Saturday, 19 April 2014

National Folk Festival 2014: Day 1

Let me begin with the highlight, which was also the final act we saw.  This was the Valanga Khosa band,
..led by (not surprisingly) Valanga Khosa.  From the sound of his surname one would guess he is a Xhosa native speaker but their music came from a number of different South African language groups.  The final number definitely sounded Shangaan to me.  Checking the liner notes of the CD - purchased on Day 2 - reveals that he is actually Tsonga by birth.  A Canberra lad ..
... did an excellent job on Saxophone and other wind instruments, reminding Frances of Jan Garbarek.  Mrs Khosa (Andrea) shared the vocal duties - very well - and showed great skills in the matter of dancing.
Towards the other end of the day, ie the beginning, another excellent act was Riley Lee and Jeff Peterson.  Very relaxed and quiet unlike the noise and excitement of the African jive (or come to that, Riley's work setting up TaikOz) much of their work reflected their Hawaiian background.  
On the matter of backgrounds the drop behind them is presumably a Boab, reflecting the WA focus of this year's festival.

More of the background to the stage can be seen behind the Davidson Brothers.  There is a view that the guy on the left, who isn't actually a Davidson, was actually looking for a Ned Kelly lookalike competition!
They were one of what seemed like many bluegrass outfits performing this year.  Possibly the number of bands playing this music reflected the involvement of the US Embassy in supporting US musicians who appeared here?  I basically like a lot of bluegrass when it adds value to the basic 100 notes per minute banjo playing (in past years the Sensitive New Age Cowpersons and Bluegrass Parkway have been great value-adders).  Unfortunately most of the bands playing today forgot the concepts of melody and harmonising so I tended to pass.

We had a look in particular at the Quarry Mountain Dead Rats and it appeared to me their attempt at adding value came via Pearl Jam or Nirvana.  Neither of these bands do anything for me, other than an exploration of gastric reflux.

The Infinite Elvis competition was not as good as previous comps in this series.  I really liked the Round Mountain Girls (all blokes) ...
... who not only did a good interpretation of an Elvis song but also seemed to channel Angus Young and Bon Scott through the interaction between the banjo and fiddle players.  They were having fun, which is surely the object of the exercise.

I watched a small amount of the Alaskan String Band who seemed to be singing Manhattan Transfer tunes.  Frances heard more of them and reports they varied the style quite a lot.  Folk Music??  They did have the thinnest double Bass I have ever seen.
This group could be accused of being Morris Dancers: they were the only specimens of the species - surely the musical equivalent to Common Mynahs - I noted during the day.
We felt very safe, as we should having had to go through three checkpoints to get in!  Complete overkill considering the zero threat level.
 These signs were attractive.
While this sign was, as usual with Canturf, amusing.
 It seemed to us that the place was far less busy than usual.
There has been a lot of reorganisation of the site with the Fitzroy Pavilion not being used for gigs and the merchandising area, plus a lot of very small venues, shifted into an extended Northern loop. 
At one point I went to the Terrace to hear Martin Pearson.
This is a very small venue (perhaps holds 150 people).  He was doing a sound check and then said his gig didn't start for 25 minutes so I left.  Here is the queue of people waiting to get in.
It shows a complete lack of awareness of audience interest to book Martin in a small venue: he is always going to attract a big crowd.

The other annoyances were about the beverage service.  As usual they had the daft notion that you have to go to one counter to buy tickets which you go to another counter to exchange for booze.  It was even worse because this year they didn't have the ticket counter in the Sessions bar which is usually crowded with folk jamming and drinking.  (Another misjudgement. of audience interest.)  At lunchtime I felt the need for a glass of stout to go with my BYO pasty.  Unfortunately in that bar the draught beer was 'off'.  Neeearrgh.

My suspicion is that audience numbers are going to be way down this year, and this will lead to a reaction of increasing their management team.  What they actually need to do is reduce the administrative BS and get back to their basic interests: we couldn't think of a single folk act of the traditional definition available during the day.  (Varanga Khosa was about the closest - playing music from South Africa!)   The National is parallel to Tamworth, not competing with it!

A couple more thoughts about areas that should be of concern to the organisers:
  1. The entrance to the only large venue remaining (the Budawang) was enhanced by a tent for the Union Movement.  Presumably this is a reference to the days when the Union Movement was concerned about issues such as the environment.  Alas Jack Munday is gone and the idea of stopping a development project for the sake of the environment would be anathema to the CFMEU.  These days Union Officials seem to get in the media for misusing entitlements or making derogatory comments about their colleagues.  
  2. Frances noted that there were very few young people around.  Possibly that just means the moves by the organisers to prevent bootlegged tickets are working, but relying on the 50+ mob for an audience is a risk: the buggers keep dying!
  3. It seemed to me that a very high proportion of punters walking the 'streets' were wearing volunteer badges of hi-vis vests.  That probably means they haven't paid cash but donated time.  Fair enough; but it is a further financial pressure on the event.\
I will try to so some sampling to check up on points 2 and 3 on Day 2.

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