28 February 2024

Strong ticket sales point to National Folk Festival being more than just a music event

| Ian Bushnell
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National Folk Festival co-artistic director Holly Downes.

National Folk Festival co-artistic director Holly Downes: “You are not just going to be sitting and listening, there’s many, many different ways you can be involved.” Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Other music events are doing it tough post-COVID amid a cost of living crisis. But ticket sales for the 56th National Folk Festival at Exhibition Park this Easter are going well, thanks to a loyal following and its unique character.

Now only a little more than a month away, the festival was officially launched on Wednesday at Smiths Alternative in the city where organisers promised a diverse and inclusive event sprinkled with some of the best folk acts from across Australia and overseas, as well as up and coming artists keen to make their name.

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One of the three co-artistic directors, Holly Downes, a double bass player who will be performing at the festival with the Good Behaviours, told Region the cancelling of major festivals such as Groovin’ the Moo had not appeared to flow on to the national.

She said it was a testament to the strength of the folk community and the arts, more generally, as well as the festival’s big point of difference – that it was a participatory event.

“You are not just going to be sitting and listening, there’s many, many different ways you can be involved at the festival and lots of different reasons you might like to come,” Ms Downes said.

She said there were still plenty of people coming to Canberra at Easter with ticket sales from around the country still going strong.

“It is a pilgrimage for many people in our community,” she said. “I have spent a lot of time touring around and have been recently speaking to the people out on the ground. It’s like `oh, yes, we’re coming’.

“It is a gathering place in that way, and that’s what I feel the National Folk Festival should be and always has been. So I think it is continuing despite those challenges.”

Ms Downes said the overseas contingent would be led by UK singer songwriter Grace Petrie, Canadian Harry Manx and American singer and raconteur John Craigie, who she called one of those undiscovered secrets.

“He is incredibly well known in the States and abroad in general but hasn’t really been here before and it’s so exciting to have him,” she said.

“When I first listened to his material, he got me, I think, with really amazing storytelling and witty commentary alongside really heartfelt songs. He’ll really win over our audiences.”

Other overseas acts to catch are Québecois Electrotrad supergroup Mélisande, and Norwegian folk-heavy metal band Gangar.

Australian artists include singer-songwriter David Bridie from Not Drowning Waving and My Friend The Chocolate Cake, who will share narratives that resonate with everyday Australian experiences, alt-country band The Audreys and sister act The Maes.

Folk legend Kate Delaney will bring an extravaganza featuring artists from the first National Folk Festival and showcase a diversity of voices both known and unknown.

Ms Downes said one of the many First Nation artists not to be missed was Radical Son from western Sydney.

“He has an incredibly powerful voice,” she said. “I just heard him perform in a First Nations opera in Western Australia that’s been written by Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse, and they’re also performing.

“Radical Son’s presence will be really profound for people.”

Locally, there will be The Green Hand Band and Alinta Barlow, in collaboration with ANU’s Yil Lull Studio.

A feature of this year’s festival will be the quiet venue at the Fitzroy which has been fitted out to achieve acoustics suited to a more intimate experience.

“We’re hoping that when you come inside this year, you will be warmly surprised by the acoustic space that has been created in what is otherwise a shed,” Ms Downes said.

“So we’re really looking forward to a real intimate way of experiencing our musicians that is more common in a kind of house concert or up close and personal sort of setting, but with space for a few more people.”

Ms Downes said an up and coming act to watch out for was Appoline, three young women from Melbourne who play fiddle, cello and double bass, and sing.

There’s also a young folk program highlighting a few bands that “you might never have heard of before that I really feel we’ll be seeing more of in the coming years”.

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Young Irish music group Ceoltóirí Naarm, also from Melbourne, will be doing all sorts of things including workshops for kids, calling a dance and helping other kids coming to the festival.

“So there’s really a lot of opportunities for young folk to come and develop their own skills because they are our future,” Ms Downes said.

There’ll also be lots to get involved in, including dances and choirs.

The festival takes place every Easter from Thursday night through to Monday at Exhibition Park.

To learn more about the artist line-up and view the full program visit the festival website.

Original Article published by Ian Bushnell on Riotact.

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