Folk in the Foothills 2012
Some scribblings by Bill Quinn
Sunday 14 October 2012
I’ve written extensively, exhaustively and some might say nauseatingly in the past on what I deem to be the restorative power of folk festivals.
They’re good for what ails ya.
Your worst day at a festival beats your best day doing many other things. I mean, look, it IS possible to say, “Gee, I had a great day at work!” It is. I’ve had them meself. But I can’t remember too many times when I’ve said, “Well that was a crappy festival day”.
My first and latest Folk in the Foothills was in 2008 and I recall it vividly for two very specific reasons. Back in those days, I was singing with Ecopella, that wonderful, sustainably-good four-part singing mob from around NSW and the ACT.
And what made it doubly good for a small ‘g’ greenie such as meself that day was that when I arrived somewhere on the south coast to give a lift to the choir director, I was brandishing the front cover of The Canberra Times which was announcing that the Greens looked like winning the balance of power in the previous day’s Legislative Assembly elections in Canberra.
And the other reason I recall well was that at Jamberoo in the mid-afternoon, I spied two rather gorgeous women who did indeed look like they were having a pretty crappy festival day.
(See, it all came around to a point of some sort in the end. And that’s just the way I planned it. Yeah, right.)
No, they looked like they could happily garrote the next person who said a word out of place, and there was indeed a lanky gentleman with them who was more or less minding his Ps and Qs around the two while also looking like he had something of an upside-down frown. That’s like an upside-down smile only worse.
“Lighten up,” I thought. “It’s a festival! Enjoy the music!”
Well, they were the music, or some of it.
I didn’t meet them that day, but that was my introduction to the music of Sunas. Three-quarters thereof, as Mini Me Mannie McAllister was not with them on that jaunt. Oh, and the looks weren’t cranky-pants. They’d just driven in from Taree and could barely stay awake.
I’m happy to say they were all there in 2012 – with only one gorgeous woman, as Bridget has been gone for 12 months, to be replaced by the still quite pretty (if a little hirsute) Mick.
And they were all beaming.
So to go back a step. I do bang on about how festivals cheer my little heart, but I make no apology for it. I speak to so many people that feel the same way about festivals that a little resonant gushing may be forgiven.
FITF – pardon the acronym, but the full version is a mouthful. A mouth full of foot.
Where were we?
FITF comes in the middle of a festival-drought for me. No Turning Wave, no ‘Quinty, and next week while many of my peers and compatriots will be getting a healthy dose of Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival goodness, I’ll be in the Victorian capital, savouring musical delights of another kind.
Bowling up to Jamberoo Lodge at 8am-ish on Sunday morning, I was barely out of the van* before the hearty handshakes and hugs began. What a great way to start the day with a hot cup of coffee and a homemade biscuit in the carpark, in the company of two No Such Things (Bob Smith and Denis McKay), as the vehicles rolled in and the guests not there for the actual event started to wonder what they’d let themselves in for.
* Speaking of the van, I’m on record to say that I absolutely did not park in the town overnight, in the dark, in front of a sign that the morning light brought to life to read: ‘Strictly no camping – contact this number for Kiama Council for where you can camp or park your Bongo van legally, hippie’.
I may be paraphrasing, but since it didn’t happen, we’re sorted. Phew!
The festival. We were going to get to it at some point.
As always, I have admiration by the bucket-load for the good folk of the Illawarra Folk Club and its burghers who really are trying to annexe much of NSW with musical goings on. Slacky Flat at Bulli in January, the Diggers Club on Friday nights, Snowy Mountains of Music in June, the Foothills (watch this space) in October, the Wednesday night bush dances and occasional Sunday sessions at Wongawilli – I dips me lid.
And me hat.
For those who have not been, Jamberoo Lodge is one of those wonderful venues almost seems purpose-built for music: five venues in easy walking distance, and the sun shone on the outside Grove and all who sailed in her that day. From the poets in the morning until Ruido Flamenco in the late afternoon.
Now if you ever need to find out how to pronounce Ruido Flamenco, well, you know Russell Hannah? Yeah, get as far away as possible from him for your best chance.
It’s always encouraging to see healthy crowds at the early gigs, and with Bruce Watson kicking the music off in the Belmore room at 9.10am, they don’t often come much earlier than that. But still there were plenty to hear him launch into, “If You Can Walk You Can Dance, If You Can Talk You Can Sing” and it was the lucky few who could find seats by the end of his bracket.
I’m an unabashed fan of Bruce’s performance style. I even hesitate to use the word ‘performer’ as it’s like he’s having a chat with mates as he introduces his songs, the serious and the silly. And what a treat to hear the epilogues to his crowd favourite, “I Shared A Urinal With Martin Ferguson”.
Get along to see Bruce at Kangaroo Valley if you weren’t at Jamberoo.
Or if you were.
Folk Festival Syndrome #36, overheard in the restaurant:
“Quinty was good, Turning Wave was interesting in a new setting. You going to Kangaroo Valley?”
“Pretty much focussing on this one for now!”
It’s always nice to bump into a couple of festival virgins and chew their ears off about festivals and folk music in general – it’s one of the many services I provide. Paul and Kim had booked into the Lodge to celebrate their wedding anniversary, but they jumped on board when they heard there was a music festival on. I thought I saw them head off in the early afternoon, but no, they were still there after the finale. Another two converts to the dark side.
Folk Festival Syndrome #875: When you’re enjoying the gig but really want to slip away quietly at the end of a song for whatever reason, only to realise that the jokes about folk ballads are true: some folk ballads do indeed have 87 verses.
Folk Festival Syndrome #568: When you wonder how the mix is going to go when the soundie refers to the ‘violin’ and not the ‘fiddle’.
Speaking of soundies, poor Phil in the Restaurant was working like an octopus trying to get everything tickety-boo for Sunas and it allowed us to hear the Guinness Book of Records longest mandolin warm-up from Mannie McAllister.
That was all forgotten when Sarah Calderwood laid this line on us as she introduced the band: “And I’m Sarah and I’m on flutes and whistles and all things blowable”.
Mannie also was quite moved with the singalong capabilities of the massed voices in one venue: “Ahhh, it’s like a choir of drunk angels!”
Folk Festival Syndrome #336: When someone’s name doesn’t come leaping off the pages of the program at you and you do a double-take to see them there. Liz Frencham? Here? Ah, that would be Gregory Page the US folk/jazz dude and she’s doing the thing with the bass on the tour. That you wrote about all of two weeks ago. And Chloe and Jason Roweth! That would be them there in the fine print.
Caught up now.
Find of the festival? It would have to be doing amazingly well to beat Le Vent du Nord. Which in English means, Le Vent of the Nord.
If you haven’t seen them play, just sell the house, mortgage the mortgage, do whatever it takes. These guys from Quebec are formidable. Which is English for ‘formidable’.
We’re so lucky in this country to get wave after wave of Canadian performers to our shore and they just always delight. I had instant resonances of Genticorum but that was only for a brief time because these guys are their own brand of wonderful and very, trés Le Vent du Nord. The music, the voices, the foot-tapping, the dry sense of laconic humour. Wonderful.
And my fave quote of the festival came during their set as someone, who may or may not have been Janet Barnes, said to me, “That’s the first time I’ve listened to a hurdy gurdy and it hasn’t annoyed me!”
If you’ve played a hurdy gurdy near Janet, please note the qualifier where I said it might not have been her.
The band took a couple of questions from the MC at the end of the bracket which set this gag up quite nicely when they played again in the restaurant. [Insert a thicker-than-Poutain French-Canadian accent here]:
Nicolas (holding up his instrument): Do you know what zis instrument iz?
Crowd: A hurdy gurdy.
Nicolas: Zat is right. Ver’ good. And do you know how to zay eet in French?
Crowd: Le hurdy gurdy!!
And it was from LVdN that I heard this collection of words in this order for the first time: “So I wrote a protest fiddle tune”.
It took until early afternoon for me to realise that something was distinctly missing at this festival:
Mobile phone ring tones.
I have a Pavlovian response where as soon as I cross the threshold of a festival, my phone goes onto silent for the duration, but it’s not a universally-practised move. Little or no need at Jamberoo. Those are getting rarer.
Folk Festival Syndrome #1 087, and one that I’m keenly aware of as a sometimes checker of wrist-bands. If you walk in through the entrance of a venue and then suddenly stop to look around, there’s a fair chance that the person following you is going to make contact with your derriere using a certain part of their anatomy. Ok, stomach is certainly a fair chance, but there are other more intimate folk parts that might be coming your way.
Maybe you like that and that’s your thing. All power to you, and go nuts [ahem] at Kangaroo Valley!
Folk Festival Syndrome #201: When you’ve been watching bands tune up and play for so long that you can read their hand signals. Point/sweep, point down, point up = “Can I have more of the viola, flute and guitar in my foldback wedge, please?”
Work those out and you’ll be throwing the signs on the baseball diamond next.
As the day started to move towards its crescendo there were still a power of people making a fair old sardine can of the restaurant venue. It was roughly at this point I noticed a syndrome that doesn’t yet have a number but comes in many guises that you could throw a flamenco shawl over and call, ‘The Folk Process Embraces Technology’.
It surfaces when a cappella singers use iPhones to source lyrics for hundreds years old folk ballads. Or budding media types have a performance up on Youtube before the band has left the stage.
Late on Sunday afternoon it was one of the Flamenco dancers enquiring of Oliver Demers of LVdN some details of his foot-tapping board, and in particular the type of plug he had. In ye olden days one would have jotted some model and serial numbers on the back of a program. Today, of course, whip out the phone and grab a snap.
Various performers claimed the stage and belted out some tunes and songs, including an emotional rendition of Alistair Hulett’s “The Swaggies Have All Waltzed Matilda Away” with the amazing voice of Graeme Murray up front of some of Illawarra’s usual suspects and friends.
And then it just wouldn’t be an Illawarra do without a rousing rendition of John Broomhall’s classic, “Time Is A Tempest”.
And as the sun set slowly in the west – a little quicker than in most places since we’re pretty much under the escarpment in Jamberoo – we bade a fond farewell to the Lodge with vague murmurings of some calendar-shuffling in 2013. Keep your ear to the ground via the Illawarra Folk Festival site for more.
Congrats to all the Illawarra crowd for putting on a great day of music, song, dance and spoken word.