Retro Review: Port Fairy Folk Festival (2008)

Audience participation is my guilty pleasure. And the one place in the entire world that I consistently do not feel alone in my predicament is at the Port Fairy Folk Festival. For Labour weekend little old Port Fairy is transformed into an over-priced-cornering-the-market-buy-it-now-bitch-or-walk-to-Warrnambool-in-the-nicest-possible-way Folkie Heaven. Tens of thousands people flock in to the five main stages of the Festival Arena and absorb a wide variety of music. 2006 celebrated the thirtieth year, and 2008 continued the next thirty years with a flourish.

Going down to the Folkie has been a staple of my life since year seven, when the festival committee opened up the ticket balloting system. Each year we get a prospective program, peruse the offerings delightedly, and invariably end up knowing half of the acts by the time we arrive. This time I didn’t care. Three and a half hours on the floor of a train crammed with 317 people due to V-Line’s appalling lack of insight outweighed any enthusiasm. Temporarily. Wrist bands secured and a program to study reignited the spark. What an exceptional selection!

Trying to see as many artists as possible in two and a half days is impossible in 35˚C (plus) heat and eating ice-cream everyday is small consolation for boiling with thousands of others inside a tent. So this weekend required careful planning and selection. Out of the possible 130 artists/groups, I 20 made it to, just.

Top features this year included, Skipping Girl Vinegar who are a band to watch. They also write personal letters to fans, so join their mailing-list when they come to North Court. Flamenco outfit, Arte Kanela were absolutely stunning. Visually and musically, the dancing and the energy surpassed any performance of the weekend and received a well earned standing ovation. International act Louden Wainwright III proved a shrewd and talented songwriter and charismatic performer, his political satire had the audience right under his left thumb. His daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche is also extremely talented. The hilarious Topp Twins from New Zealand and the British Chipolatas more than made up for Tripod pulling out (congrats to Scod, his wife and their new baby). All of these acts were popular, established and packed out tents.

Although somewhat tempered by the temperature, chair rage lurked in every tent. So it was still necessary to keep a tight grip on that little-low-lying-‘Port- Fairy-chair’ and leg room as if it was the last vestige of civilisation. With such importance placed upon preserving comfort, the absolute WORST thing that you can do is lose – like I did - the back of your chair. Sitting forward isn’t relaxing; it is very distracting and is bloody uncomfortable. Also when reporting it to lost property, it is wise to remember that the majority of the staff at the Folkie are volunteers. Most of them are fantastic.

But the real atmosphere was typified first at the enormous Saturday Jug Band Convention, hidden amongst the washboards and kazoos and at then at the Sunday night gig launching Indigenous performer Dave Arden’s first CD. Each involved friends joining together to perform for an appreciative audience, who is more than happy to learn a chorus and sing along.

We used to go quite a bit, loved it. Still do :) This review was submitted and rejected by a certain University paper that shall remain nameless, needless to say they published a suitibly funky festival review instead. WHY IS FOLK MUSIC SO UNPOPULAR?