A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage
#22 Festival Withdrawal Syndrome
First published in Trad and Now magazine, October 2010
Q. What do air and folk have in common?
A. You never notice either that much – unless you’re not getting any.
OK, that’s a twist on an old joke, but this is a family publication.
I still contend that if you’re not getting any of either (or the other), the gasping and longing soon kicks in.
For various reasons, I’ve withdrawn from many folk-related activities for the latter half of this calendar year. And like quitting smoking or taking a month off the grog, I’m gagging for a puff or a dram of my favourite art form.
(Kids, don’t smoke.)
I know it’s around, it’s happening, and people are getting their fair share, but it’s on the back-burner for this little black duck until Illawarra in January 2011.
Abstinence does makes the heart grow fonder, and the pulse beat quicker, though.
I think the hardest part of keeping away is being hooked into social networking sites online with several hundred folkies. Watching your friends and acquaintances counting down to, travelling to, enjoying, and then reminiscing about this or that festival is a tough ask.
Especially when there are so many online albums full of photos that evoke familiar sights and sounds, recall favourite haunts, or illuminate new venues, performers and crowds.
I’ve been keeping a toe dipped in the folkie waters, or the quill still dipped in ink if you will, via community radio.
It’s like a dose of smelling salts to trundle into the studio one Sunday a month to play two hours of solid folk (♪♪ standing on sacred ground/living on borrowed time… ♪♪).
Even better now that we’ve finally made it to internet streaming (http://artsound.fm – ‘Patchwork’ on Sundays at 10am AEDST/AEST. We’re pretty handy for the other 166 hours of the week as well).
But sitting in a booth on one’s own (with occasional musical visitors) is not quite the same as rubbing shoulders with hundreds or thousands around a festival venue.
The main reason I’m missing the hands-on involvement in the world of folk is, simply put, the people.
The music’s great, but CDs, DVDs and radio are a pale imitation for immersing in a festival over three, four, or up to eight days, in the case of Woodford for the early-comers and late-stayers. (A Christmas/New Year treat I’ll sadly miss this time around for the first year in four.)
I’d hope that, and would like to believe that, other music genres have this sort of close-knit camaraderie.
It’s a thing of rare beauty, and a joy to behold, to turn up solo to a festival and then in the space of a couple of hours to meet up with a couple of hundred friends, acquaintances and others, and to know for sure that you’ll never be alone for the next few days, unless you really try.
The first time I really experienced this was at Illawarra a couple of years ago. I was feeling a little alone and fragile, and I lobbed into the Slacky Flat Bar and performance venue, a little tentatively, to be met with wave after wave of the folk family.
Handshakes, hugs, kisses, big meaty slaps on the back, how you going, what have you been up to – I was tearing up, and I hadn’t had nearly enough of the Coopers by that stage to blame it on being tired and emotional.
Right now as I type, the die-hards are still lingering for just one more night at Uranquinty, as that superb little festival celebrates 40 years of annual gatherings. I’ve had an online missive or two so far, but surely in the days ahead, the reviews, ravings and photos will start to come seeping through the social sites.
In one sense, there’s a little green envy at being 255.7kms away from the action. (Thank you, whereis.com.)
And yet, the stronger feeling is one of empathetic joy. To quote a friend’s favourite saying, ‘It’s good to know that ‘fun’ is being had’. (Actually, she was talking at the time about another three-letter word, but let’s apply the intent and move on, shall we?)
I’ve only been to one ‘Quinty but the memories are strong and the photo set is very evocative of a fabulous time had (*counts on fingers*) three years ago. We all have our favourite festivals, and I have about 15 that are favourites for many different reasons, but ‘Quinty just screamed (or sang/wailed/picked or danced/etc.):
I will take to my grave that easy feeling of being part of a very coherent, cohesive, and fluid group of like-minded people. (Actually, very fluid, as the first picture I took that long weekend was my Esky piled high with Guinness. Maybe ‘coherent’ wasn’t so apt, when all’s said and done.)
At ‘Quinty, I’d camped with friends from Canberra and surrounds, but at night, under a brilliant cloudless, starlit sky, and with not a breath of wind to be had, we moved around from campsite to pub to hall to tent, and from camp fire to camp fire, joining in sessions and making new friends.
Or squinting through the dancing flames at a guitarist/singer and crying, ‘Jack? Is that you?! I thought I knew that voice!!’
It. Was. Awesome.
Sadly, we can’t be off every weekend to the next festival.
Luckily, technology fills some of the void.
As I write, I’ve had a friend request on Facebook from a folkie in Sydney. I’m pretty sure we’ve met. We may have been introduced. We may have even shared a life-changing conversation or two in the session bar, and solved half the problems of the world.
I’m not 100% sure.
But it’s one of the marvels of the super-inter-webz-highway thing that we can all share so much so quickly and across such vast distances. Again, it’s a pale substitute for actual physical contact or proximity, but it’s still a great way to keep up with what’s happening with folkies in the next suburb, state, across Bass Strait/the Tasman, and around the world.
Admittedly, some interactions border on the ridiculous. My kids (who are now ardent Facebookers themselves) used to take the pith out of networking sites (and status updates in particular) by quoting a line from ‘The Simpsons’ on topic: ‘I’m eating a bagel!’, which is scarily close to what some updates amount to.
I confess to dabbling in the banal and mundane occasionally. But not that mundane.
‘I’m drinking a Coopers!’
For all the barbs and parodies, the instant nature of the technology is simply dazzling. I know this is nothing new, and others have said this more eloquently than I, but it still amazes me that online folkies and muggles in Canada, the UK, Europe and anywhere can be looking at footage and pics of a performer at Woodford or the National or Maldon or wherever before they’ve even finished their set and shuffled off-stage.
I’ve personally done this to The Davidson Brothers, The BordererS, Liz Frencham, The Spooky Men’s Chorale, Trouble in the Kitchen and John Schumann to name a few. (Dodgy video available at: http://www.youtube.com/overheardproductions and pictures at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ovhrprod/).
I’m pretty sure I started this article with a point, but it stepped out for a breath of fresh air and we’ll maybe catch up with it in another article sometime.
So for now, I’ll stay on my low-carb diet of folk festivals for 2010, and wish you all the best of best times at Kangaroo Valley, Maldon, Woodford (sob!), Peats Ridge, Nariel et al.
But come Illawarra and Numeralla, I’ll be champing at the bit, driven mad with cravings, and may have to over-indulge to survive. You have been warned.
Meet me in the Slacky Flat Bar at Bulli on opening night, and I’ll buy first round.