This past weekend we performed at the Illawarra Folk Festival in Bulli, NSW. Bulli sits just outside of Wollongong about an hour from Sydney. It was our first time in this part of the country and we were smitten. Beautiful beaches, rolling hills, and a dense eucalyptus forest sat as the main backdrop to the festival and reminded us of the Smokey mountains.
We were welcomed by warm weather and a wonderful host family; Andrew, Kathy, Erin, Jerad and their little toy poodle, Celeste. Andrew, a Scottsman and Kathy, an Aussie, met in the IT world, fell in love and the rest was history. Their two children Erin (15) and Jared (12) are homeschooled like our children and there was an immediate camaraderie between our families. Banjo and Jared were mates straight away and spent more time at the beach and gaming than at the festival itself.
At the festival grounds, we performed four sets. On Thursday we shared a half hour set in the Grandstand Bar, just enough to get into the grove. Craig’s sister, Kerrie and her fiancé Tim came to the show. It was our first time meeting Tim. What a joy to see two people in love!
We also connected with Warwick and Alison Marsh, long time friends of Craig’s parents. Warwick and his family (five kids) traveled full-time in a converted bus, for years. They played music as a family, speaking out about social injustice and encouraging faith in family life. In 2002 Warwick & Alison established the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation to encourage fathers and promote excellence in fathering. It was a privilege and encouragement to dine with them and hear their story.
Back at the festival, we had a second performance at the Nags Lounge. We had an hour set but it was cut short because of a glitch in the sound gear. There was also a drum circle in the tent next door that offered a bit of a distraction. However, we all worked together, including our sound guy, Tim and by the end we were able to redeem the show. Obviously, we aren’t just a band, we’re a family. So, when moments like this arise I’m always so impressed by my children’s ability to stand poised and push through. They truly are professionals.
Our third show was beautiful, everything just clicked. The sound was smooth, the venue was full and guests were very attentive. We performed a fantastic 45 min set in the Grandstand Restaurant showcasing our vocal harmonies, including the Russian Lullaby, Mockingbird, Old Man’s Town and Over Land and Leas.
Our fourth and final set was in the sweetest little venue on the whole grounds, La Petite Grand. It was a Sunday morning set. Being the first of the day, we weren’t sure how many folks would show up. But, the tent was full and everyone sang along graciously. We decided to do an old timey sing along set and sang Amos Lee’s, Black River, Orphan Girl, Will the Circle, Do Lord, I’ll Fly Away, You Are My Sunshine, Oh When The Saints, and more.
An older Dutch chap, who introduced himself before our set, sang along heartily and on our last number he jumped up and spontaneously joined us on our Ukelele. Come to find out, he was an accomplished flamingo guitarist.I wish I could remember his name but I’ll never forget his sweet old face. Funny thing was we met a number of Dutch folks at the festival. It made me feel right at home, as my mom’s side of the family is of Dutch heritage. Who knows, maybe it’s a good sign, that we are meant to go to the Netherlands this year. Wouldn’t that be something!
Some of our favorites about the festival:
– The food venders were amazing! There was food from all over the world (except Mexican, which we missed and will probably be the first thing we have when we return to the US) When you ordered a french crepe, a french person made it for you. When you ordered a german brat, a german made it for you. I don’t how they found venders that were authentic, but it made for a really neat experience. My favorite vendors were the Balinese food tent, the ginger lemon drink served at the Hare Krishna tent, and the Chia at the Trantic Turtle (also a nomadic family).
-The variety of attendees made the festival so rich. There were newborns to 90yr olds, Brazilians, Danes, Irish, Japanese, Gypsies, Gambians, Americans, Aussies, and more. There were dancers, from belly to flat tappers, Hippies, Yoga instructors, Ukelele clubs, choirs, Hare Krishna’s, and everything else in-between.
-The music range was vast, but Klezmier seemed to be the flavor of the year. Rapskallion, from Melbourne, took the cake in this category. Their music was high energy and the show was full of gypsy, pirate, cabaret antics. In fact, they were so believable that you could imagine little street kids wandering through the crowd picking the fans pockets as they were distracted by the enticing wave of breasts and tambourine that shook on the stage. In a Moulin Rouge sort of way, the show was largely entertaining.
Our very favorite new discoveries included, Oh Pep! (Australian), The Latchikos (Irish), Afenginn (Danish), John John Festival (Japanese), Jaaleekay (Gambian) and Handsome Young Strangers (Australian). There were also a few fellow countrymen present, including The Underscore Orchestra (Portland, OR), Dom Flemons (Phoenix, AZ), and The White Top Mountaineers (Whitetop, VA). It was an honor to be included among these talented artists.
We also connected with friends, The Beez (German), who we met two years ago at Burke and Wills Festival. They are the real deal! Genuinely funny and absolutely amazing musicianship.
Our final night at the festival was cool and the moon was high above the clouds that washed over the mountains. There were children dancing, stilt walkers bringing a spirit of merrymaking with their bubbles and big smiles. We shared one last meal with our host family while listening to Archie Roach. It was surreal to be serenaded by this living legend and a perfect way to end the festival.
The Illawarra Folk Festival originated at Jamberoo in 1985, and has grown to be one of the largest festivals in Australia run entirely by volunteers, including the upper management. We learned that the proceeds made from this festival are donated into the youth program as well as other fantastic causes. Good on ya Illawarra Folk Festival, good on ya!
If you find yourself in Australia in January, definitely consider putting this festival on your calendar. We sure are looking forward to our return visit!