After missing the National Folk Festival last year (for a pretty fun reason), I decided to get myself a season pass at the earlybird price and really make the most of it.
On Friday I went to a workshop with the Melbourne Scottish Fiddlers. (The picture above is from one of their shows later in the weekend.) I've been learning fiddle for about a year and a half and I was determined to challenge myself by participating in a workshop during the festival. This one would have been my first pick, but by the time I spotted it on the program, I had just arrived at the site and had only about an hour to spare. I thought about rushing home to get my fiddle but I decided to just listen this time.
I ended up participating (at least, as far as I could) in an old time tunes workshop on Saturday with Cat and Clint, and one on Sunday with WÖR teaching two of their rediscovered 18th century tunes. Altogether this was a pretty big milestone! The first time I've ever got the fiddle out in "public" and played with other people. (Aside from my teacher).
I can read music (thanks Mum and Dad for all those years of piano lessons!) and am much more comfortable learning tunes from sheet music, but I can also learn by ear. Sometimes I record my teacher playing a new tune and gradually learn it from listening to the recording. Learning two or three completely new tunes in the space of an hour though is pretty fast for me. I'm sure trying - and failing quite a bit - was good for me.
I didn't stay at the festival late on Friday but did also see Seanchas and old favourite, Steve Poltz, who never fails to make me laugh and cry, sometimes simultaneously.
On Easter Saturday I spent all day and evening at the festival with one of my best gig buddies and we had a fantastic time.
We checked in with the folk-singing diplomat, Fred Smith. His latest album is about America (hence the slide show) but he also did Afghanistan material from the Dust of Uruzgan album as well. I have seen a few of his shows now over the years and he's always thought provoking (with some funny too). I didn't get a good photo but Liz Frencham was playing in the band of course and sang some songs too.
The Good Lovelies, from Canada, were indeed lovely in their music and harmonies and very accomplished musicians, doing a lot of switching instruments. The core band is a group of three women who have been together and touring internationally for many years.
I feel like I see many more women musicians, particularly groups with multiple women, at this festival than I seem to anywhere else. I wonder why that is? Sadly I wonder if it may be partly because the National Folk Festival (and probably other folk festivals) offers space and stages of various types for a very large number of acts right, down to blackboard sessions and buskers - folk festivals have that inclusive vibe, don't they?
Of course there is still a severe gender disparity in "folk music," just like every other music scene, especially when it comes to more successful, international touring bands. When I see a group of four or five 30-ish blokes from Canada or Scotland playing exquisite folk music, of course I love it... but I can't help also thinking, how many of you have wives/significant others at home with the kids? Or are they touring with you rather than pursuing their own artistic/other dreams? No, I don't assume, and I don't think I know - I just wonder, because I have an idea how dominant the dominant paradigm is. So with all this in my mind it was nice to observe that at least one Good Lovely had her husband manning the merch table, with a small child on his shoulders.
WÖR was one of my favourite acts from the weekend. Their arrangements of tunes found in old Flemish manuscripts were great. Guitar, accordion, bagpipes, fiddle, baritone saxophone and occasionally soprano sax. There was something very appealing to me about these tunes. Hope the magic translates to the CD (we all know sometimes it doesn't) because it's on order.
Two years ago K texted me from the National (I happened not to be there that evening) with a heads up about Bush Gothic. Go to YouTube he said. I did, I watched everything, and immediately fell very hard for their 'darker, stranger Australia folk.' Most of the songs are from the convict era and early days of settlement but they also do an incredible, not-at-all-corny cover of John Williamson's (corny) 'True Blue.'
So I've been listening to the albums for the past couple of years, and I have actually seen Jenny perform (at the first Stringmania concert), but this was the first time I had seen the group live. I loved them of course and went back for another set the following night. I was delighted when they played a lot of different songs, including a clever new version of Slim Dusty's Pub with No Beer.
Back to Saturday night - we spent a while with Mick Thomas and the Roving Commission. I found out the huge Weddings Parties Anything hit 'Father's Day,' all these years later, still sounds over familiar and overexposed to me. The show was good, but as planned, we left to move next door to the Marquee for Steve Poltz - I was very happy to see him again and my buddy is a fan.
Late Saturday night I caught the second half of Breabach's set. Wonderful Scottish tunes, multiple bagpipes, all right up my alley. They actually played Womadelaide a few years ago. I made sure I heard their full set on Sunday.
On Sunday I also spent a bit of time at the instrument makers concert which is always interesting. Sometimes the makers themselves play but many instrument makers are not performers themselves. So often they just introduce the instruments and have other musicians showcase the instruments.
Hat Fitz and Cara were intriguing. I meant to see them at Womadelaide, but missed out. Turned out to be not what I expected. The music was a bit more blues than is really my thing, but I loved the arrangements, Cara on drums (and washboard for one song) front and centre and she has an incredible voice. Bit of sassy couple humour in there too.
I finished off Sunday night in the Trocadero, always a more genteel venue, with Fiona Ross and Ken Nicol. Fiona is a Scottish singer of the Scots language, now based in Australia; I've seen her before and like her stuff. During this show I cast off my knitted project, and cast on the next one, in the dark! (And it worked out fine).
By Monday I was pretty tired but determine to get the most out of this long weekend. I had great company, hanging out with my sister and her children for part of the day, and another excellent gig buddy for a lot of it. Early in the day I saw part of an Irish ensemble set called 'Companach - Music of Ireland in its place.' With a slide show of gorgeous Irish locations and other images relating to the tunes, the show moves through each of the 32 counties with a tune for each.
Faith i Branko, another couple act, play mostly Roma music from Serbia, with, I think, Faith's own songs. They have an interesting back story - she was an accordionist from the UK, working for a circus and sent to Serbia to find a fiddler for the circus.
Elephant Sessions was a big hit at Womadelaide and I enjoyed their set here too. Not exactly what I'm looking for in my Scottish music but definitely a party/dance band with some good tunes.
The farewell concert sometimes dragged a little but it was worth staying for a chance to hear some acts I had missed. I was especially keen to hear young Irish singer Susan O'Neill (known as SON) who has quite a Janis Joplin thing going on. And Ten Strings and a Goatskin, from Prince Edward Island, were a brilliant bonus. Gosh Eastern Canada must be swarming with incredible folk musicians!