Folk Festival unveils its 51st program

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THERE will be time for rejoicing over Easter as the National Folk Festival swings into its 51st year.

Siobhan Owen, photo courtesy of Lyn Mills
That was the underlying message from Folk Festival director Pam Merrigan, last night, when she introduced ACT Arts Minister Gordon Ramsay at the National Library of Australia to unveil the 2017 program.

Ramsay declared himself very impressed by the local content, but even more so by the national character of the festival which will, this year, feature over 180 acts from Australia and 29 international artists.

The Minister was forced to admit that while favourably disposed towards the festival, he hadn’t really had a chance to indulge himself in its Easter-time delights prior to his ascent into politics, been a minister for religion. But this year it would be different.

The minister, who also mentioned that the festival had been funded by EventsACT, which had supported the development of a new initiative, “FringeWorld”. He praised the organisation of the festival that had seen 47,000 people through the gates of Exhibition Park last year. Mr Ramsay expressed the hope that just as the event had triumphed at last year’s Canberra Region Tourism Awards, it might do so again when it represents the ACT in the National finals in Darwin on February 24.

Director Pam Merrigan at the launch
Merrigan, who said folk music was “a bit like organic food, close to its sources,” outlined the thinking behind having two focus states –South Australia and the Northern Territory, explaining that it was tough to wait for eight years, so by doubling up they could do the rounds faster.

On hand to wave the flag for South Australia was Welsh-born Celtic harpist and singer, Siobhan Owen, who entertained the happy crowd with mostly tragic songs in different forms of Gaelic and English.

Director-general of the National Library, Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, spoke of the enduring partnership between the festival and the library, expressing her satisfaction that her institution held the country’s largest collection of folklore and folk recordings – 6000 hours at last count.

She outlined the current processes of collecting, recording and processing folk material, some 500 hours of which was now available to the general public digitally and praised the success of Jessie Lloyd as artist in residence, exploring mission songs in the library’s collection.

National Folk Festival president Gabrielle Mackey stepped up to announce the 2017 National Folk Festival Lifetime Achievement Award winner, usually a muso, but this time more of  a “quiet achiever” who had devoted his life to folklore – photographer, music, teacher and bush musician Bob Bolton, who had been donating his photographic archive to the NLA since 1971.

As the launch roundup two artists from very close to home – Guyy and the Fox – gave us a toe-tapping taste of their darkly sardonic music.

The 51st National Folk Festival, Exhibition Park in Canberra, April 13-17. All information and bookings at


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