The past year was certainly not the one we were all expecting. From the new year fires that raged on the NSW south coast to the even more devastating impact of the Coronavirus pandemic our folk communities across NSW and beyond have been severely affected. 2020 has been marked by festival cancellations, performer gigs and tours evaporating and folk clubs and community groups such as sessions and choirs going on hold. We’ve all become familiar with Zoom and many of the other assets the internet has provide to keep us connected during this time. And all this in the year that was to mark the Folk Federation of NSW’s (FFNSW) 50th anniversary.
Following the 2019 AGM we held the annual end of year get together in December. This was curated by Margaret Walters and was a lovely, friendly afternoon of music and general camaraderie at the Gaelic Club in Surry Hills. There were then two events in early 2020 that the Folk Federation supported, also held at the Gaelic Club; the Alistair Hulett Tribute Concert in January also organised by Margaret Walters; and the Concert for Cobargo organised by Christina Mimmocchi and Pam Davis in early March.
The committee’s main attentions were directed towards planning for the 2020 Sydney Folk Festival. After a successful inaugural event we were very keen to further develop the festival as the flagship of the FFNSW. Linked into the 2020 festival was a partnership with Folk Alliance Australia to run a conference in the two days prior to the festival that would attract folk music organisers from around the country. Sadly, as the full effects of COVID-19 began to unfold it became apparent that there would be no festival or accompanying conference in 2020.
Far from business as usual the committee then set its sights on what could be achieved in these unpredictable times of social distancing, strict rules for gatherings and degrees of isolation. The FFNSW’s Young Folk Artist Awards were an initiative of the previous FFNSW committee and awarded for the first time in 2019. Even though a part of these awards were tied into performances at the Sydney Folk Festival the Committee decided that, even without the festival the Awards should still go ahead. On 1 May Freya Peterson and Felicity Dowd were named respectively as this year’s Junior and Senior Young Folk Artists. In 2020 FFNSW acted as auspice for a City of Sydney Creative Fellowship for cultural historian and performer Warren Fahey to create 12 short video films on curious stories relating to Sydney’s social history. Each video will be around 12-15 minutes. One titled Beats & Bards will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Folk Federation of NSW and we are looking forward to making this available on our YouTube channel when it is ready.
As the year progressed and COVID-19 continued to restrict our ability to come together it became evident that staying connected with our folk community was never more important and, to this end FFNSW decided in late June to stage the Sydney Folk Festival @ HOME (SFF@HOME), a series of online bespoke concerts and activities. A particular driving force behind this @HOME event was the desire to support our performers and, as such, all proceeds from the sale of tickets was divided between the artists.
None of us had ever actually run an online event though we knew that organisations were doing them and, especially in the UK, many of the online folk activities had been very successful. After much deliberation we engaged PodStream, a professional company, to manage the concerts and we ran the other activities via the Zoom platform. While we realised that an online event wouldn’t be the same as coming together to experience folk in a live setting we were determined to make the whole experience as interactive as possible. The concerts were live streamed from an unlisted YouTube channel and this provided a chat facility which audience members were able to use to connect with each other and with the performers. This was really successful with some great interactions and many positive comments on how it did bring people together. Even using the Zoom platform for the spoken word events, workshop and Parody come-all-ye worked well. We were fortunate to partner with Illawarra Folk Club for the Parody come-all-ye, an activity suggested by Dale Dengate and hosted by Dale and Russell Hannah. It was so popular it went on well over time.
The State of Play forums were another positive to come out of SFF@HOME. The original intention was to host a forum as a way of bringing people together to discuss how we could tease a way through the COVID fog. This proved so successful that a second forum was held a few weeks later bringing together folk advocates, festival organisers, performers, agents and interested individuals all keen to ensure that when we finally do emerge from COVID we can rebound in control and with a strong voice. Much has come from this and another forum is planned for some time in the near future. Further to this I have just finished writing a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into creative and cultural industries and institutions.
2020 has also been a year of consolidation and of change. The editor of Cornstalk, Coral Vorbach resigned after many years of dedicated service and I would like to take this opportunity to thank her for her invaluable contribution to the FFNSW and to our folk community. It was following Coral’s resignation that it was decided to take Cornstalk to a dedicated online publication, not only contributing to FFNSW being more sustainable but also saving funds that could be directed to support other folk initiatives. Much time and effort has also been spent on ensuring all our FFNSW documents are easily accessed from one central location and, while this is still a work in progress much has already been achieved.
The 2019/20 FFNSW committee along with its extended supporters such as Wayne Richmond and Julie Bishop is a wonderful, diverse and committed group of people especially with the range of skills and knowledge each brings to the organisation and I sincerely thank them for their dedication and enthusiasm particularly in this rather strange time of COVID uncertainty. We still have the FFNSW’s 50th Anniversary to mark and we will do this in conjunction with the end of year concert in December but more on that after the AGM.
As things start to open up a little and we are able to experience live music we are all looking forward to the time when we can come together again as we have done in the past to play, dance and sing. We’re not quite there yet but we live in hope. The FFNSW has a commitment to support our folk communities, particularly in NSW but also those beyond our borders and we will continue to do that and to be a strong advocate for the folk arts in all their diverse forms.
President, Folk Federation of NSW