Overheard at the 2012 National Folk Festival #2, Easter Saturday, 2pm

Bohemia Bar Office
Bohemia Bar Office

Overheard at the 2012 National Folk Festival

Blog the Second, Easter Saturday, 12pm

I suspect that ‘National Folk Festival’ may indeed be Old Norse for ‘’.

I started that sentence over two hours ago and got no further. Maybe it was the late-ish/actually not very late night the night before, or the fact the laptop battery was running down, or trying to construct barely intelligible English while half-listening to a bush poet’s doggerel, but the snappy gag I’d thought of early that morning would not leap back to mind.

Take II.

I suspect that ‘National Folk Festival’ may indeed be Old Norse for ‘permanent, insane grin’.

That’s not the original version, but it will do for now. Blogs, unlike magazine articles, are beautifully editable at a later, more inspired date.

Friday, Friday, Friday – what a wonderful day in the land of the National.

I did mean to mention the unseasonal weather. I’ve been at Nationals where the days have been baking, but as Queensland singer Lonnie Martin observed today, she’d be stood outside the Session Bar at 2am today, listening to a wonderful Irish session and having to remind herself, as she stood there in short sleeves that this was the National and yes, this was Canberra in mid-Autumn.

I never let adverse weather dampen my spirits (boom boom) at festivals, but fine, sunny weather does levitate the general mood and for the organisers, it does bring those half-inclined punters out of their warm Canberra homes at a time where they be more inclined to snuggle up to their Turbo 10s, and crack open the hot cross buns and truckloads of chocolate.

Screw that: kranskys and mulled wine all the way.

And bucket-loads of good music.

I have one of several barometers, or anecdotal health checks for the wellbeing of a festival, and one of those is what sort of crowd packs in for the first gigs at 10am (or even earlier at some festivals). In this case, my little heart skipped a dizzy beat as I was sat in the Scrumpy at 10am on Friday as the numbers slowly but consistently built to see The Poachers from Queensland. The trio was back at their first National for 12 years, reunited after an eight year break, and touting a new EP (whose title I’ll add later as it’s with the ever-burgeoning collection for the Artsound FM library).

The Poachers
The Poachers

At one point, fiddle/accordion/vox Cathy looked out and confessed that they were about to try a new number and figured the venue would be pretty empty. Uh-uh!

I did an interview with the trio (Cathy, Penny and Andrew) after the gig, and it was a testament to the bush network of word of mouth and social media of how these things work. I’d talked with Andrew backstage at Woodford several years ago when he was playing with Tulca Mor. When they were coming to Canberra for the Nash, Andrew had suggested to Penny to contact me, which she did through my Facebook page.

Minimal effort and a great result: I got to discover some wonderful music that may have passed me by as just another act on the program, I’ve got an interview for radio broadcast and ‘Trad and Now’, and Artsound FM has a new CD for our folk collection.

Win – Win – Win.

Oh, and on The Poachers’ CD, I loved this aside from Penny: ‘It’s so new that Cathy and I only saw it half an hour before the gig!’

I scribbled down this lyric from a cover they did from an American singer-songwriter: ‘I do not need a big house, or the ability to fly’.

Love it.

Laura Zarb's CD cover
Laura Zarb's CD cover

I love coincidental, happy happenstances like this. On Saturday morning, as I was still tingling a little as the massed union choirs walked through the streets near Central Park singing ‘Bread and Roses’, I noticed three young women busking. Vendulka I knew from previous festivals, Amelia I definitely knew for seeing Reply play for many years, but Laura Zarb was a new face and name. As I watched the trio finish a song, Vendulka spruiked Laura’s CDs: ‘And she’s hand-painted every CD cover!’

‘Yeah,’ said Laura. ‘I couldn’t afford to print CD covers so I made them all myself.’


I’m getting ahead of myself.


Still on Queensland (and it is the featured state), it was great (and still is) to see that Don Jarmey is on the program. Last year, Don was described as ‘a cocker spaniel that’s been given a cup of coffee’ and that’s fairly apt. His brain goes at 87 000 miles an hour and his mouth struggles to keep, and almost does. As I’m sat here in the Session Bar, I have one eye on the clock because he’s on in 25 minutes, so my fingers may need to type as fast as his brain and mouth from here on in.

Don was performing a stack of his own material, including one slightly cognitive dissonant offering with a maritime there: ‘I don’t know why I write song about the sea; I get seasick brushing my teeth!’


And the day weaved its way on and it was a grand afternoon and evening for drifting here and there, and there and here, all in balmy climes and with a pretty much full moon painting all sorts of majestic tableaux in the night skies above us.

The Ellis Collective
The Ellis Collective

I had a bizzaro moment when I ran into my director from work who was on her way from here to there and she joined me for The Ellis Collective’s set in the Majestic. There was a delay for the drum kit to appear, and the sound was a little challenged, but Matty and his collective had us all in the palm of his hand, and the hand-clapping accompaniment at the end offered scenes of great vaudeville and massed crowd piss-taking. And when they ended with my absolute fave song (which I was just on the verge of yodelling out as a request), Seven Days Later, my night was complete.

It pays to read the program and as we made our way out past a line-up you could see from the moon, I gave myself a swift kick up the arse when I later realised it was Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen on next, and we’d just surrendered prime seats.

I drifted on into the night and landed where all the action seemed to be happening: at The Scrumpy bar, which is just a wonderfully inspired addition to the National melange of venues. By day it’s an intimate venue with a spacious beer garden. Two, really.

By night, it’s a heaving mess of sweaty dancing bodies. And today I’m having a nana nap to be there tonight for The Go Set and others. But last night, after Big Erle and Full Circle, I toddled off at the witching hour, safe in the knowledge that fun was being had and I could catch my share on the morrow.

My night was capped off nicely as I made the acquaintance of Evan (?), Officer Small and Commissioner Scott – the long legs of the law: police officers on stilts. [And a picture right here would have been brilliant, but I don’t seem to have saved it. http://www.stiltwalkers.com.au for more details.] A feast of law enforcement puns are lost, swimming in the slightly misty memories the late night, but I did cackle so, and for the 100th time, dips me lid to festival organisers who invest in street theatre elements. Diverting, entertaining, and diverting. See what I did there?

12 minutes to get to Don Jarmey’s gig. Off we go back into the thick of it. Au revoir. Au blogvoir.

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