NSW Folk Coordinators’ Meeting – A Report

by | Mar 22, 2024 | Articles, Industry News

Below is a synopsis of key concepts and points from the recent NSW Folk Coordinators’ Meeting held on Sunday 10th March.


From the discussion it seems that our folk sector operates on three main tiers. While festivals are the lynchpins of our folk sector providing the annual gathering places for our wider folk communities to come together, the folk clubs tend to operate on a monthly or quarterly basis with the primary aim of providing performance opportunities, both booked and floor spots, for our artists and live music experiences for audiences. At the grassroots level, session, dance and community organisers are providing a variety of participatory activities that engage people in “folk”. Each of these tiers is equally important for the long-term health of our folk sector.

Some key observations:

  • Folk organisations are often insular, operating independently with little or no interaction with other clubs, festivals etc.
  • The folk sector has a mostly older, aging demographic.
  • Attracting a younger demographic to “folk” is a challenge.
  • Providing opportunities to participate in folk activities is often a draw card to attract people.
  • The folk sector would benefit from a central voice that could provide knowledge and insight about the folk sector and represent its interests to government and public agencies.

Below is a general summary of some main discussion points.


For the most part grassroots folk organisations involve some kind of hands on / participatory experiences. These include but are not limited to, sessions, dancing and round robin style music clubs.


  • Participants are aging and attracting new members is challenging.
  • Many dance groups have staunch supporters but find it difficult to attract a younger demographic.


  • Create opportunities to bring people together to participate in “folk” and build friendship networks and creative collaboration.

Round Robin Music Clubs

  • The participatory aspect of this style of FC is attractive for the hands-on experiences it provides.

Folk Clubs:

  • Many clubs are functioning at reduced capacity post COVID.
  • Increased fees for venue hire are impacting financial viability.
  • Clubs often rely on booking artists that have a reasonable following to get good audience numbers, sometimes at the expense of giving new or emerging artists a go.
  • Workload often falls to a few key organisers making it difficult to function when one pulls out or needs to take time off.


Post COVID has seen a number of factors impacting break-even point for these events.

  • Huge increase in production costs.
  • Outside pressures eg. Loss of core funding and/or facilities; increased insurance costs.
  • Loss of key personnel.
  • Increased competition from other festivals & events (not all necessarily folk).
  • Changing audience habits especially around ticket purchasing.

Action Items – suggested by meeting participants:

  • Lobby state and federal governments to direct funds to organisations that support community building, are sustainable and give back to the community.
  • Allocate more resources for promotion of folk events.
  • Build a data base of information about the value of the folk sector.
  • Appoint a Media Officer to represent the NSW Folk Sector – market folk initiatives.
  • Working out where “folk” sits in the minds of people who love live music.
  • Develop a model for the “folk Scene” that equally values participants, performers and organisers – a community.
  • Advocate for FOLK
  • Develop strategies to attract young people – as musicians, audience members and participants.
  • Create more interaction between folk clubs, organisations and festivals.
  • Assist with identifying and applying for grants and funding opportunities.
  • Develop strategies for attracting new members across all age demographics.
  • Provide mentoring opportunities, resource sharing and support for folk initiatives especially to those starting new ventures.
  • Develop strategies to include local communities where “folk” operates to gain new active members.
  • Promote membership of FFNSW at club/session/round robin meetings (yes please!)

The Action Items above range from big picture perspectives to a focus on specific needs of our diverse folk organisations.

FolkFedNSW – A Role to Play

FolkFedNSW believes it has a key role to play as the link between our diverse NSW Folk organisations, keeping our communities connected and providing a central voice to represent the value of “folk” both culturally and economically to a wider public.

  • Keeping our diverse communities connected: NSW is a big state and FolkFedNSW’s new, interactive website is designed to provide an online forum for our folk communities to share information, promote their activities, network and connect with each other 365 days a year. It’s designed to bridge the space between those occasions when we come together face to face and, to nurture and build a stronger NSW folk sector. If not already, we encourage you to start connecting and sharing especially through the online Cornstalk which has a blogging capability that allows you not only to share your stories but enables interactions through comments to drive conversations between people.

FolkFedNSW views this as a first step in fostering dialogue between our folk organisations and that, as connections grow, it will lead to knowledge sharing and support to help resolve some of our folk community’s specific needs.

  • Providing a central voice: This has emerged as one of the main actions arising from our recent meeting. While FolkFedNSW is well placed as the organisation to provide this central voice any implementation of such an initiative will require careful and considered input from our NSW folk cohort to develop a prioritised and cohesive plan. FolkFedNSW contributed submissions to the federal and state governments leading up to their respective announcements of policies and strategies to support music and the arts, as we know some of you also did. We recognise the value of following up on those submissions and perhaps they could be the starting point in taking the next step to lobby government and other public agencies on behalf of “folk”.

Other Big Picture Initiatives to Explore:

  • Funding options to allow for the appointment of an NSW Media Officer to represent the folk sector for an initial period of 1-2 years.
  • Developing a data base of information both qualitative and quantitative to support the value of the folk sector when apply for funding and/or support from external agencies eg. cultural, economic, community building and sustainability.
  • Articulate a clear model for the NSW Folk Sector and its values.
  • Partner with other music agencies eg. Country Music Association of Australia to share some of their learning with us.

Three proposed FolkFedNSW initiatives

Prior to the close of the meeting FolkFedNSW outlined three initiatives which might contribute to furthering the cause and raising the profile of “folk” in NSW.

  • NSW Folk Music Week – Possibly to be held annually in August the purpose would be to highlight folk activities and organisations throughout the State. This could also be a catalyst for gaining media attention and funding for “folk”. One possible approach that would provide some funding support might be through the Live Music Office of the Federal Government, through their Live and Local initiative.
  • Youth Awards – these have been a positive activity for FolkFedNSW and for our awardees, some of whom have had further success at other festivals and nationally. With many of our NSW festivals already running excellent youth programs FolkFedNSW sees an opportunity to partner with these organisations to create a state-wide youth network with the State Awards as a centre piece. Our aim would be to explore avenues in which festivals could support these awards in ways that also enhanced their own profiles. But also, that FolkFedNSW would reciprocate with support for these festivals and their youth programs.
  • An Annual Family-Friendly Folk Camp – a weekend long camp involving tuition, playing and performing, designed to attract families with children of all ages right through to adolescence, while still being of interest to older adults wishing to further their musical skills and friendship networks. This is a hands-on, participatory weekend that FolkFedNSW believes will have three main long-terms goals, 1) to raise the standard of folk music performance; 2) to attract a younger demographic to “folk”; and 3) to compliment and support the existing youth programs and initiativesthat many of you are already undertaking.

This is very much in the incubatory stage of development. Location/s and venue/s are still under consideration so, if you’d like to be involved or have any suggestions please talk to us.

FolkFedNSW welcomes your feedback, ideas and/or questions.

To Comment please scroll down to the comments section right at the bottom of the post. To Reply to an exiting comment use the Reply button on the RHS of the comment. We look forward to hearing from you.


  1. Gerry Myerson

    I don’t see any mention of radio programs that play some, or a lot of, folk music. What can these programs do for the community? What can the community do for these programs?

    • Pam Merrigan

      This is a very good point Gerry and thanks for raising it. The community radio stations playing folk music are certainly an important part of the folk sector. FolkFedNSW acknowledges this through its weekly what’s on community radio segments in FolkMail. As we expand information on the website we also intend to include a listing of all the folk radio shows around the state. The challenge here of course will be to keep it current.

      This first meeting’s focus was prompted by the difficulty folk clubs, festivals and other live folk music activities seem to be experiencing in getting back to pre-COVID attendance levels. Of course, this is just one facet of our folk community and a starting point as we move to strengthen and enliven the NSW Folk Sector.
      Maybe I’ll try to get along to the Broadcasters’ Forum at the National to get an idea of how this part of our community functions and what the priorities are.

      Thanks again for your comments and be assured that we do value our community radio presenters and you won’t be left out of the conversation.

  2. Jane Scott

    I see the usual concerns about “attracting young people”. I suggest also looking at attracting parents of grown children. I’ve known people pull back from folk festivals (and lots of other activities) while having a family. Once people’s kids are old enough to do their own thing, some of those people may be interested in returning – but I expect they’ll respond to different strategies to “young people”.

    • Pam Merrigan

      I’m actually with you on that. For some reason the youth market is seen as some kind of holy grail. While there are certainly many young musicians performing at folk festivals this doesn’t seem to translate into younger audiences. And yes, you’re right, some of those young people who came with their parents often return with their own families when they are in their 30s-40s.

  3. Jane Scott

    As a wheelchair user, I suggest festivals and folk events consider and actively advertise accessibility. There are often a number of wheelchair users and others with limited mobility at festivals. You don’t need to walk well to enjoy music and poetry, or to perform it but we are often excluded, when gigs happen at inaccessible venues and when accessibility is not promoted. The National does a decent job on inclusion. Count the number of chairs, walkers and sticks you see next weekend.

    • Pam Merrigan

      Another good point to raise and I am well aware that this was not addressed well with regard to Sydney Folk Festival. One of my regrets. But yes, the National does a pretty decent job and a lot of what is in place came about when I was working with the festival. Anyway Jane, it sounds like you’re taking the road trip to Canberra for Easter so I hope you have a great time. I’ll look out for you and yes, I’ll be one of those getting around with a mobility aid.

  4. Jane Scott

    In terms of encouraging younger people artists to keep coming back when they come along… I often hear them greeted with comments like, “It’s so wonderful to have a young person!” I know that the intention is enthusiastic welcome but I think comments like that are more likely to emphasise the age gap and make it clear to the person that they are the odd one out – making them feel less welcome.

    I suggest it would work better not to mention age when you talk to them but to ask the person what brought them along – to look for and highlight common ground. I was often the youngest at folk club events by a long way when I started coming. I didn’t find lots of people my own age but I found music I liked and politics I supported, so I was happy to make friends with people older than me – and I’ve been here for about 30 years now!

  5. Brian Freeman

    A huge shout out to Pam M, Christine, Cathy & the behind the scenes folk who share carrying the banner for Folk Fed NSW; providing their precious time, reporting to their enthusiastic members via various mediums, canvassing support at various levels, where others dare tread & keeping the Folk heartbeat alive to adapt same, in ever changing modern times.

    As I’m one whose age wearies those who already have their plate full & cup running-over, we need more enthusiastic folks stepping-up & community sharing of information by those positioned to do so, which I’ve found somewhat battling in having publicity copy accepted.


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