DIARY - 5 FEBRUARY 2005 - PORT FAIRY FOLK FESTIVAL
FANS GET FOLKED
Age fuelled bonfire over the menu of the recent Melbourne International
Music Festival has been a bonus for organisers of the 29th Port Fairy
Age writers Patrick Donovan and Jo Roberts suggested that perhaps
the faded, jaded rockers booked for the festival had lost pulling
And they reported that Shotgun Willie Nelson, who had cancelled at
the 11th hour, was not selling many tickets.
They also added that Roachford, Marie Gabriel and Gretchen Wilson
"meant little to the Australian audience."
And, on top of that, there was a revelation that $435,000 of our taxpayers'
money was used to underwrite the concert.
This enabled the festival promoters to defend their musical menu with
an explanation on some other acts that hit the cutting room floor
in the heat of booking battles.
Daryl Herbert named Crosby, Stills & Nash, Reverend Al Green, Dave
Mathews, Supertramp and Mark Knopfler among the Coodabeens.
"It's very tough in the city," Herbert said.
"If you put the Port Fairy Folk Festival on in Melbourne I don't
think anyone would go.
People generally commit to festivals with a destination. Mentally they
want to completely tune out of their entire life and think I'm going away."
I'll return to that debate later.
But let's dissect the country artists first.
to be pedantic Willie, 71, had a year added to his age in The Age.
But that's splitting braids as he turns 72 on April 30.
From my meagre 39 years experience writing on music, crime, sport and
other matters of state in the unlucky radio country there are constant
factors in outdoor festivals.
Country fans, perhaps more tuned to the vagaries of weather than city
peers, tend to make decisions much closer to the date.
They flocked to see Willie and band on his debut 1981 Aussie tour at outdoor
venues in Melbourne and Sydney.
But on those occasions Willie was sharing the bill with country artists
- not rockers.
They knew they would hear at least two hours of Willie without having
to sit through pop, rock etc.
But not even a bright sunny summer day could lure more than about 4,000
fans to see the legendary Merle Haggard in 1994.
And the veteran outlaw had a full cast of popular country artists as supports.
triumphant return of expatriate Australasian country superstar Keith
Urban was a key factor this year.
Tickets for Urban's concert at the comfortable Palais went on sale
long before those of the festival.
And, when country fans learned of Willie's cancellation, many chose
to see Geelong born country star Adam Harvey headline the 16th Bunyip
The Myer Music Bowl promoters, perhaps wisely, opted for a Daddy Cool
reunion as a Tsunami benefit to prime the sales pump.
Ross Wilson's quartet, a genuine talent not over exposed by Melba
comebacks, had a lot more clout than Cold Chisel, Billy Thorpe or
But the real
litmus test is timing - all the refried rock artists had more appeal to
their demographic when I saw them at Sunbury, Mulwala and Myponga festivals
in the seventies.
wouldn't argue with the suggestion that Redneck Woman Gretchen Wilson
"meant little to the audience."
That audience was rock, pop and blues fans raised on hits and memories
But, with four million albums sold in less than a year and best female
country singer gong at 47th Grammy Awards on the eve of the gig, she
was eminently marketable.
And certainly the most relevant and contemporary artist on the entire
As the last days of summer rolled by Wilson, 31, was moved down the
billing - not up as she was entitled to be - and received very little
a small Canadian sourced feature in the Sunday Herald Sun and an 11th
hour feature in The Age EG magazine.
Gretchen's only metropolitan electronic media exposure was a high profile
Today show cameo on the Nine Network, a video clip and interview on Nu
Country TV and exposure on the rapidly growing Pay TV network CMC.
She deserved much more.
In fairness to the Tsunami promoters Gretchen had a prime spot on the
show after the popular roots artist Michael Franti who also won an enthusiastic
And, as mine host Michael Chugg, told the audience she planned a return
tour in 12 months.
For Chugg she was a work in progress.
And he was rewarded by a dynamic performance by Wilson and her seven-piece
band replete with pedal steel, fiddle, dobro and lap steel.
Once sound mixers beefed up her vocals the audience responded wildly to
her but it's debatable whether many would have known a cheating from a
But for the hard core of country fans who didn't opt out for Bunyip she
was the breath of fresh air so desperately needed.
FAIRY - THE REAL COUNTRY ALTERNATIVE
Kane & Kevin Welch
Photo by Kevin Rafferty
Now we reach
the pinnacle of this saga whose embryo emerged in this computer so many
Melbourne International Music Festival Promoter Herbert had more than
an element of truth in his views on Port Fairy - but for vastly different
reasons as you're probably already aware.
Port Fairy preceded all of the mushrooming suburban and rural festivals
- with the exception of the reborn Wandong fest this weekend - and grew
at its own pace.
Yes, of course, music lovers prefer the bush to the city and suburbs to
soak up their music of choice.
But that's only if they can find suitable transport and accommodation.
And it's a helluva lot more user friendly listening to country, folk,
blues and world music on the Shipwreck Coast than the traffic choked cities.
Just don't head east back to Melbourne on Highway One - try the Hamilton
Highway through Mortlake or take a longer weekend.
But apart from the hard reality that there has long been far more musical
choice at Port Fairy than city festivals there's also the ease of movement.
Most artists - especially headliners such as Janis Ian, Kevin Welch, Kieran
Kane & Fats Kaplin - don't just perform once for maybe 40 minutes.
Many perform more than once a day, often in different configurations and
venues, and you can pre-plan your aural pleasure by consulting the lavish
This means that the customer can hear up to 20 or 30 artists a day - depending
on their stamina, not necessarily that of the artist.
And country and folk artists, unlike rock peers, are keen to prime their
sales pump by signing their wares.
Michael Franti was the gregarious autograph giver at the Bowl and a beacon
to many elitist and precious pop ponies who gallop away at the approach
of a fan.
Mind you country and folk fans have good reason to be prolific meters
and greeters - they receive no mainstream airplay and on site CD stalls
are their best fan conduit.
has long blended major country artists - international and local - into
its stellar line-up as the years progressed.
Texan troubadours Guy Clark, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Mississippi
born Kate Campbell, banjo playing MBA Alison Brown, fiddler Andrea Zoon,
Eric Bibb and Ramblin Jack Elliott are among the past vast cast of international
is Kevin Welch, now on his seventh Australian tour, and partners
Kieran Kane and Fats Kaplin.
Janis Ian might be best known as a folkie and Harlem classmate of
Bibb but she has been writing and recording country for more than
a decade with her songs covered by a brace of mainstream and Americana
artists and also in movies such as Falling From Grace that featured
former singing postie John Prine.
international country tinged acts include Ben Weaver, Serena Ryder
(a support for Steve Earle on his 2004 tour), and Canadian artists
The Laws and Kim Barlow.
< Serena Ryder
Australian singer-songwriter Anne McCue, making a return tour, is also
performing to promote her solo disc Roll on Shock.
HOME GROWN TALENT
Waifs, back this year, were booked at Port Fairy long before they
became a major international export on Brown's record label Compass,
now housed in the Nashville building that was a recording font for
the country outlaw movement of the seventies.
So is Shipwreck Coast born and bred singer-songwriter Shane Howard
whose seventh solo album Another Country is a pure country disc.
Sister Marcia Howard and fellow Goanna singer and pianist Rose Bygrave
often join the band's co-founder on the bill.
Award winning Grafton country star Troy Cassar-Daley who cut Shane's
Goanna hit Factory Man as the first single off his fifth album Borrowed
& Blue, is also on the bill.
Shane also duets live with Troy on River Boy - a Cassar Daley song
whose video has been shown on Nu Country TV.
Guitar award winning Sunraysia born singer Sara Storer also debuts at
Port Fairy this year with debutant Golden Guitar winning trio Bella who
debuted at Bunyip in 2004.
The Davidson Brothers, fresh from Kentucky, Tamworth and the Nu Country
Arts Centre concert, also play concerts and workshops this year.
Others returning to Port Fairy include expatriate Glaswegian Alex Legg,
Perth band Sensitive New Age Cowpersons, Darwin damsels the Toe Sucking
Cowgirls, Marissa Yeaman, Flaming Locos, Dirty Lucy, Prayer Babies and
Other artists such as Dead Livers and Paul Hicks and High Kings work the
pub circuit in the historic Shipwreck Coast village.
And Dan Robinson - singer for the Wild Cherries, Virgil Bros and pioneer
Australian outlaw country band Hit & Run fronts the festival in his
latter day role as a luthier.
Robinson, son of a late Warrnambool dentist, also performed in country
bands with singing chef and Nu Country FM DJ Julieann Vila.
Further info and full artist
details - www.portfairyfolkfestival.com
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