THE National Folk Festival in Canberra is back, bigger and better than ever, if the crowd that packed into the Budawang Theatre last night for the opening concert was anything to go by.
On the stage, enhanced by local set designer, Brian Sudding, the festival’s artistic director, Pam Merrigan, told those present how proud she was of the “Music of the Australian Indigenous Experience” focus achieved this year, with everyone from Aboriginal singer-songwriter Archie Roach and Canberra’s Wiradjuri Echoes in the limelight.
Last minute inclusions in the program, Merrigan told us, were the duo made up of vocalist Gina Williams and guitarist Guy Ghouse from the showcase state, Western Australia. Merrigan and had heard about them just in the nick of time to include them in the program, since which they have won the Indigenous Act of the Year gong at the WA Music Indigenous awards. Together, Williamson Ghouse moved the crowds with poignant numbers sung in the Noongar language.
Following a recent midlife crisis for the festival, this, the 48th such event, looks set to be a huge success. On stage last night to accept the National Folk Festival Lifetime Achievement Award was veteran singer Margret RoadKnight, who had appeared at the very first National Folk Festival. Armed with her award in the shape of the metronome with a fiddle on it, she serenaded us to the words, “Ain’t it great to be a living legend?”
The Folk Festival will be punctuated by the presentation of 11 separate awards but last night the National Film and Sound Archive National Folk Recording Award for an outstanding CD went to the Victorian group, The Mae Trio, for their CD “Housewarming”.
The Festival continues apace, with singing, dancing, poetry, tall tales and lots of practical workshops, until late on Monday. This year, spoken word poetry is to the fore, with at least 22 separate events cited. Confirming that the Folk Festival is anything but old-fashioned Celtic music, there is even a session called “Slam Poetry Versus Bush Poetry,” with a prize called the ‘Slush.’
Last night, the normally monochrome Exhibition Park in Canberra, EPIC, was transformed with coloured lights as stalls and individual performance venues – 17 in all this year – sprang to life.
Today’s Good Friday program is packed, but as a quick look at the program grid will show, Saturday and Sunday are even more so and Monday keeps up with cracking pace until about 4.30pm.
The National Folk Festival, at Exhibition Park in Canberra, until Monday, April 21, all program details and access to the program grid visit http://folkfestival.org.au