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Canberra Today 3°/9° | Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Folk festival finishes on a high note

Felicity Urquhart Band. Photo: Cassidy Richens

Music / 56th National Folk Festival. At EPIC. Reviewed by CASSIDY RICHENS.

Folk culture was alive and well at EPIC, where  an estimated 40,000 people gathered for the National Folk Festival. 

The festival delivered a program of richly woven stories reflecting the diversity of the human experience in music, dance, song and spoken word. There were lots of new ideas focused on collaboration and spontaneity and countless opportunities to be participate.

First-time artistic directors Michael Sollis, Holly Downes and Chris Stone brought together 150 acts and more than 1000 performers, catering to those looking for contemporary interpretations as well as lovers of folk tradition.

Smart programming saw late night dance parties with five-piece Nordic folk rock band Gangar that got the difficult youth market enthralled.

A festival-made initiative brought programmed musicians together and presented new musical collaborations in daily concerts, while a decision to program a queer take over highlighted LQBTQI+ artists.

American singer-songwriter John Craigie. Photo: Cassidy Richens

Workshops, from harmony singing  to Balinese dance, and  making panpipes to playing Afro Latin rhythms,  gave ample opportunity to explore culture and develop new skills.

Other festival favourites were the Session Bar, the camping culture, and the many concerts.

English folk singer-songwriter and guitarist Grace Petrie continued the traditions of protest and solidarity through music with punchy but positive protest songs. Petrie’s musical compositions, big sound, and raw lyrics – reminiscent of an Irish pub, earning her a standing ovation.

Portland  singer-songwriter John Craigie’s impressive song craft and use of heartfelt humour was relatable, as he addressed the perils of being human. A few singalongs with some hilarious observations, Craigie had a way with the crowd.

National highlights included The Audreys – complete with their pink paisley telecaster, the Secrets Songs session by the Spooky Men’s Chorale and the honeyed tones of Felicity Urquhart soaring  over acoustic guitar by Josh Cunningham.

ZÖJ performing structured improvisations and evocative interpretations of Persian poetry sung in Farsi were a refreshing surprise. Gelareh Pour’s trained voice, masterful playing on Kamancheh and innovative use of vocal loop effects with Brian O’Dwyer’s free-style rhythm accompaniment on drums created an experimental ambient sound.

The farewell concert showcased the creative outcomes of festival work-shoppers in performances by the choir, the Squeeze Box Experience and Festival Strings. The annual awards acknowledged the enormous input of festival volunteers.

Apolline and Homebrew were joint recipients of the 2024 Youth Award. Paddy McCue won the Alistair Hulett Songs for Social Justice award and Steven Taber from the Spooky Men’s Chorale received the 2024 Lifetime Achievement Award.


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