Port Fairy Folk Festival Folkin’ Rocked
Report and photos by Rob Walker
The beautiful town of Port Fairy once again hosted an estimated 25,000 people of all ages and persuasions on the Labour Day weekend and presented a wide variety of talented performers too. It is going beyond what the purist would regard as a folk festival but the line up did present something for everyone, while still focusing on elements of its roots.
My festival started with Shane Howard’s Exile concert which focused on the theme of forced emigration of the Irish in the 19th century and also featured Troy Cassar Daley and Andy Irvine. Aside from leaving one shocked once more at the brutality of British occupation, the concert left an imprint of the spirit of a race which profoundly influenced Australia’s culture and politics. And the playing by the traditional backline was sublime. Lighter moments came with the Topp Twins giving Barnaby Joyce and unsuspecting others a hard time, and everyone else a yodelling lesson. The Cartridge Family … full of laughs. Soaring vocals from Sarah Carroll, Suzanna Espie, and bassist Rusty Berther. Riffmeister Nicky Del Ray excelled on guitar. Stories of jiltedness from All Our Exes Live in Texas (can’t imagine who’d leave any of those ladies) and the Hillbilly Goats, made it good fun to be on the job.
Lots of electric guitar on show too at this year’s event – Melbourne Guitar Show favourite, Shannon Bourne shone in Skronkadoodledoo featuring Chris and Fenn Wilson, a show, so in your face, it made the festival deck chair obsolete. Julz Parker made her Stratocaster sing in her band Hussy Hicks, my personal best on ground at Port Fairy. Her other half (with respect to the rhythm section) Leesa Gentz completed an outstanding duo.
Maton Guitars continued its long association with the Festival and presented guitars to Chris While and Julie Matthews, as 2018 PFFF Artists of the Year and to 2018 Emerging Artists, Josef and Jan Prasil who are Amistat.
An interesting session with famed human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, focused on the role of folk music in the protest movement over the past couple of generations. He spoke of the way it was suppressed in the gag martyring of Pete Seeger and others, to its ultimate triumph as a voice in protest movements for human rights and against abused authority that has changed major events and the world in general. Other silk was on display too with Archie Roach, Tex, Don & Charlie, The Black Sorrows and Breabrach from the UK were a talk of the town.
Nick Charles again headed an outstanding line up at the annual Guitarists Concert, with Harry Manx, Julz Parker, Jeff Lang, Jimmy Hocking and John Hudson. The Women Out Loud concert hosted by Sarah Carroll stirred the emotions with stories and songs from Chris While & Julie Matthews, Faith Ristic, Gina Williams, Josienne Clarke, Pauline Scanlon, Rebecca Barnard, Sophie Koh and YolanDa Brown which went from reaching for the tissues to driving everyone to their feet, chanting the reggae classic ‘Is This Love?’, with a message that it’s all you need to ask.
The tribute to Irish folk punk band The Pogues, marking Shane MacGowan’s 60th birthday was a highlight and must have been great fun for the performers who included The Teskey Brothers, Hussy Hicks, Steve Polz and many more.
The PFFF respects up and comers too and provides plenty of opportunities. Young singers like Stella Donnelly and Claire Anne Taylor were given an opportunity to shine.
Check out our video interviews with Stella and Claire
The list goes on and on. Spoken word, story-telling, songwriting workshops with festival artists and local instrument craft was on display too.
The wonderful thing about Port Fairy is that you can see so much good music and arts outside of the festival arena … in churches, halls, pubs and open spaces around the town, it is a great vibe.
This festival is a serious community undertaking, which, as mentioned in our recent interview with director, Caroline Moore, contributes not only to the music industry in a major way, but also to the local community. It is largely staffed by an army of volunteers and the community benefits because of this hard work.
Sorry we couldn’t get around to see everyone, but such is the size and depth of the program.
We’ll be back, again…