By Lance Risk
If it is possible to have too much of a good thing, Port Fairy Folk Festival is just that for a hard core Festival haunting Folkie like me. It is like every New Zealand festival run over the same weekend. Set up six giant tent stages in Geraldine; add the population of Timaru and Oamaru (35 - 40 000 people) and you have an idea of the size and impact of the Festival.
About four hours down the coast from Melbourne, Port Fairy is about the size of Geraldine and has hosted the festival for over 30 years. They now have a slick well run machine driving the festival, take your own chair (under 35 cm from the ground), an alcohol free venue outside of the beer tent, plenty of great music and a no encore policy keeps it running on time.
Musically the coverage was huge and was big enough that it was possible to have themed concerts with all the blues players, or the women singers performing together, there was even a gospel concert on Sunday for those so inclined! This allowed you a glimpse at a wide range of performers and let you decide if you wanted to see them in concert alone.
Follow the link at the end to see them all.
By choosing not to go to artists that I had already seen, made the selection process of who to see somewhat easier as it took out Jig Zag, women in docs, Vin Garbut, Rory McLeod and left me hearing artists new to me or hearing them for the first time live. Those that came home on CD were Christine Anu, Eric Bibb, the Barleyshakes and Spooky Men’s Choral. Dev’lish Mary was my festival favourite but they are so new they did not have a CD cut.
There are two ways to enjoy the music, pick a stage and stay there all day and night (0900 till midnight) and be somewhere within sight of the stage or to try and see as many specific acts as possible by moving stage to stage. I chose the later and would frequently end up 100m from the stage outside the tent holding 6 000 people. Elevated TV screens did make it possible to semi see in some venues but only a little. Have I heard Ralph McTell at a festival, yes! Have I seen him………… maybe.
It is this lack of closeness, energy and intimacy or the craic that I noticed the most after our festivals. The size of the venues makes effective heckling impossible and after being able to sit and have a coffee or whisky with the performers, see people you know and meet new friends at festivals here, at Port Fairy it is not possible to find anyone without cell phone coordination and CD signing times for the performers.
As a Festival though, the music was great, the camping ground next to the venue meant that it was possible to walk everywhere. All the booking was possible via the internet and so is in reach of most of us here. What I missed at the festival could be fixed by a “Team Kiwi” excursion perhaps…..