Full Lineup for the Top Half Folk Festival Revealed

Fanny Lumsden
Image Courtesy of Fanny Lumsden & The Thrillseekers

We’re less than two weeks away from our favourite little folk festival, the Top Half Folk Festival in Central Australia, and it’s shaping up to be an amazing event.

The Top Half has already announced headliners Fanny Lumsden & The Thrillseekers (above) but this week they announced a raft of other artists including Ted Egan, Colin Lillie, Barry Skipsey, Sally Balfour, Margaret Walters, Bob Sharp, Scott Balfour, Dave Oakes, Don Bruce, Neil & Mel Phillips, Rusty & The Infidels, Malarkey, Watershed Players, Edan Baxter, Chris Pemberton & Tony Suttor, Peter Bate, Paul Stewart, South Of The Berrimah Line, Phil Beck, Phil Gray, Kirsty Evans, Ted & Carolynne Burns and the-band-that-became-a-blog Timber & Steel.

The Top Half Folk Festival is held from the 5th to the June at the Glen Helen Resort west of Alice Springs. As well as the festival there will be an informal welcome drinks in Alice Springs at the Gap View Hotel on Thursday 4th June. For more information on the Top Half Folk Festival including how to get your hands on tickets and accommodation check out the Central Australia Folk Society web site here.

Remembering Pete Seeger – Tribute Concert In Sydney

Pete Seeger

This Sunday the NSW Folk Federation will be hosting a very special tribute concert to Pete Seeger who sadly passed away at the beginning of this year.

Remembering Pete Seeger will be held at the Friend in Hand Pub in Glebe from 4:30pm to 7pm this Sunday and will feature performances from Bob & Margaret Fagan, Mary-Jane Field, Peter Hicks, The Lurkers, Christina Mimmocchi, Maurie Mulheron, Margaret Walters and Chris Wheeler. The second half of the concert will feature all of the performers leading a singalong of Pete’s best known songs.

Entry for the tribute is $10, or free for NSW Folk Federation members. For more information check out the official NSW Folk Federation site here.

The Full National Folk Festival Program Revealed

Old Man Leudecke
Image Courtesy of Old Man Luedecke

Can you believe Easter is under two months away? Crazy times! With that in mind The National Folk Festival last week officially launched their 2014 program with well over 200 artists announced.

To recap the international contingent includes Woody Mann (USA), Damien Dempsey (Ireland), Tift Merritt (USA), Lindi Ortega (Canada), Old Man Luedecke (Above, Canada), Eleanor McEvoy (Ireland), Fásta (Quebec/Ireland/Scotland) and The Alaskan String Band (Alaska).

Not to be outdone the local additions to the lineup include a bunch of Timber and Steel favourites including Jordie Lane, Kate Fagan, The Little Stevies, Heath Cullen, The Crooked Fiddle Band, Castlecomer, The Mae Trio, The Barons of Tang, The Davidson Brothers, Tolka, Bernard Carney, The Ellis Collective, Quarry Mountain Dead Rats, Archie Roach, Joseph Tawadros Trio, Leah Flanagan, The Lurkers, Margaret Walters, Martin Pearson, The Morrisons, The Rusty Spring Syncopators, Sarah Humphreys, Sparrow Folk, The Stetson Family, Takadimi, Trouble in the Kitchen, Zeptepi and many many more.

The National Folk Festival has also announced the recipient of the National Folk Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award is folk veteran Margret Roadknight.

The National Folk Festival takes place at Exhibition Park in Canberra from the 17th to 21st April. Check out the official web site for more information.

Shut The Folk Up! Artists for September

Margaret Walters
Photo of Margaret Walters Courtesy of Barry Skipsey

In the early hours of Sunday morning at this year’s Top Half Folk Festival we found ourselves watching (and participating in) a singing session while also deep in conversation with Australian folk legend Margaret Walters (pictured above left singing with Kerrie Maguire). After discovering we were both based in Sydney Margaret asked us if we regularly attended any folk clubs there to which we replied that our favourite was easily Shut the Folk Up! held on the last Thursday every month at Hive Bar in Erskineville.

“You know Cj Shaw?” Margaret exclaimed. “I’ve been asked to sing at his folk club later this year.”

We then went on to commend Shut The Folk Up!’s organiser Cj Shaw on creating a unique folk club that managed to simultaneously encourage new talent from around Sydney and beyond and introduce legends like Margaret to a new and eager audience. I’m sure Timber and Steel drank a number of Guinness’s to Cj’s health from thereon in as the rest of the conversation is a little bit of a blur – but ever since that moment we’ve been eagerly awaiting our new best friend’s inclusion on the Shut The Folk Up! lineup and it looks as though September is finally the month.

And not only is this the month where we’ll finally see the wonderful Margaret Walters on the Hive Bar stage it’s also a very special event in Shut the Folk Up!’s calender – this month’s Folk Club is Ladies night.

On the 29th of September Shut The Folk Up! will play host to a plethora of fantastically folky females in celebration of all that is feminine. Joining Margaret Walters will be singer songwriters Leonora Jackson, Beth Knights and Grace plus poetry from Palwesha Yusaf and the infamous Candy Royalle. Cj will be relinquishing control of the MC mic to his sister KT Shaw who we’re reassured is very very funny (making a nice change – zing!).

As usual Shut The Folk Up! is free to enter and will be on from about 7:30pm on the 29th September. If you’re in Sydney make sure you get down to Ladies Night – click through here to RSVP to the official Facebook event.

Review: 41st Top Half Folk Festival, Alice Springs

Songs From the Attic/Shed
Image Courtesy of Barry Skipsey

As I awoke bleary eyed and rolled out of my swag on the cold, crisp morning of the Queens Birthday Monday I suddenly realised that the Top Half Folk Festival was over for another year. The weekend had flown by in a blur of folk music and whiskey and it was time to pack up the hire car and make the weary trip from Glen Helen to Alice Springs and once again face the real world.

The Top Half Folk Festival is held alternately in Central Australia (Glen Helen) and the Top End (Mary River) and this year it was the “bottom half’s” turn. Showcasing some of the Northern Territory’s best established and up-and-coming folk music talent, along with special guests from interstate, the Top Half is everything that’s wonderful about a small regional festival – intimate venues, a family atmosphere and beautiful acoustic music filling the equally stunning surroundings.

The official program of the Top Half takes place over the Saturday and Sunday of the Queens Birthday long weekend (with the unofficial program continuing in the Glen Helen Homestead over three late nights) with a single venue hosting a selection of concerts, workshops and other folky goodness throughout.

Day one saw a heady mixture of traditional and contemporary folk to delight and inspire the audience who were trickling in from Alice Springs throughout the morning. The day kicked off with the famous Poet’s Breakfast hosted by the equally famous Jim Smith (VIC) and then was followed by a fascinating maritime themed workshop from WA duo Lesley Silvester and Mike Murray (an odd choice for a desert festival but who doesn’t like a good sea shanty?).

Next up local legend Dave Evans (Bloodwood) presented one of the highlights of the festival, interviewing West Australian group The Loaded Dog with hilarious consequences (and even a few songs thrown in for good measure). I use the term “interviewing” loosely with the majority of the presentation seeing Evans and The Loaded Dog trading friendly barbs and generally trying to outwit each other. The result was not only a great introduction to The Loaded Dog’s music (for those of us who hadn’t heard them before) but a fantastic introduction to the more formal concerts for the rest of the day.

Ted Egan and Jeanette Wormald
Image of Ted Egan and Jeanette Wormald Courtesy of Barry Skipsey

The two Saturday concerts were peppered with some absolutely delightful music spanning folk in all its forms from trad (Darwin’s Moonta Revellers) to contemporary (South Australia’s Don Bruce) and even klezmer (local band Rusty and the Infidels). Highlights from the day included the troubadour stylings of Edan Baxter and Jamie Balfour (Alice Springs) on resonator and lap steel, the irrepressible Ted Egan (Alice Springs) singing some of his most cherished Australian songs, Jeanette Wormald (Alice Springs) who had been coaxed out of semi-retirement from professional music to play a gorgeous set of contemporary country music and Dom Costello and Michael David (Alice Springs and QLD) who absolutely blew me out of the water with their Celtic inspired contemporary folk.

The festival’s special guest, WA singer songwriter Peter Bugden, appeared in two slots over the weekend including closing the Saturday night concert and a solo slot at lunchtime on Sunday. As charismatic as ever, Bugden charmed audiences with his unique mix of humour and poignancy. At one moment Bugden would have the audience rolling in the aisles to one of his stories or tongue-twisting songs and then the next moment they would be enraptured by a song full of heartbreak and longing. While Bugden hails from Perth he has had a long association with the Territorian folk scene and his performances solidified his standing as one of the Top Half’s favourite “blow ins”.

Sunday proved more of the same high quality performances starting once again with Jim Smith’s Poet’s breakfast before launching into a day of workshops and concerts. Paul “Stewy” Stewert once again assembled a “cricket team” (top image) of festival musicians (including members of local folk music heroes Bloodwood) for a workshop featuring songs from the depths of his impressive record collection. The workshop had the audience commenting how dismal their record collections were in comparison and many of the musicians frantically writing down the names of the all the new songs they had to learn.

Timber and Steel
Image of Timber and Steel Courtesy of Barry Skipsey

The two Sunday concerts were once again a mixture of the old and the new (both in terms of the music and the acts) and really demonstrated why audiences keep coming back. Highlights included South of the Berrimah Line (Katherine) combining old timey, country, Celtic and contemporary folk music with wonderful instrumentation and harmonies, Australian folk legend Margaret Walters (NSW), Phil Beck (WA) whose beautiful finger picking style and affection for the sadder side of folk music reduced some audience members to tears and the-band-that-became-a-blog Timber and Steel flexing their nu-folk muscles. The night was closed out by local rock/blues/folk/country trio Built for Comfort who had the crowd rocking in their seats and singing along to all the words.

Session Bar
Image Courtesy of Barry Skipsey

Many of the Top Half’s best moments occur off-program in the Glen Helen Homestead or the “Session Bar” as it’s commonly referred to. After each evening concert draws to a close the crowd descends on the homestead, musical instrument in one hand, a frothing pint in the other, and plays, sings and dances well into the early morning hours. At any given moment you can be treated to set dancing, traditional Irish fiddle tunes, a Capella singing and pub classics resonating through the building and out into the MacDonnell Ranges beyond.

Playing music, dancing and singing until 3am every morning and then ensuring you’re up in time to catch the Poet’s Breakfast takes its toll, hence the bleary eyes from this reviewer on the Monday morning. But the lack of sleep and below zero temperatures most mornings did nothing to dent the feeling that we had been a part of one of the best little festivals in the country. And the fact that it will be held in the tropical north next year has already inspired us to want to do it all again. Congratulations to the Central Australian Folk Society and the Top End Folk Club for another amazing Top Half Folk Festival. Long may they continue.

41st Top Half Folk Festival This Queens Birthday Weekend, 11th-13th June

Top Half Folk Festival
Image Courtesy of Barry Skipsey

One of Australia’s great little folk festivals is happening again from the 11th to 13th June. Now in its 41st year, which must make it one of Australia’s longest running folk festivals, The Top Half Folk Festival alternates between Darwin and Alice Springs. This year it’s Alice’s turn, and the venue is once again The Glen Helen Resort. Just 132klms west of Alice Springs is the magnificent Glen Helen Gorge, fashioned by the famous Finke River and nestled amongst the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges, a perfect backdrop for a festival. The Top Half Festivals have never been large in numbers but make up for this with their friendliness, quality of music and uniquely Territorian flavour. Over the years many of Australia’s top folk performers have performed at the festival and this year’s list of confirmed visiting artists is promising to make it another ripper.

Peter Bugden is the featured guest artist. Peter has lived in Perth for many years and is well known around Australia for his singing, guitar accompaniment and wonderful laid back introductions that have had many an audience in stitches. Also featuring from Perth will be Loaded Dog, Mike Murray & Lesley Sylvester, and Phil Beck. From NSW we have Margaret Walters, Francesca Sidoti and the-band-that-became-this-blog Timber and Steel. Also appearing will be The Dingos Breakfast Duo consisting of Roger Montgomery, John Angliss and Martin Pearson (wait – duo?), Don Bruce from S.A. will be there and a contingent from Bendigo are also driving up. The usual suspects from Darwin will be driving down, Tony Suttor, Peter Bate and Paul Stewart to name but three, and Alice Springs locals Ted Egan, Barry Skipsey and the odd Bloodwood* member or two, may well be found near the bar area.

The weekend opens with a welcoming BBQ on Friday and a free for all music/song session and continues through Saturday and Sunday with a mixture of concerts, presentations, poetry, craft, and mighty jam sessions that go on into the wee small hours. Monday is recovery day and a chance to fully appreciate the beautiful surroundings or simply to lie down and get some sleep. The usual facilities are all available out at Glen Helen, however accommodation is limited and it’s best to book before going (Shelagh at Glen Helen can be contacted on 08 8956 7489)

If you want further information about the festival contact Dave Evans or Scott Balfour (the B and D of Bloodwood) at tophalffolkfest@gmail.com

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