ALL eyes will be on Queanbeyan over the coming Easter weekend as the inaugural Good Folk festival swings into action.
The brainchild of National Folk Festival managing director, Helen Roben and Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council, the mini-festival will see more than 22 gigs taking place over three major venues – The Royal Hotel, The Q and the Bicentennial Hall.
A session bar for gigs will be set up in a marquee pitched on one of the greens at the newly-trendy local “bowlo” the Campbell & George, and there’ll be live music at The Hive and out on Crawford Street, which will be packed with music and street stalls on the Saturday.
Roben can hardly wipe the smile from her face at having come up with such a lively interim event (which she calls “the first”) in a year which could’ve been very dismal for the cancelled national event, accustomed to hosting around 50,000 visitors at Exhibition Park.
But Queanbeyan has restaurants, parks, performance venues and pubs, making it at least as congenial a location as EPIC.
Joining the venture is Queanbeyan-Palerang regional council, which quickly offered logistical support, the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre and its close relative the newly-refurbished Bicentennial Centre, where big names like ARIA-winner Fanny Lumsden and the environmentally-aware FourPlay String Quartet will perform.
If the council and festival form the backbone of “Good Folk”, its heart is certainly in its musicians.
Kate Burke is one of the central artists in The New Graces, a trio made up of Melanie Horsnell, Robyn Martin and Burke herself, who together will be performing at The Q on the Saturday.
All of them hail from Candelo, near Bega, now famous as a mecca for original music. Burke hastens to assure me that it also has an arts history going back 25 to 30 years, to the formation of the Candelo Arts Society by people who moved to the region, some from Canberra.
Burke was already well-known as part of the folk duo Kate and Ruth and Irish/Australian traditional band Trouble in the Kitchen, but The New Graces, who brought out a new album right in the middle of lockdown last year, came specifically out of the lifestyle of the valley.
Martin and Burke have shared not just music but a house while raising small children who, in Burke’s case, play piano and drums and are always singing.
Burke, now married to Candelo musician Pete Wild, was brought up in Canberra and knows the National Folk Festival well. She’s an avowed fan of Queanbeyan, saying “it’s great to see Queanbeyan coming in to its own”, while Martin’s husband Sam studied jazz at the ANU and has since 2006 been part of Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, also appearing at Good Folk.
Horsnell, who has an international profile, moved to the district about 10 years ago, also with family life in mind.
Inevitably, a couple of years ago the three of them got together, made an album and restyled themselves The New Graces.
Burke sees their talents as evenly matched. They each wrote four songs to put on the 12-number album, which has a strong country focus, with titles like “Farmer’s Daughter”, “Let You Love Me” and “Kameruka Nights”.
The subject matter varies in the songs. Martin, for instance, grew up on a sheep farm in SA – so sheep feature. Horsnell’s speciality is love songs, and Burke, who was raised on bush dancing, brings that flavour to her songs.
Good Folk wouldn’t happen without sponsors and apart from the council, Roben has been able to secure solid Queanbeyan support.
Royal Hotel proprietor, Anthony McDonald, whose sophisticated cabaret spot, The Upper House, has recently been host to packed-out gigs featuring Mahalia Barnes and triple ARIA-winner Sarah McLeod, says the Easter resonances are strong.
McDonald says his target audience is patrons aged 35 and up, who enjoy music from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
“We love our entertainment and we like original music, so when we realised there was an opportunity to work with the council to bring Good Folk to Queanbeyan, we were in.”
A much more arty sponsor is Ben Ashman from local business, The Recruitment Hive.
Last year he set up a covid-related video festival, “The Recruitment Hive Dance Music Creator Search”, which paid Canberra musicians $400 each to perform online.
“Helen [Roben] saw what we were doing and thought we might be interested in Good Folk, so she got in touch,” he says.
“We thought, sport gets enough sponsorship…”