Cygnet Folk Festival 2013
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Cygnet Folk Festival 2013

Fun for the whole family. Seriously!


Jerry Seinfeld once said there was no such thing as fun for the whole family, but Cygnet Folk Festival comes pretty bloody close.

For the littlies, jumping castles, craft workshops and a Kids’ Stage keeps them free-ranging for most of the weekend. For the old folkies, there are trad sessions and performers who sing 5-minute songs after telling 15-minute stories. For the cheapskates, there’s a bunch of free stuff on the lawn area known as the grassy knoll.

For everybody else, the music ranges from shimmeringly magnificent to shitfully mediocre. Of course, nobody would say that at Cygnet because it’s “the friendly festival”, so patrons just politely leave after the first song. It’s kinda nice, actually.

But back to the shimmering ones.

I caught Brisbane based bluegrass quartet The Company on the opening night in one of the three church venues. And it was sacred, witnessing seventh generation fiddler George Jackson’s fingers rapidly spidering along the neck of his instrument while his bandmates sang in three-part harmony.

Lily and King are an act to watch. Sounding like the spawn of ABC's Dirtgirl and an absinthe-drinking gypsy, Lily and King share bits and pieces of a garage sale drum kit, while punishing a toy piano, trombone, nylon string guitar and djembe. Dance, you dreadlocked dirtchildren.

Shortly after, Mal Webb was in the Kids’ Area teaching tots to beatbox and make face noises. It was riotous, three year-olds stamping on loop pedals while spitting out “bouncy cats, bouncy cats”. The grown ups missed out on that one.

Meanwhile, in pubs and secret locations to which I was not privy, dozens of seasoned musicians sat in on “sessions”, which involve playing lots of old “tunes”. These musicians have committed bazillions of these diddly-diddly tunes to memory and can pick a melody within a second or two. Tunes are divided into section A and section B, with tune sets involving three or more tunes stuck together. There. Now you know.

With a name like The Perch Creek Family Jug Band, I was anticipating a swag of cute southern American anachronisms, but hoo-ee this band of siblings was fun! A one-legged saw player, dirty fingernailed siblings making music from jugs, hilarious stage banter, the deeprooted classics and tender new songs. Down your hoe and look ’em up.

But it was the fella from central Australia, Pitjantjara songwriter Frank Yamma, whose music will stay with me. Yamma is evidence that behind every beautiful thing there is some kind of pain. Words cannot convey the aching grandeur of a song like When You Gonna Stop Drinking, performed in front of the venue’s standard painted backdrop – as it so happens – of the First Fleet.

Songs from the middle of the desert, bouncy cats, drunk gypsy dancing and traditional tunes: Fun for the whole family indeed. I’ll be back.
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