27 March 2023

Folk Festival back to what it does best as community embraces fully restored event

| Ian Bushnell
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Fred Smith

Canberra’s award-winning artist Fred Smith at the launch of the 2023 National Folk Festival at BentSpoke Brewery in Braddon. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The National Folk Festival will be back on song at Easter after the COVID limitations of last year, promising a return to a full community-based event.

In its 55th year, the festival at Exhibition Park will have double the number of stalls, more workshops and performances, including international artists returning to Australia after the lifting of travel restrictions.

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The five-day celebration of folk officially launched last week will be headlined by Australian folk rock legends The Waifs and English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, plus a host of musicians from across the globe.

Expected to attract 20,000 visitors to the national capital, including 2000 campers on the site, the event will create its trademark village atmosphere.

Festival interim managing director Chris Grange said people would recognise the festival as before COVID, with a restoration of community events including a packed dance program.

“We’ve focused on trying to bring back all the small things that were too hard to get back in COVID so Kidsfest is back fully fledged, the community arts program is back. It’s been that process of just trying to bring everything back up to full speed and what people expect from the National Folk Festival.”

Last year’s huge main tent venue, a one-off with the help of an Australia Council grant, will be gone and the festival will revert to its small stage set-up.

“The core of what we do is about small stages and small venues and our long-term model is not about 20,000 kids in a mosh pit front of the stage watching one performer,” Mr Grange said.

“Our model is about small stages, small venues, lots of variety, lots of diversity but really exciting performances.”

That broad church of folk genres will cover more than 150 acts including traditional, strong bluegrass and Americana streams, as well as strengthened Central European gypsy and Klezmer components and Indigenous artists.

Mr Grange said after last year’s truncated festival that relied heavily on headline acts and had some questioning its direction, the community was united behind the 2023 event.

“The important words are ‘back to being a community’,” Mr Grange said. “Everyone is on the one festival team, everyone feels excited about this year’s festival.

“I don’t know what the secret sauce behind that is but there’s a feeling in our community.

“…The amount of people who came out of the woodwork and said `do you want me to help you’.

“And our answer has always been yes. That’s how you rebuild community. It gives people something to do, yes we value you and we value your help.”

Mr Grange said it was myth that the festival was just for oldies, saying it was an event for all ages and where everyone was made to feel comfortable and safe.

“People talk to me about the atmosphere of our festival and how it’s different to music festivals,” he said.

“My kids were saying to me, your festival feels different to Splendour or Bluesfest or some of the other festivals. It’s busy and there is a lot going on but there’s a more relaxed atmosphere to it.”

What is disappointing for organisers is just not being able to accommodate everybody who wants to participate in this year’s event.

Mr Grange said tickets were selling well and on current projections would reach 2019 sales, which should give the festival a small surplus and help restore its reserves run down during the pandemic.

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Other acts performing over the Easter long weekend from 6-10 April at Exhibition Park in Canberra include returning favourites Steve Poltz, Jan Preston, The Pigs, guitarist Tony McManus, Apodimi Compania and ARIA Award-winning Kavisha Mazzella.

The festival will also include Natalie and Brittany Haas from the US; storytelling duo We Mavericks; well-loved local trio Keith Potger (formerly of The Seekers) with Moya Simpson and John Shortis; and Chris While and Julie Matthews from the UK.

The line-up also boasts many of this year’s Folk Alliance Australia Folk Music Award winners including Canberra’s Fred Smith; Austral, Winner of Traditional Folk Music Album of the Year; Charm of Finches, Contemporary Folk Music Album of the Year; and The Lost Clogs, Community/Cultural Project of the Year.

To learn more and check out the full line-up, visit the NFF website.

Original Article published by Ian Bushnell on Riotact.

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