Cobargo Folk Festival kicks off this weekend, followed by the National Folk Festival in Canberra over the Easter weekend (April 18-22). If you’ve never been to a folk festival or identified with folk music, why should you start now?
“Because folk music tells stories,” says Peter Logue, Cobargo Folk Festival spokesperson, who also served on the board of the National Folk Festival for ten years. “Folk music has always been a tale of the times.”
Historically folk music, which includes jazz and blues, has told stories of resistance, protest, and sweeping social change.
And it maintains its tradition until today – Australian folk royalty Bob and Margaret Fagan will teach a workshop at Cobargo on protest songs along with American performers Dayan Kai and Melissa Crabtree, which Logue expects will be a highlight of the festival.But folk music also covers the mundane and every day – things many folks can relate to.
An excellent example can be seen in Bega Valley musician Corey Legge’s single “Driving out of Eden,” which he will perform at the festival this year – a song about the simplest, most relatable of daily tasks – the commute.
Candelo-based performer Michael Menager credits the intimacy of folk festivals, particularly smaller ones like Cobargo, with their ongoing success.
“It’s the nature of the audience and of the venue that creates the feeling of vulnerability – for the audience and the performer – that feeling that there’s nothing between you and the music,” Michael explains, adding that he is seeing house concerts really take off on his international tours.
“Even bigger promoters are going to house concerts because people want to be up close. Folk doesn’t translate to those big screens you’d see at a Beyonce concert,” he continues “Bob Dylan won’t use those screens, even at his biggest concerts.”
In his seventh and final year as Cobargo’s artistic director, Dave Crowden says that attendees at the festival come as more than just consumers looking for delivered entertainment and that Cobargo is unique in that there are lots of opportunities to collaborate.
Dave’s top picks for this year’s line up include Skerryvore, an acclaimed Celtic rock band from Scotland who he expects will be “high-energy.” The program notes that this is Skerryvore’s first performance in Australia and that their performance is “a party waiting to happen.”
If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed or had fear-of-missing-out while gazing at a festival program, you’re not alone. Peter’s recommendation is to take advantage of the easy distance between Cobargo’s 7-8 venues and slip between them.
According to a Woody Guthrie, folk music is here to “comfort disturbed people and disturb comfortable people,” and at folk festivals, you’re in control. Too much comfort? Too disturbing? Head to the next venue, where anything from a dance workshop, choir performance or circus act could be taking place.
“Ask people what’s good and then just dip in and out, see what you like,” Peter advises. “You don’t have to sit through every show – be discreet and leave during a song break but if it’s not your thing, slip out and find something that is. There is so much on offer.”
There have historically been lots of performers in common between Cobargo and The National Folk Festival and this year is no different, with Cobargo showcasing a majority of local performers and the National attracting a wide range of local, national and international acts.
This year, performers you can expect to see at both festivals include Candelo-based Brothers On Fire- Fuego, Jodi Martin, and Margaret and Bob Fagan.
For both Peter and Michael, a well-known quote by Louis Armstrong comes up in each of our conversations and brings us back to the humanity of folk music.
Armstrong reportedly said: “All music is folk music because I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.”
For more on the Cobargo Folk Festival this weekend, check their website.