12 Hours at the 2015 Illawarra Folk Festival

Illawarra Folk Festival
Image Courtesy of Illawarra Folk Festival

Every year as my train pulls away from Bulli station after another successful tilt at the Illawarra Folk Festival I promise myself “next year will be the year I come for the whole weekend, not just a day”.

Then when January finally rolls around again and my pockets are empty following the excess of the Christmas period I always find myself whittling down my expectations and deciding “just one day at Illawarra will do”.

But one day is never enough.

The Illawarra Folk Festival is no longer the little festival I first started going to when I moved to New South Wales 10 years ago. And 10 years ago it had already outgrown its life as a “little festival” having moved to Bulli from Jamberoo to accommodate a much larger audience. This year saw more than 11,000 people make their way through the gates of Bulli Showground proving once and for all that the Illawarra Folk Festival is one of the big guys.

There’s plenty of reasons why I’ve always loved Illawarra. The fact it’s an easy train ride from Sydney for one. It’s mid-January timing meaning it manages to attract the best talent from the New Year’s festivals for another. And that despite the fact that there were 11,000 people through the door I can spend my day walking around the site bumping into old friends, making new ones and feeling right at home.

This year I chose Sunday as my one day at Illawarra for no other reason than it fitted my schedule best and the timing of the final concert – around 6pm – meant I wouldn’t be ridiculously late home. I caught the first train down, rocking into the festival before 9am and before, it turns out, most of the music had started. I parked myself where I could see a blackboard session featuring Mandy Connell in the Tantric Turtle, studied the program intently and let the upcoming day wash over me.

And then I was off! Having just a day at the festival meant I needed to see as much as possible in a small amount of time. Anyone tracking my progress around the showground would have seen me almost running between venues, ducking in halfway into sets, saying g’day to the artists as they clambered off stage only to then piss-bolt to the next gig.

This sort of program onslaught meant I missed more than a few of the artists I wanted to see because of clashes including The Mae Trio, Cloudstreet, Fred Smith, Sparrow-Folk and Big Erle. It also meant I managed to catch snippets of artists that I originally didn’t have down on my list like the Tim Edey Trio as I cut through the Slacky Flat Bar on my way to another gig. Plus it meant that by the time I realised I should really eat something most of the stalls had shut up shop for the weekend and I was left with the option of chip-on-a-stick or a sandwich when I got home. I chose the latter.

But I did see some amazing music. And the variety! This is what is special about the Illawarra Folk Festival – in one moment you can watch a contemporary singer-songwriter like Joe Mungovan (who slipped a James Taylor number into his set because he felt is was the only folk song he knew), run between competing folk-punk shows from The Go Set, The Bottlers and Handsome Young Strangers (who were strangely playing at exactly the same time in different venues) or soak up the jazzed up trad of Stray Hens. Artistic director David De Santi is obviously a lover of folk music in all it’s various guises and this flows through to possibly the most eclectic lineup of any festival in Australia.

Of the international guests I was most impressed with Canadian trad trio The East Pointers and the Euro-Scottish folk of Black Market Tune. The former were just a powerhouse live – one of the tightest bands I’ve seen in a very long time and so charismatic! I can imagine they won the hearts of many young ladies in the audience and may even have inspired more than one person to pick up the tenor banjo (well, I was inspired, so that counts). The latter ingratiated themselves with the crowd with the simple charm and ability to switch their Austrian accents to Scottish brogue as their music demanded. I can’t recommend either of these bands enough.

The Stray Hens were my pick of the local acts. I’m sure I’ve seen these guys at The National before but this was the gig that truly made me fall in love with them. Mandy, Sally and Rowena (along with Richard and Ryan in their rhythm section) are interpreting and elevating traditional songs in a way I’m not seeing many Australian artists do and it’s mesmerising. Festival bookers take note – get the Stray Hens on your lineup or forever be sorry.

And then there’s Eric Bogle. I tried not to fill my Illawarra Folk Festival seeing artists I’d seen 100 times before but somehow I still managed to find myself in the Black Diamond Marquee listening to the songwriting legend. And he was everything you’d expect – funny, passionate, engaging and beautiful. When he played “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” introduced with an explanation that he’d been asked to sing the song at the Anzac Day 100 year anniversary sans the final verse (“bugger that”) it was just magic.

As the Finale Parade made it’s way through the Showground I ducked out of the festival and dragged myself up the road to catch the train back to Sydney, exhausted but ultimately satisfied. Once again the Illawarra Folk Festival had exceeded my expectations and left me wanting more – exactly what I want from a folk festival.

My train wound its way through the mountains back to the big smoke and I made a promise to myself – next year “next year will be the year I come for the whole weekend, not just one day”.

Thank Folk It’s Friday – 11th January


This Week in Folk

All the News From The Week That Was

Timber and Steel are proud to be presenting the upcoming tour from Melbourne trio Little Wise. Details here

Anaïs Mitchell and collaborator Jefferson Hamer will be releasing an album of traditional ballads taken from the Francis James Child collection, due this March. Details here

– Sydney singer-songwriter Sam Buckingham shot the video for her track “Let’s Go Home” on a phone while she was at the Peats Ridge Festival over new year. Details here

– Adelaide singer-songwriter Kaurna Cronin has revealed a brand new track, “Run Boy”, via a video shot live in the secret underground tunnels under Victoria Square. Details here

– Aussie-Swedish folk duo Nick and Liesl have announced plans to release a brand new EP, Friend and Lover, and have a bunch of East Coast tour dates through February and March. Details here

Matt Walters continues the trend of indie-folk videos of the artist walking through the woods with his latest single “I Would Die For You”. Details here

– The 2013 Port Fairy Folk Festival has added a bunch more artists including Xavier Rudd, Mustered Courage and The Stillsons. Details here

– Intimate Sydney venue The Newsagency is presenting a very special songwriting workshop in February featuring Sarah Humphreys, Jack Carty and Alison Avron. Details here

– On the 1st February Country Roads hits the Vanguard in Sydney for a night of folk, country and bluegrass featuring Bellyache Ben and the Steamgrass Boys, The Green Mohair Suits, The River and the Road and All Our Exes Live In Texas. Details here

Luka Bloom will be touring the country in March after already being confirmed for the Blue Mountains Music Festival and Bluesfest. Details here

– The Northern Beaches Music Festival will be holding a pop-up fundraiser this Sunday in Sydney featuring RAPT trio feat. Ben Palumbo, Spasm Band, Renny Field and Ryan Collings. Details here

Crooked Still banjo player Greg Liszt also plays with experimental jam-folk five piece The Deadly Gentlemen who have just released their new single – a cover of Vampire Weekend’s “The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance”. Details here

– Sydney indie-folk quartet Tin Sparrow have released their first ever official music video, the zombie film inspire “The Beast”. Details here

The Lumineers treated us to a live video covering Bob Dylan’s classic “Boots of Spanish Leather”. Details here

– The Cobargo Folk Festival has a pretty exciting lineup this year including David Ross Macdonald, Don’t Mention The Wall, Kim Churchill, Martin Pearson, Modhan, The Bon Scotts, The Perch Creek Family Jug Band (above), Vin Garbutt and many many more. Details here

– Nashville based singer-songwriter Caitlin Rose has released another track from her forthcoming album The Stand-In titled “I Was Cruel”. Details here


“I’ve been playing music my whole life. I really started taking it serious a few years ago. I put out an album called False Alarm. I had a lot of success with that; had it featured in a big show that was all over the world, and went to number one iTunes”Andy Brown chats to Bill Quinn. Interview here

“The festival! Wonderful! We’ve got our program up, and we’re just doing our last scheduling with the last few volunteers, trying to fill in a few gaps. But looking absolutely fantastic. I’ve got a taste of a few of the artists at Woodford Folk Festival when I was there — it’s looking absolutely magnificent.”Illawarra Folk Festival Artistic Director David de Santi chats to Bill Quinn. Interview here

Spotlight On

Melody Pool

Melody Pool

“Hailing from the Hunter Valley in NSW Melody Pool’s music is equal parts country and folk and she has one of those voices you just want to listen to for hours. My first reaction to Pool’s music was how strongly it resembled that of Laura Marling (a fact not lost on the reviewers on her Unearthed Page) but upon listening to her Awake, You’re All Around Me EP more closely it’s clear that she is more than a Marling clone weaving elements of country and indie music throughout her songs”Spotlight on Melody Pool here

Releases This Week

Dropkick Murphys
Signed and Sealed in BloodDropkick Murphys

Gigs Next Week

Davidson Brothers and Mustered Courage
Friday 11th January – The Wesley Anne, Melbourne, VIC

Don’t Mention The Wall
Thursday 17th January – Camelot Lounge, Sydney, NSW
18th to 20th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, Bulli, NSW

East Coast Canadian Showcase feat. Andy Brown, Dave Gunning
Friday 11th January – Caravan Music Club, Oakleigh, VIC

Illawarra Folk Festival
Thursday 17th to Sunday 20th Januray – Bulli, NSW

Kim Churchill
Friday 11th January – Heritage Hotel, Wollongong, NSW
Saturday 12th January – The Basement, Sydney, NSW
Friday 18th January – Clancy’s Fish Pub, Fremantle, WA

Lachlan Bryan
Wednesday 16th January – The Retreat Hotel, Melbounre, VIC

Lianne La Havas
Friday 18th January – The Famous Spiegeltent, Sydney, NSW

Northern Beaches Music Festival Pop-Up Fundraiser feat. RAPT Trio feat. Ben Palumbo, Spasm Band, Renny Field and Ryan Collings
Saturday 12th January – William Street Studios, Sydney, NSW

Sam Buckingham
Friday 11th January – Moree Plains Gallery, Moree, NSW

Sharon Shannon
Friday 11th January – The Spotted Mallard, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 12th January – The Spotted Mallard, Melbourne, VIC

The April Maze
Saturday 12th January – The Glass Onion Society, Longjety, NSW

The Mouldy Lovers
Friday 11th January – Notes Live, Sydney, NSW
Saturday 12th January – Phoenix Bar, Canberra, ACT
Sunday 13th January – The Wesley Anne, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 17th January – Bon Amici’s, Toowoomba, QLD
Friday 18th January – The Zoo, Brisbane, QLD

Tin Sparrow
Friday 11th January – Front Gallery Cafe, Canberra, ACT
Saturday 12th January – Yours and Owls, Wollongong, NSW

Friday Folk Flashback

“No Gods (and Precious Few Heroes)” – Dick Gaughan

This week’s FFF is dedicated to sometime Timber and Steel contributor MackaJay who was obsessed with this song for some time. Originally written by Brian McNeill (Battlefield Band), I’ve chosen Dick Gaughan’s version for the man’s amazing voice (and the fact it was featured on the very first podcast from The Mike Harding Folk Show).

Interview: David de Santi (Illawarra Folk Festival)

David de Santi
Image Courtesy of the Illawarra Folk Festival

On Thursday 17th January, the Bulli Showgrounds will once again explode into colour, life, music, dance and song as the Illawarra Folk Festival kicks into life for 2013.

On a flying visit to Wollongong last weekend to sit on the sidelines of a festival warm-up tunes session at Dicey Riley’s Irish pub, Bill Quinn (Overheard Productions) caught a few precious minutes with the man for whom they need to develop a more descriptive epithet than ‘multi-tasking’, festival artistic director, David de Santi.

(For the time poor, there’s a link to the interview audio at the end of this article)

Bill Quinn: David, 2013: how’s it going?

David de Santi: The year’s going really lovely, and…

BQ: OK! Let’s be more specific!! The festival: how is it going?!

DS: Oh! The festival! Wonderful! We’ve got our program up, and we’re just doing our last scheduling with the last few volunteers, trying to fill in a few gaps.

But looking absolutely fantastic. I’ve got a taste of a few of the artists at Woodford Folk Festival when I was there—it’s looking absolutely magnificent.

BQ: I just read my way through the artists that are there; it’s an eye-watering line-up! They’re all good, but what are the stand-outs? What’s going to be really gripping about 2013?

DS: I think the big thing is that we’ve got more international artists than we’ve ever had. But on top of that we’ve got some great quality local guys.

Some guys like Mzaza from Brisbane – looking forward to seeing those guys. A bit of a Mediterranean music thing. Rory McLeod (Scotland) comes back after many years and that will be fantastic.

We’re going to have a few people we normally wouldn’t have in a folk festival, like Christine Anu, Mike McClellan’s back – he played the festival at Jamberoo many, many years ago. Jeff Lang’s coming back – he came for the first Illawarra Folk Festival at Bulli, so he’s coming back as well.

We’ve got a really great youth program as well, so I’m really pleased about that – lots of young folks doing their thing.

And I guess the thing is there’s 12 venues and over those four days of the festival it’s chock-a-block of absolutely wonderful talent.

Underscore Orkestra’s coming from Oregon.

So there’s some great new acts, and a few old favourites. There’s half The Beez (Don’t Mention The Wall!).

So I think it’s going to be fantastic.

BQ: Speaking of old favourites, I had to have a little chuckle when I saw the themed instrument for this year. Tell us about that!

DS (card-carrying life-time member of the piano accordion-players’ guild): Aw, look, c’mon! 28 years and we finally have the accordion! I mean, like, I have not pushed it, you know?

Yes, it was suggested at committee meetings, so ok, fine!

Actually, there’s some great bands with some great accordionists. Vardos – Sofia from Vardos, Mzaza’s got a lovely accordion player as well. Christian Dolislager who does a lot of playing of French muzet styles.

So we’ve got some amazing accordion players coming along to be part of the festival.

BQ: Last time I looked there was an issue with having enough volunteers. Is that something you’re still looking out for?

DS: Yeah, I think so. I think we could still do with another 20 or 30 or so. We need a few for the bar and a few for traffic control, probably a few more MCs as well. All of those little things that need to be done.

It’s a great way to get into the festival as well, you know. 12 hours of work, and you’re hopefully doing a job that you’re actually enjoying. It’s not real work! So we’d love to have a few more, so people can do that pretty quickly and get on to the web-site.

BQ: Great! Thank you!

The Illawarra Folk Festival will be held in Bulli, NSW (just north of Wollongong) from the 17th to 20th January – for tickets, information and details of the “music train” from Sydney visit the official site here. The audio for this interview is below:

Snowy Mountains of Music Confirms First 3 Artists

Dallas Frasca
Image Courtesy of Dallas Frasca

While we’ve still got four months to wait until we can pack our winter woolies and head to Perisher for the annual Snowy Mountains of Music Festival (held from the 10th to the 13th June) the excitement is already beginning to build. Artistic Director David De Santi has confirmed three artists for the lineup and they’re pretty exciting: folk legend Eric Bogle, roots goddess Dallas Frasca (above) and recent winners of the Telstra Horizon Award at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, The Sunny Cowgirls.

More artist announcements are rumoured to be on the way very soon. Make sure you check back regularly for more details.

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