Well, the Australian National Folk Festival has come and gone for another year, and soon I’ll catch up on some sleep – but not before I’ve told you how wonderful this festival is.

This year there were several great highlights – and it was great to be performing with my daughter as part of Will o’ the Wisp musical circus.

Will o the Wisp circus

The campsite was a brisk short walk in the chilly evening (okay well into the morning) after a night playing in some amazing Irish music sessions – and the up-and-coming young players give great hope for the future of folk music in Australia.

The festival is set in the Exhibition Park grounds on the northside of Canberra and it has come a long way from my first National Folk Festival in 1977. The venues are well signposted and the festival atmosphere is deliciously enhanced by the myriad food stalls and exotic clothing, jewelry and musical instrument makers.

And session bars provide great spaces for singing and swapping tunes across musical styles from bluegrass, to hungarian to various flavours of celtic music and jazz and blues – this festival has it all and the fusion of styles shows the folk tradition at its best.

I was pleased to see that a new session bar has been opened up and dedicated to the memory of the late Billy Moran

Billy Moran session bar

Between performances with Will o’ the Wisp I managed to see several great concerts and see some emerging talent at the blackboard events. Martin Pearson did a great satire on the daVinci Code, Mothers of Intention launched their new CD and there was a breathtaking array of amazing fiddle players from around the world.

Mothers of Intention
Mother of Intention

I did the Chris Duncan Fiddle Workshop where I learnt a couple of great Scottish tunes, and got to see Chris’s style up close.

Chris Duncan

For me there were three stand-out performances – The first was to see the amazing Dave Swarbrick on his ‘Lazarus’ tour – just several months after his double lung and heart transplant – his style is smooth and whimsical – and yeah he’s still got that swing! Sadly, the performance I saw turned out to be the only one he gave at the festival – knowing how tiring it is to tour, I felt privileged just to have heard him once. He played with singer-songwriter Allistair Hulett.

Dave Swarbrick live in Canberra

Dave Swarbrick live in Canberra

The second was the Festival Fiddlers concert, featuring Jane Unger (daughter of the writer of the tune Ashokan Farewell); Kevin Burke (legendary Irish fiddle player); Nancy Kerr (English style); Lisa McIsaac (Cape Breton fiddler, member of Mad Violet, and sisiter of Ashley McIsaac); and Chris Duncan (Australian Scottish fiddler). It was great to see all these leading exponents of their respective styles in one concert!

Fiddlers concert

The empty chair next to Chris Duncan was reserved in case Dave Swarbrick was able to return.

Jane Unger performed her father’s tune and then did some nice Appallacian style fiddling

Jane Unger
Jane Unger

Kevin Burke has a smooth Irish style that made even the most dramatic reel seem effortless

Kevin Burke
Kevin Burke

Nancy Kerr was described as having two brains – for her ability to sing one tune while playing a different accompanying tune on the fiddle and plucking a third rhythm – all at the same time! You have to hear it to believe it 🙂
Nancy Kerr
Nancy Kerr

Lisa McIsaac is closest to my style of playing – attacking the fiddle with gusto and moving with such energy that the chair was just there to keep her on the ground. Her Cape Breton style is amazing – although her bow hair expenses will be very high: hair was just fountaining off the bow as she played! I’m not sure whether it was Jane Unger of Lisa McIsaac who was given an excellent piece of advice when beginning the fiddle – “either get mad at it or don’t play fiddle at all” Lisa certainly embodied the passion in the music.

Lisa McIsaac
Lisa McIsaac

And Chris Duncan provided some Pagannini moments showing his technical skill to considerable effect on a range of Scottish tunes.

Chris Duncan
Chris Duncan

The third particular treat was Mad Violet – haunting ballads and furious Cape Breton fiddling.

In the session bar Tony Pyrzakowski and I turned a few heads with our duelling fiddlers routine – just nudging the speed a little 😉 We were both practically airborne and still going note for note so you could hear each note of the tune clearly defined but at breakneck speed! Both fiddles were practically smoking by the end!

Tony Pryzakowski

I only saw the sun come up on the second morning – the rest were comparatively early nights finishing between 5.00AM and 6.00AM most nights.

I came away with a few new tunes and some great memories.

Session

See you all next year! Or in two weeks time at the St Albans Festival in New South Wales, Australia

Cheers
Jerry

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