A Punter’s Perspective 29 — Turn, wave, repeat to fade

The Turning Wave Festival, Gundagai 2011
The Turning Wave Festival, Gundagai 2011

A Punter’s Perspective

Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#29 Turn, Wave, Repeat to fade
First published in Trad and Now magazine,  October 2011

Let’s get one thing clear first, to ensure plenty of web search hits hit and many related links link: The Turning Wave Festival 2011, the festival of Irish and Australian music, dance, song, spoken word and related arts.

Gundagai, New South Wales, Australia. Wednesday 14 to Sunday 18 September 2011.

There. That gets that sorted, and we’ll return to the central theme and subject shortly.

But first it’s time to re-visit a very familiar theme from this column, this pseudo-folkie, and this quill and ink.

That last one is not rhyming slang.

The first (unofficial) festival of the (unofficial) NSW folk season is a much-anticipated and eagerly-awaited thing of beauty and joy to behold.

The build up was palpable on the interwebz.

I’m sure there were other ways of transmitting copious frissons of excitement through the community before email and social media were invented.

Most likely people rang each other and made plans, sent letters with maps and firmly-entrenched rendezvous points, or heaven forbid, actually met up and talked about the upcoming event.

But in this MyTwitFaceSpacePlus world we inhabit, you don’t have to be involved, or going, or even previously aware of the event to get a sense of the bubbling cauldron of expectation and anticipation.

In days of yore, or days of yours, the Turning Wave Festival was a ‘breaking the winter drought’ event.

Then Kangaroo Valley briefly stole the mantle (so green), only to return it to the Riverina due to KVFF’s date change to October.

And so we sallied forth (or Henry’d the Eighth) to Gundagai on a weekend of rare, exceptional weather to partake of what Gundagai had to offer: its town, its hospitality, its burghers, fish and chips, and ice cream smoothies.

And beer.

And Guinness.

I rarely, if ever, mumble the words, ‘Oh, it isn’t like it once were used to be back in the olden good old days will ye’ nae come back no more we’ll all be rooned the fest has gawn to the dawgs’.

That sentence has never left my lips. True.

However.

It’s impossible not to draw comparisons.

Before the TWF people start sucking up the doilie cushions via their derrieres, let me hasten to add that I had a ripping great sparkling yeehaa/heehaw of a time at TWF 2011.

Loved it, loved it, loved it.

And, furthermore, loved it.

Especially certain bits I may yet elucidate, illuminate and figure-eight here or elsewhere.

I had to tear myself away on Sunday afternoon, full in the knowledge that to stay in the town precinct anywhere near Lott’s Family Hotel, with MC Gerry Faulkner lurking with intent to drain the town of the last drop of Guinness, would indeed by risky.

I would have to first pop in to St Pat’s and say a prayer for the repose of the soul of my liver.

(Have you tried liver and sole? The Criterion does it as a Tuesday night special in the bistro as part of their ‘surf and filter’ night.)

All over, grand times, great craic, and worth turning down a well-paid MC job at home on the Saturday night to come and volunteer, take notes, and perform magic tricks (i.e. turning $5 notes into schooners/pints of various beers.)

The positives?

The ever-present friendliness of the locals. The cheery bar and bistro staff. The cheerful waitresses and waiters in the cafés and restaurants.

The random bump into/are you going for breakfast? /have a coffee with me, will ya?/let’s grab a pint/please get your double bass off my foot type of happenings.

I had a wonderful breakfast at some caf’ in the high street on Saturday with some dear and lovely people, all because I happened to be taking a solo constitutional past them on the pavement.

Actually, they were up off the pavement by that hour of day and seated on the chairs (all of which had a little blanky for the bonier back or butt).

And while I didn’t take on the gargantuan ‘big breakfast’, I’m confident that images taken from satellites orbiting our planet (or possibly orbiting planets in neighbouring solar systems) could detect these plates full of heart-stopping vittles.

The drill was this: find a seat, order breakfast at the counter, scoff down a handful of blood-thinners, alert the paramedics, and THEN collect your cutlery.

I had my carb, sodium chloride, mono-saturated fats, alcohol, cackleberries, sides of pork quota for the next month.

And by ‘month’, I mean ‘lifetime’.

[The astute of you will realise I’ve not yet mentioned any musicians. You’re good.]

I’d like to give you a shopping list of all the great acts…… actually, no, I wouldn’t.

Take it as read that a tick list of the performers at www.turningwave.org.au will give you details and links of myriad artists that turned in stellar performances to hordes of waving crowds.

If you want to find out more about individual groups and performers, shoot over to the TWF web-site and let your fingers do the surfing, noting first that ‘The Finger Surfers’ would make a great name for a Californian beach sounds revival group. (Thanks, Dave Barry.)

The first observation I couldn’t help but make was that the Criterion wasn’t heaving with the massing of the usual suspects from the NSW/ACT folk scene, as in previous years.

Maybe not such a bad thing, as on enquiry, I was told that some of our friendly folkies were off gigging around the town and had dragged some crowd members off with them.

But back at the same watering hole just after midnight, the front bar was similarly bereft of punters.

I don’t have any hard numbers, but overall, seats were a little less filled (and here I must stress that the frame of reference is 2011 vs 2009, and it’s all purely anecdotal).

Regular faces were off elsewhere around the state, world or maybe even just still at home. Lots of unrelated reasons for that, the latest in a charming series of financial crises mayhaps doing its bit.

For all of that, there were crowds enough in admirable enough numbers. A Saturday morning Craig and Simone Dawson show in the Upstairs Theatre was very well-attended, and the thunderous, continuous applause reminded this critic that TWF punters are there primarily to listen to and appreciate the music, not just to make up the numbers.

The Gundagai Services Club was rarely a famine, but oft times a feast of mostly locals (or blow-ins from the region).

Idyllic weather meant that Carbery Park was positively brimming with mostly muggles on Saturday and Sunday, all sopping up the usual market fare with the added bonus of an eclectic mix of song, spoken word, music and dance on the outdoor stage.

I had a little smile and punched the air discretely when I heard one stall-holder say he was so chuffed he’d just booked his accommodation for the same weekend in 2012.

What else?

St Pat’s church hall has undergone a rather radical refurb thanks to Kevin Oh-Heaven’s stimulus cash. Lots to like about the new look, though a little to harrumph about too. Gone is some of the old charm, and in its stead are many hard, flat surfaces that fairly ricochet the sound off in boomy reverb.

Of course, the best sound dampers are always people, so the more popular gigs didn’t exhibit such problems.

Lott’s Family Hotel beer garden seemed to attract a more homogenous group this year, with equal parts of folkie stalwarts and muggles who had only just found out there was a circus in town.

And in the front bar, we also discovered the Gundagai football team was in the preliminary final on Sunday, which added a carnival atmosphere to Saturday night (plus ‘Ireland vs Australia’ on the telly in the World Cup – you can’t script that sort of synchronicity).

It also meant that once ‘The Last Pint’ had been drunk at the Services Club on Sunday afternoon, you could fire a gun down the main street and not hit anyone, while the cheers from the adjacent football ground bounced off the buildings along the main drag.

Sport over art? Harrumph!

So much to like about TWF 2011, and far too many golden memories and savoured moments to recount in 1400 words.

But a personal highlight (and one for many friends and acquaintances) was when in the wee small hours of Sunday morning, two of Gundagai’s finest made a sweep through the beer garden (“‘allo, ‘allo, what’s all this then?” and if it wasn’t, then “Move along, move along, nothing more to see ‘ere”).

But before officiating official duties in an official capacity, Sgt B. gave the assembled crowd an absolutely brilliant half hour’s entertainment. He bounced between precision-timed stand-up comedy (complete with his straight man on lead gruff and walkie talkie) and then delivered a staggering repertoire of kitsch via a seemingly endless evocation of 80s cringe-worthy classics, hits and memories.

They’re still buzzing about that performance in the social media pages.

Just superb.

I farewelled a tired, happy and only slightly furrowed-of-brow Pam Merrigan late on Sunday afternoon. It was far too early to assess the whole shebang, but I was happy to report to her my anecdotal findings.

TWF 2011 was a superb weekend of fun, friends, old faves, new faves (‘Acoustic Elements’ from Melbourne – check them out, thank me later), fine weather, freely flowing beer and cheer, and a great atmosphere that you just can’t buy at any price.

The tracks will be winding back to Gundagai in September 2012. Actually, they’ll now be winding into Yass in 2012, but that is a whole other story. www.turningwave.org.au for all the details.

Be on one.

Bill Quinn

www.overheardproductions.com

Bill’s interview with festival director Pam Merrigan: http://soundcloud.com/overheard-productions/pam-merrigan

Photos and other minutiae: http://www.facebook.com/OverheardProductions

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