This year’s Illawarra Folk Festival set to shake things up

Wallis Bird has been wowing Australian crowds and may provoke memories of the passion of one of the 2016 folk festival's biggest hits, Irish Mythen.

Wallis Bird has been wowing Australian crowds and may provoke memories of the passion of one of the 2016 folk festival's biggest hits, Irish Mythen.

Well there goes the neighbourhood.

If folk festivals have traditionally been the preserve of those white in the beard or long in the tooth, this year’s Illawarra Folk Festival is set to shake things up.

The program features a wide array of younger musicians and bands, alongside some of the more established veterans, signalling a new generation is picking up the torch for folk music and marching on. 

It’s a welcome evolution for the festival which, now in its 32nd year, has been going from strength to strength.

Artistic director David De Santi said there were about 60 acts that had not played at this fetival before.

“The festival has recreated itself with artists from locally and around the world,” he said.

We trust this Blue Mountains 'folk noir' group will go better on the ear than it would on the tongue. Note precarious roof-banjo.

We trust this Blue Mountains 'folk noir' group will go better on the ear than it would on the tongue. Note precarious roof-banjo.

“The lovely thing is that there is a lot of young people who are coming to play, of great quality. It’s keeping a tradition alive, which is great.

“There’s lots of young people, which is really refreshing. There’s the Shanty Club, also artists from Tasmania … we’re really pleased Tinpan Orange are coming, they are really going to suit our festival.”

Folk veterans need not worry – there will be plenty of more experienced legends performing as well.

The Junkadelic brass band is a funk-heavy street party hailing from Perth and inspired by New Orleans.

The Junkadelic brass band is a funk-heavy street party hailing from Perth and inspired by New Orleans.

And this time, musicians young and old will be united by the festival’s theme instrument: the banjo.

Friday afternoon will see a two hour concert call “the beautiful banjo”, with nine acts including a Japanese banjo group, bluegrass and clawhammer, and other styles.

De Santi said the versatility of the instrument is often underestimated.

“There is a perception, people think of Deliverance (Duelling Banjos) as the seminal banjo piece, isn’t it? But it’s such a versatile instrument, it’s played in lots of traditions.

“Its roots are in Africa, obviously it’s been picked up by the bluegrass people, country music style folk, but it’s also played a lot in traditional style jazz – “trad jazz”.

“It’s played lots in Irish music (with a four-string version). And in Australia, there’s a lot of tradition in people having a banjo mandolin, with eight strings.”

The White Top Mountaineers, from West Virginia, would bring the clawhammer style to their bluegrass music.

And also returning to the festival is the young Sydney sea shanty collective Shanty Time, one of the surprise smash hits of last year’s Illawarra festival.

The Illawarra Folk Festival starts on Thursday at Bulli Showground. Ticket prices vary, with four-day adult passes $170 advance or $220 at the gate. Children under 12 free with an adult.

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