The Illawarra Folk Festival was held at Bulli Show Grounds from the 12th to the 15th of January this year, making it the 32nd annual run of the popular event. The Festival was first held in Jamberoo in 1985 and has continued growing in popularity since then, with acts coming from all over Australia and the world to perform. The intimate but welcoming community atmosphere was very much present this year and the festival was a success for another year running, despite some bad weather on the last day. Not only does the festival boast a diverse lineup of musicians, dancers and comedians, but there were also a variety of food, clothing and jewellery stalls and workshops for festivalgoers to enjoy.

Saturday is known as the biggest day of the festival, but that didn’t mean there weren’t a variety of great acts to enjoy on Friday or Sunday. Friday evening saw local musician Melanie April performing her understated indie folk tunes in The Shed. Her set included a cover of an Adele song as well as several personal, original songs. Listening to the peaceful simplicity of her voice and guitar was a lovely way to spend the evening sitting on the cushions in The Shed.
A unique part of the festival was the Tivoli Tent featuring dance performances. Cinnamon Twist bellydancing school took to the stage on Saturday morning showcasing a variety of bellydance styles including Turkish, Macedonian, popular and traditional. A variety of other groups also performed over the weekend with many holding workshops for those interested in giving dancing a go.

Another great performance on the Saturday was by Genni Kane in the Black Diamond Marquee. Genni is a member of the ARIA award winning Flying Emus but the Folk Festival saw her playing solo, joined by her brother, husband and a close friend. This made for an intimate show as she joked and laughed with them onstage, even sharing an emotional moment as they talked about Genni’s mother who had recently passed away. Genni played songs from her latest album ‘Selfies’, described as ‘observations of life, loss and love’, with every song embodying the spirit of folk music; personal, poignant and relatable songs. Highlights included a sweet song about her late neighbour in the small community she lived in ,’And With That’, with the song title coming from a phrase she would often repeat as she chatted to Genni over her front fence. Another fantastic song was about a dress from a thrift store, serving as an analogy for, as Genni said, ‘a no-good man.’

Jay Wars and the Howard Youth also performed on Saturday in the Slacky Flat Bar, with an unusual, but skilful blend of punk and folk music. The band featured drums, a few guitars and a violin. They played, of course, several politicised songs, referencing the fight for marriage equality and slamming politicians including Christopher Pyne. Their set wasn’t complete as a punk band, of course, without a song about drinking inviting the audience to buy them a drink after their performance. Jay Wars and the Howard Youth were one of a group of punk-folk bands playing the festival, showing the diversity of genres present.

Four Winds were one of the stars of the festival. The four piece Irish traditional group played at The Chapel, one of the most beautiful venues of the festival, a marquee filled with native plants and fairy lights and set on top of a hill in the bush. The group consists of four young Irish musicians with Daoiri Farrell playing the bouzouki (a Greek guitar), Caroline Keane playing the concertina, Tom Delany on the uilleann pipes (the national bagpipes of Ireland) and Robbie Walsh playing the bodhrán (an Irish drum). Four Winds were not only highly skilled musicians, with many of them holding university degrees in Irish traditional music, but they also brought a sense of fun to their performance with funny anecdotes and stories about their songs.

The Illawarra Folk Festival is a lovely way to spend a summer weekend and looks set to retain its popularity for many more years to come.

Feb 1st 2017 | Daisy Loomes