Overheard at the 2012 National Folk Festival 01 — Good Friday, 7am

Festival entrance is that way, not this way
Festival entrance is that way, not this way

Overheard at the 2012 National Folk Festival #01

Good Friday, 7am

Being something of an early waker (if not always an early riser), I’m taking the opportunity to put these golden* hours to good use and get a head start on recording my observations of the 2012 National Folk Festival.

* Actually, at roughly 6.30am on Good Friday, golden is something of a misnomer. It’s brilliant pinks and reds as the sun bursts into life. My only regret is that the floor to ceiling glass panoramic view of the old Volunteer’s Kitchen is all looked up – this year it’s a workshop and singing space again, which is lovely for the work-shoppers and singers, but sad to not have it available at dawn. It felt to be a volunteer in the past couple of years when you could start your day like that.

Yesterday was yet another new experience on settling into a festival. The plan had been to set up on site on Wednesday night then contaminate the start of the festival with a day’s work for the country off-site, but plans changed and I ended up racing in at 7am on Holy Thursday, bussing into town and bussing back in the mid-afternoon.

The change to the site in just those seven or so hours was palpable. Un-built or half-built structures were up. Scant green spaces were now a mess of tents and campers. And of course, the social media feeds were a-buzz with more and more arrivals from far-flung places like Brisbane, Melbourne and West Belconnen.

I had to laugh when a Newcastle-based muso (Robbie Long) posted: “Will be eating spaghetti tomorrow at the Nash in Canberra, with my beanie on!”

Wear the beanie if you will, Robbie, but the overnight minimums are forecast from 12 down to the lowest being 7 on Monday night, so the head-covering may be a little superfluous to requirements.

Certainly there’s a dew factor, obvious from the fact that my camp-site’s marquee had taken precautionary measures to tip all the chairs at an angle as the overnight condensation dripped on everything in its path.

Stallholder alley, Thursday 7pm
Stallholder alley, Thursday 7pm

I love wandering around festival sites at the start and end, more so the start. I’ve become quite enamoured of the word ‘frisson’ as in ‘frissons of excitement’ (thank you, Bill Bryson), and it seems the perfect phrase for the palpable burgeoning of anticipation evident on the faces of punters, musos, store-holders and all.

Well, maybe not all. There were some serious looks and furrowed brows from some organisers and staff in high-vis vests. ‘A little stress,’ admitted one such high-vis worker a little further up the food chain. ‘But it’s getting better’.

Maybe the quintessential example of this building sense of expectation for what’s to come was to be had as I walked up the rows of stalls, about ten feet behind a young girl who was painting a word picture for her friend as she walked via a smartphone.

Actually, she was doing more than paint a word picture: she was painting a picture. As she walked and talked, she was holding up the phone with the camera pointed outwards and her friend was getting to vicariously experience the start of the festival, with her eye being directed this way and that. A food stall here, an attractive and alarmingly coloured hat there. The tour lasted from the Fitzroy down to close the Budawang.

It’s impossible not to compare and contrast as you take in your surroundings and get your bearings. Certainly there’s a higher level of security and regulation, and those good old compliance, governance and harmonised workplace health and safety laws are kicking in with an irresistible force.

I passed one of the three checkpoints where bags are being checked for glass, alcohol, contraband, and Justin Beiber CDs and heard one older salt decry the new enforcement regime.

“Unfortunately,” the checkpoint Charlie said with a resigned air and an apologetic shrug of the shoulders, “I don’t make the rules”.

Actually, if it were me I would be happy enough to take the Nurnberg defence and keep parroting that I was just following hors d’oeuvres.

And though we saw it on the program and read the warnings, there was something quite stark and shocking about the large hessian and mesh safety fence that runs from the Grandstand right up to the Mallee, dividing the oval in about a third into the festival precinct and two-thirds into East Germany.

The wall makes it not so Majestic
The wall makes it not so Majestic

I’ll be interested to see if it organically gets a nickname – the Great Wall was touted by a few, but it does (for me) have some resonance of Berlin before the wall came down both in form and function. Early on Thursday afternoon I noticed it had been breached near the Grandstand and some freedom fighters had tunnelled through, but later that night heard that forces were onto it and had a sentry had been posted.

(I offer these observations somewhat flippantly, without having a stab at the organisers. I’ll canvas the thoughts of others on the level of regulation versus its interpretation and application later in the weekend.)

For now, my favourite aspect of setting up and basking in the festival taking shape was meeting up with friends, acquaintances and new faces, and Thursday night was a night for drifting, listening to a little music, and starting to establish what was what with venues and performances.

I’ll hold over discussion of the Flute and Fiddle until later, but it was a little strange to sit in that space, what I’d almost believed would be a void in the wake of the Troubadour. And for all of that, at 5pm on the first night, there was something very familiar about the strains of Cloudstreet (plus Rebecca Wright and Donald McKay) wafting out of a tent that was roughly where you’d expect the Troubadour to be, sipping on a cold Coopers, and with the delightful and calorie-laden aromas of the German sausage tent carried on the breeze.

It felt very much like the National. Which is Old Norse for ‘wonderful’.

It’s almost 7am and I’m sitting in the Session Bar which is currently looking about as clean as it’s going to be between now and about four days and three hours’ time when the cleaning brigade come to hose it out for another year.

As the sun rises slowly in the east, it’s time to bid farewell to the tethered cyber world of the laptop and get out there into the full fruity goodness of Good Friday at the Nash.

Picks for today: a Bodhran workshop, the Festival percussion experience, mayhaps the Festival choir practice, Trev Dunham, Riogh at the Budawang (so happy for them), Lonnie Martin and Dave Hughes (the latter who was like an excited little puppy last night in the Session Bar), Slam Poetry vs Bush Poetry at the Majestic, the first nightly singing session from 10pm – and that’s a start.

But first, coffee.


Session bar, Friday morning -- don't get used to this clean look
Session bar, Friday morning -- don't get used to this clean look

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