Tony Hillier

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Issue #4 September 22nd 2009: Yungaburra Folk Festival



The line-up for this year’s Yungaburra Folk Festival, set down for the weekend of October 23-25, might have been assembled by a fresh new program director this year, but there are some familiar faces on the bill.

Khalida Foster (formerly de Ridder), the award-winning fiddle genius at the heart of the Evenish trio, who has taken on the onerous role of chief selector, has opted for some tried and tested acts as her headliners.

Yungaburra regulars will acclaim the return of proven crowd-pleasers Kristina Olsen and Totally Gourdgeous.

Your correspondent is personally thrilled by an encore booking for Kamerunga, whose appearance at Yungaburra last year kick-started a fabulous run of festival dates that, thankfully, shows no sign of abating and has the Cairns band’s debut CD, ‘The Push’, in the running for ARIA and ABC awards.

MoantribeTotally Gourdgeous

From a punter’s perspective, this inveterate world music buff is especially thrilled by the prospect of catching the Saruzu Quartet and Jaleos Flamenco, and Mara & Llew Kiek of the renowned band Mara!

Few Aussie acts have flown the flag as far and wide as Mara & Llew over the past couple of decades. Calculations reveal that the Sydneysiders have played no fewer than 21 different countries in as many years and toured Europe a dozen times. They’ve performed at some of the world’s most prestigious festivals, including a raft of WOMADs. They’ve also been involved in musical events at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games, and have two ARIA Awards to their credit.

The Mara! band and its precursor, the early ‘eighties group Tansey’s Fancy, championed world music in this country long before the term was coined by marketing wallahs. Not that they ever saw themselves as pioneers. “We were just having a great time, exploring new exciting music,” says Mara modestly.

In a nutshell, Mara & Llew ( take instrumental, voice and dance styles from the Mediterranean, Middle East and Eastern Europe, and add contemporary influences, improvisation and arrangement. Their music is as exhilarating as it is exotic.

Flamenco, the fiery art form of Andalucia, is another music idiom close to this punter’s heart, and Saruzu Quartet and Jaleos Flamenco have a pedigree that guarantees authenticity. At the centre of both groups is Brisbane-based guitar maestro Andrew Veivers, who dazzled solo at the festival a few years ago.

Apart from their own shows, the flamenco troupes will participate in the Festival’s Opening Ceremony and conduct the Fire Ceremony on Saturday night.

Other exciting acts appearing at Yungaburra for the first time this year are the renowned Celtic collective Trouble in the Kitchen, who have a long history of festival performances, the 2009 ‘Young Folk Artist of the Year’, guitarist-singer-harmonica player Kim Churchill, reggae group The Bandawalla Moons and the Patrick Levi Band, a hip young act from Moa Island, in the Torres Strait.

Local acts to look out for include: Agnuremak, an amalgamation of three bands  (Beamish, Mangrove Jack and The Stunned Mullets); the female three-part harmony trio Belladonna; Danny Ross, a finger-style guitarist in the traditional of Davey Graham, Bert Jansch and Nick Drake; teenage prodigy Heather Angell (the next Emma-Louise!); The Hillbillygoats; the always excellent singer-songwriter Jeremiah and the ever enchanting veteran balladeer Joon Graham.

Besides the aforementioned Kamerunga band, the festival will be welcoming back the aptly-named Pugsley Buzzard, whose stride piano and gravel-laden Dr John vocals proved a winning combination last year, the excellent Dublin-born singer-songwriter Enda Kenny and his Melbourne band, and the wicked stand-up comedian Sorrensen (aka ‘S’).

American singer-songwriter Kristina Olsen has captivated Australian audiences in general and Yungaburra festivalgoers in particular for well over a decade now with her songs of love, loss and life in general. A fine instrumentalist in her own right (acoustic guitar, steel-body slide guitar, saxophone, concertina and piano) as well as being a master songwriter with a commanding bluesy voice, La Olsen has, in fact, wooed audiences around the world with a mix of strong songs in the troubadour tradition.

Apart from having an arsenal of strong self-penned songs to throw at an audience, plus the odd well-chosen cover, Olsen is a consistently consummate performer and entertainer. Her sets are skilfully structured; her songs interspersed with intelligent patter and the best line in self-deprecating humour this side of Richard Thompson and Loudon Wainwright, artists she admires incidentally.

A big secret of her success is never taking an audience for granted. As she observes: “It isn’t just a question of standing there and performing. It’s a living, breathing thing between the audience and the performer. The audience gives a lot back; it’s a real vibrant thing to feel what’s going on in an audience and react to that.”

Totally Gourdgeous, making their third Yungaburra appearance in five years, is a truly unique band which plays instruments made of gourds by one of its members. They have to be seen in a live situation to be fully appreciated. Comprising four gun musicians who are also excellent singers in both the lead and harmony departments, they cross myriad musical and lyrical boundaries with an infectious, Goonish sense of humour.

The licensed Pavilion in the Park and the Community Hall will once again combine to provide contrasting venues for the main acts.

Sadly, this year’s festival might be without its traditional “craic HQ” — viz, the balcony of the Lake Eacham Hotel — for the first time in its long history. At the time of writing, it seemed unlikely that the stately old pub, which recently went to auction, would be re-opened in time for the big weekend.

Thankfully, the Ergon Energy Children’s Festival, Youth Bands and blackboard concerts remain a cornerstone of “the small festival with a big heart”.

For a run-down of all the festival performers and other information. including ticket prices, proceed to:

Tony Hillier