RETURN TO ILLAWARRA
How refreshing, and exhilarating, to return to Bulli for the festival after three long years of C-19 induced solitude. It truly was a feast of folk. Meeting up with mates not seen in three dimensions, for so long. Wow, aren’t people so much better in the flesh, even when a little tired and bleary eyed from a late night session, or masked as some were, though I detected as the festival rolled on a tendency, for better or worse, for them to throw caution to the wind, and to the rain and sun, as they warmed to the community spirit. Yes there was the customary rain, and that one day of glorious sunshine too.
Congratulations are due to the Illawarra Folk Club, Artistic Directors Dave De Santi and Kay Proudlove and to the organizing committee, the volunteers too, who brought this festival to fruition and so tastefully put together the very best they could find of Aussie home grown talent, for this necessarily smaller event. It remained delightfully multicultural too. No doubt their vast experience of having created so many good festivals over the years assisted with the calculus of balancing a budget ravaged by the pandemic, against giving us just the right mix of what we really love, worked to a tee to produce what can only be describe as ‘a little beauty’.
I will refrain from singling out any particular acts amidst the plethora of outstanding performances we were privileged to enjoy, but I will say the standard was, in my humble opinion, better than ever. Little wonder that after three years of restraint such glorious music burst forth, abetted no doubt by the novelty of artists re-engaging with live, appreciative, walking, talking, audience after such a lengthy hiatus, whose joy at being back to their beloved festival inspired new peaks in an already ever talented bunch.
Good vibrations abounded, and indeed wasn’t the sound to die for too. From gently sublime acts to the loud late night bopping bands it truly was pristine, even if the pitch of the latter lacerated a tad our wee evening session in the Grandstand Bar. But oops, as good old Tom Paxton once said of live recordings, ‘only the positive side of life should be reflected in’…. Cornstalk reviews.
Said sessions, too, tasted sweeter, more fluent and lively. Was this the release of restraint too. or had we all madly practiced and improved during three years of isolation? I so enjoyed the boundless energy and exhilaration of playing late night sessions at a festival again. Even the mandatory early morning programmed sessions once merely endured to earn one’s festival pass despite just a few hours’ sleep and a surfeit of Guinness the night before seemed more than tolerable.
Happily too, even those picky die-hard session-folk, the sticklers for detail that glare at one, appeared more than a tad tolerant of my missed notes or discords. The look was more quizzical than critical this time, wondering perhaps ‘had he played that accordion three years ago, I thought him a fiddler or guitarist’. Change though within the tradition is a natural development in folk, journeying to new ways of expressing ourselves, perhaps bleeding into new genres at times, to see what works. Maybe the darn pandemic has made us practice new ways, as well as treasuring the old, practice more perhaps, write new songs or poems, even if some of these bewail our suffering during lockdown.
They say illness , hardship etc. are necessary for healthy development and evolution. Heaven knows we’ve been through it all in recent years with fires, flood, and pestilence but what we saw at Bulli, and what we’re seeing cautiously re-emerge elsewhere in festivals and folk clubs certainly attests to the resilience and healthy development of folk in New South Wales and Australia wide.
Well done us all who came together for three glorious days to create this musical Mandala. We’ve left so much the richer until we meet again as the next gathering in this festival season comes very soon to a showground near you.
Long live our rich folk tradition and thanks Illawarra for:-
‘Days in the sun and the tempered wind and the air like wine;
And you drink and you drink, ‘till you’re drunk on the joy of living’
Cover Photo: By Pete Cahill – Zumba performing at Grandstand Bar