A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage
#21 Overheard at the National Folk Festival 2010
First published in Trad and Now magazine, May 2010
Over the years, I’ve ambitiously set out to encapsulate a festival in 1400 words, but lately the first paragraph will usually include a disclaimer which states that to even attempt such a feat is ambitious at best.
So I’ll leave others to give their impressions of the performances and the event in general.
But as a keen observer and collector of minutiae, off-the-cuff comments and anecdotes, I’ve thrown together an assortment of quirky bits and pieces from the Easter long weekend in Canberra.
An email update from the Festival Office brought varied news, including a request for all present to keep their showers short. And even shorter for one class of citizens.
Which prompted this riposte from Blue Mountains muso Andy Busuttil:
“Congrats to the NFF for a great news bulletin. I only have one complaint which has to do with discrimination. 5 minutes hot shower time instead of 3 just because a person has hair!!! I call this discrimination and hope the NFF will remove this directive from their publications. Signed on behalf of the majority of male folkies, except the hairy ones, over the age of 40 (or 15 if you are, like me, Maltese).”
In a similar vein (or follicle) one attendee found a new beauty service that check-in staff may consider if the festival is looking for some room for diversification. You’ve heard of bikini waxes and back waxes; stand by for wrist waxes, free with every wristband issued, for the more hirsute folkie.
Important health and safety update from a regular campsite known as ‘The Swamp’. If you’re going to chop up chillies, best to be giving your hands a thorough wash before handling other parts of your body. Say, when going to answer a call of nature. The phrase ‘Red Hot Willy Peppers’ was the talk of the camp last night.
When the story was relayed to one of the Festival brass, the response was: ‘Done it meself. Shocking. Horrible.’
Overheard during construction phase from one builder to another: ‘So if it’s bluegrass, it’s a fiddle…. and if it’s Mozart, it’s a violin?’
On the final day, the author was privileged to take part in a champagne breakfast of quite staggering proportions and dimensions: 21 empty bottles was the final count, and the accompanying festivities included bottle-stacking and balancing, and some acrobatic sword-play featuring Martin Pearson and Robert Shea: there are quite breathtaking photos bouncing around Facebook.
The liquid brunch elicited several stories, including a tale of a woman who had fronted a grog shop with an empty sherry flagon. ‘I need another one of these; the one I got yesterday really got rid of my cold!’
The new configuration of the Coorong venue was a big hit with many, but apparently the view from some seats was not to everyone’s liking due to reduced view of the stage, especially for seated performers such as Canadians Genticorum.
Answering a complaint from the back of the audience, fellow Canadian James Keelaghan used the dilemma (“We can’t see you!”) to his advantage:
‘I’ve just flown in from Canada; can I not sit down? I’m sitting down over there later selling CDs. You can see me over there until your heart’s content!’
This scrawl across page 29 of my festival program with no reference to which World Music gig it was from: ‘These are protest songs from Vietnam. Well, not so much protest as such as having a bloody good whinge!’
The overly warm autumn meant the flies were still prevalent everywhere, prompting the occupants of the Squatters Camp to re-badge themselves the Swatters Camp.
Overheard in the Session Bar:
Him: ‘I’m on stage at 8pm tonight. What time should I stop drinking?’
Don Jarmey: ‘Sometime yesterday. Or five to eight tonight. Your choice.’
Speaking of Mr Jarmey, his good friend Lonnie Martin had this by way of explanation:
‘Watching [Don] on stage is like watching a cocker spaniel who’s had a cup of coffee.’
Facebook appears to be the communication of choice for many folkies, and status updates and pictures abounded across the weekend.
But the son of one folkie has a more traditional take on the medium. At school, he takes a sheet of paper, writes ‘Facebook’ on the top and then it’s handed around the class to update their status/comments on before being passed on to the next classmate.
Two singers, overheard practising outside the volunteer kitchen:
‘If we do it like that, it’ll be a harmony, rather than just some fun notes by themselves.’
Overheard in the Coopers Bar late one morning:
‘Is the sun over the yard arm yet?’
‘Not quite, but gentlemen, here’s cheers to New Zealand where it’s five to two!’
‘Hmmm. I don’t fancy New Zealand at those odds…’
Overheard at a Whitetop Mountaineers concert in the Coorong:
‘You cain’t call them “rednecks” in America anymore because of political correctness.’
‘So now they’re “Appalachian Americans”!’
Time schedules are routinely a problem at festivals. Less so at the National where the programmers schedule the breaks between individual performances.
Even so, time over-runs do happen, even to the point where the curfew comes down at certain venues and sound faders have to be dropped and plugs pulled.
Such an occurrence curtailed one of Vorn Doolette’s gigs at the Flute and Fiddle, but he solved the problem in a reasonably straightforward manner: the crowd all moved forward and clustered around him in hushed appreciation while he finished his final song acoustically and unplugged. We have closure!
The hard-working staff at The Troubadour had rare moments of rest and relief, but the normal situation was reflected in a sign on a plastic chair strategically positioned behind the sound desk:
‘Reserved for persons having done a minimum of 4 hrs washing up. Fine – 5 hrs washing up during the best acts!’
Q. What’s the collective term for a group of MCs?
A. A blather.
For this little black duck, it was one of the best Nationals in memory, and rare was heard a discouraging word. Only 11 months until the next one, which will be a late one, so beanies and mittens at five paces.
See you at the National in 2011.