivals this season – including some favourites close to home and some new favourites further afield (all while continuing to squeeze words into my rather-overdue thesis…)
First up was my first time at Dorrigo Folk & Bluegrass Festival, in the stunning hills of Northern NSW, on the edge of sub-tropical rainforest. Such a lovely fest, with some ripper artists this year (faves included Jaron-Freeman Fox & Simon Nyberg, STAV), and the mighty Dangar Falls nearby to dip in. After a few shows in Canberra, Sydney, Armidale on the way up, I enjoyed a solo festival set, and a couple of fun ones as part of Anna Smyrk’s trio (see video snippet below), and I had a ball co-running a dobro workshop with James Church of Montgomery Church, someone whose playing I really like.
Then was Majors Creek Festival. And gee it was magic.
I stumbled in late on a friday after a stressful week, and was immediately embalmed in gentle, joyful, community festival vibes – kids running everywhere, folk of all ages and a variety of backgrounds (musical and otherwise) getting amongst it, a beautiful quiet country setting, and a stellar lineup more diverse than the familiar folk festival. Fantastic programming – with highlights including On the Stoop, good mates Whoa Mule, Hoot & Holler, and Eric Bogle’s surprise set was a real treat. Majors Creek – you got me good!
And I had a real so much fun playing a couple of solo sets (including in the gorgeous old church), and was delighted to get good old mate Lucy Wise up for a few songs on the Appalachian Dulcimer for some ‘double-lap’ jamming, of some old tunes we hadn’t played together in years. Real fun (and stay tuned for some more reunited double-lap action later this year!). Here are some snippets:
Then I was super glad to be (and play!) at two of my favourite festivals – both so close to home!
I still can’t quite believe that Rainforest Rhythms is a thing – a little community music festival at the stunning ‘Gondwana-esque’ Tarra Bulga National Park on GunaiKurnai Country. With scones (jam and CREAM) available all day, live music, rainforest… holey moley! Great to be there again, and to nap on the grass to the smooth jazz of the ‘Coda Trail’. Make sure to come out to Gippy and check this gem out next time (or visit Tarra Bulga some time!).
I’ll always remember Boolarra Folk Festival this year, for reasons bad and (as usual) good.
The day started with an 8km footy pre-season run uphill, up a winding 4WD track from Middle Creek, only then for our football-netball club training camp to be hurriedly evacuated with the eruption of a nearby bushfire in tinder-dry conditions. I’ll always remember rushing back to the car to see the massive towering plume of smoke, punctured by water-bomber helicopters already on the scene and navigating the narrow valley. The CFA was already onsite in numbers, but ground firefighting was largely restricted by the difficult terrain. This was one going to be a ‘fight from the air, and wait & see…)
The usually delightful Folk Festival, no more than 30kms away from the Yinnar South fire, was shrouded in smoke the whole day, but persisted bravely nonetheless. And it was still a lovely festival, despite the tension in the air.
Beau Aktinson and I had a ripper time tearing up a few new tunes in our duo set, and loved hearing the Tim Scanlon Trio reggae-fy the Celts later on.
And I’ll always remember, later that night at the Boolarra Cooperative Hotel, watching the distant black horizon glow red with the simmering not-so-distant bushfire, as the band continued playing in the foreground. It felt like an all-too-apt embodied metaphor of society’s Titanic approach to the (clearly connected) climate crisis, continuing drunken partying despite (or because of) the looming apocalypse…
It was gutting to discover a friend’s family home was one of two destroyed by the fire the following morning.
Hats off to the firefighting champions (CFA volunteer legends, and paid folk) who burn countless hours and energy so that bush and houses don’t. And hats off to the massive volunteer ‘Blaze Aid’ effort going on now to help fire-affected folk recover.
And hats off to everyone doing their bit to collectively stave off the climate crisis, which will see worse than this become the new normal…
To wrap up this festival campaign was my first time to the heaps-cute St Albans Folk Festival. What a spot, in the captivating upper Hawkesbury River Valley on Darkinjung country.
Through a frustrating, then hilarious, 2-hour ‘lost car key’ situation (ask me some other time), we missed most of the Welcome to Country ceremony that opened the festival. But the atmosphere of that place will certainly stay with me. The stunningly steep rock-faced river valley (great for a swim), the musical sessions bubbling away incessantly throughout the weekend, and surely one of the quaintest, oldest stone pubs on the continent, gave a real sense of being back in time somewhere – a feeling delightfully abetted by a total lack of phone reception.
I enjoyed another mini tour on the way up there with Anna Smyrk & Jhana Allen, including some gigs and live radio, and a ripper spontaneous collaboration with wonderful Canberra artist Grim Till. Grim and I jumped up for some un-rehearsed jams during each other’s solo sets, at the ever delightful Smiths Alternative – magic! (stay tuned for some video from that collaboration).
Finally, to the brave legend (Emily) who picked up scary #hitchhiker Dan & guitar when I arrived late into Canberra at the start of the tour – THANK YOU again! You picked up my tired spirits (and heavy legs), after my computer lost a bunch of thesis writing I’d just done. Here’s to a world where folk everywhere feel safe hitchhiking and picking up hitchers.
And with that, festival season 2018-2019 was done — (much loved) winter and footy season is now well underway, and something more akin to a musical hibernation commences (though still with some real treat-gigs I’m looking forward to over the next couple of months). And of course finishing a long-overdue thesis…