A Punter’s Perspective 30 — Overheard at Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival 2011

Randall Sinnamon and friends, Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival, 2011
Randall Sinnamon and friends, Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival, 2011

A Punter’s Perspective

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

#30 Overheard at Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival 2011
First published in Trad and Now magazine, November 2011

There’s something deeply satisfying about dragging yourself out of a festival precinct in the early hours of a Monday morning, feeling tired, happy, slightly unsteady on one’s legs, buzzing with a head full of pleasant memories, and with the CDs spilling out of the glove-box.

So it was in October as Kangaroo Valley put the lid back on a very fine vintage….. well, it’s not so much a matured taste, but more a cheeky, young and slightly adventurous drop.

At the risk of repeating this column from 12 months ago, KVFF just keeps getting better and better.

Wheeze and Suck Band. Tired and shagged out after a long squawk.
Wheeze and Suck Band. Tired and shagged out after a long squawk.

After a wobbly start, KVFF is a good example of how a solid committee structure and clear divisions of labour can make things hum along quite nicely. The committee have been very enthusiastic, visible and kept thrusting the upcoming festival under the right noses, starting pretty much about 12 months ago.

The weather shouldn’t dictate your personal enjoyment of a festival. It may just mean that there’s either an extra gallon of three to drink, or the very unsexy gumboots to don.

However, landing on Planet Kangaroo on a balmy Friday evening just as the sun was sinking behind the hills, and with the session bar already starting to swell, there was an inordinate amount of ‘How about this amazing weather?!’ appreciative mumblings, accompanied by broad grins from the punters and beaming smiles from the organisers.

And that’s the way it stayed for pretty much the whole weekend, apart from a 20 minute sun shower late on Sunday afternoon. The rain gods had been appeased, mollified and/or sedated with incantations and/or threats.

Big raps to Café Bella in town for continuing to host the Saturday morning Poets’ Breakfast which was full to almost overflowing. Two personal favourites, starting with Scott ‘Feral’ Sneddon’s own composition about how technology and social media were taking over the world of the folkie.

Call me post-modern, but I had a photo of Feral up on Facebook before he resumed his seat.

Scott Feral Sneddon bemoaning the intrusion of technology on folk
Scott Feral Sneddon bemoaning the intrusion of technology on folk. Photo is also on Facebook. 🙂

And there were gales (or Gails, possibly gaels) of laughter when Bev Stewart from Tomerong cranked out her classic, ‘I Only Use the ‘F Word’ When Folding Fitted Sheets’. Just brilliant.

It was great to see the Wheeze and Suck Band playing together as a five piece for the first time in some time. They occasionally get together as a four piece, if one of their number is unavailable, but there is something wonderful about the full force of five, even if Geoff “Woody” Woodhead spent the Sunday gig alternately standing to sing or sitting on stage reading the sports pages.

As the set progressed, Woody was spending more time singing and less time picking the winner in the fifth at Randwick.

I have no hard figures on the numbers attending, but the venues I frequented always seemed to have healthy amounts of derrieres on chairs.

Especially pleasing was the way the hall filled up during the first set at 10am Saturday (Earthbound) and continued that way throughout the morning up to, including, and probably beyond, Chloe and Jason Roweth.

It’s not always the easiest job to be running around keeping alley-ways clear, and politely asking punters not to drag seats into thoroughfares, but it’s a nice problem to have: too many people for the venue to cope with.

Luckily, the alluring aromas of the curries being cooked out in the adjoining kitchen were dragging the masses out into the dining area at intervals.

It was in this venue that I witnessed a rather disappointing incident that saddened this little MC heart. A band had been left to over-run considerably and the next act were patiently hanging around and got on horrendously late. Three songs into their set, they were given a ‘one more song’ call.

‘Hey?! We just got up here!’

But there was to be no discussion entered into, no correspondence and the judge’s decision was final.

I had to leave the venue. It was like watching the aftermath of a train wreck.

Please, please, please. MCs and venue managers. You have to have a dialogue with performers, let them know the deal, manage their expectations, and above all else, you have to apply whatever you’re doing evenly.

This was bad enough for a national/international act from interstate, but it would still be harsh treatment for Reg the Three Chord Basher from the other side of Hampden Bridge.

To their absolute credit, the KVFF organisers threw on an MC workshop on the Friday afternoon run by the eminently professional Arch Bishop and Aviva Sheb’a.

Sadly, that message only gets to those who were there.

Back to the good stuff.

Fred Smith and Friends in the main tent
Fred Smith and Friends in the main tent

It was a pleasure to meet Jervis Bay artist Randall Sinnamon (see header picture) and to chat with him about his art and his 15 year old Scotch. More about the former than the latter, no really.

Sometimes interviews and interviewees just choose you rather than the obverse, and you can’t really go past a friendly looking bloke and his mates sitting in a drenching tank, seated at a large table complete with tablecloth and all manner of table accoutrements.

How I missed this guy last year, I cannot fathom. Randall has an amazing eye for what’s going on around him and graced the walls of the session bar with simple paintings that captured the characters and the mood of the festival. His large tableau of the entire 2010 festival was a real eye-catcher and took a good ten to 20 minutes of careful study to even start to catch all the familiar faces and nuances of the festival.

A recurring theme I heard on the final day was appreciation for the wealth of talent at the festival. Firstly, a joy at the discovery of names not necessarily on people’s radars: Bernie Carson (Qld), Bennie James (Sydney), Sarah Humphreys (Central Coast), Lily and King (Vic), Earthbound (Central Coast) and more.

It was Sarah Humphreys who I later awarded my very unofficial and not-very-salubrious award for ‘Song/Tune of the Festival’ for ‘Love Like You’ (track one on her very fine EP, Autumn). It’s a bouncy little song with wide appeal and lots of cross-over potential. And it struck a chord.

But on Sunday afternoon as the sun blazed on and a healthy number of punters hung around to the very end, the closing set of four gigs in the marquee was just inspired programming brilliance: Clever Sunday (five piece women’s a capella, NSW/ACT), Riogh (celtic, Illawarra), Rough Red (folk rock, Qld) and finally the sheer audaciousness and raw energy of Sydney’s finest blue-singlet bluegrass: The Pigs.

And the quality of the sound from Rosie and Robin was just to die for.

It was a great way to see out another very fine Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival, and gave the sort of feeling that you know is going to sustain into the week, ahead back on Planet Normal.

And it makes you write in very thick pen in the notes section of your diary: 19-21 October 2012.

Bill Quinn


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

Post Festival General Disarray Syndrome
Post Festival General Disarray Syndrome

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