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Celebrating 50 Years of the National Folk Festival

Molly McLaughlin

The National Folk Festival is described as five days in a perfect world, and with acts like Nancy Kerr and The Young’uns from the UK, Steve Poltz from the US and Australian favourites Skipping Girl Vinegar and All Our Exes Live in Texas, this year it is going to be pretty darn close to perfect.

The festival has had its home in Canberra since 1992, but it began as the Port Phillip District Folk Music Festival in 1967 with a start-up budget of just $100. Police were on the scene in case of any riotous behaviour inspired by the folk music, but unsurprisingly they weren’t required to subdue anyone. In 1969 it became a travelling festival, visiting a different state each year until it became so extensive and popular that it needed a permanent location.

Now, the festival spans five days and nights at Exhibition Park in Canberra over the Easter long weekend. It is a celebration of traditional and contemporary folk culture that draws crowds from all over Australia, with over 46 000 attendees over the whole weekend and 13 000 volunteers.

At the launch of the 2016 festival at the National Library, singer–songwriter Enda Kelly performed a diverse set that included a song he wrote about being lost in IKEA, but also a tribute to post-World War immigrants in Australia. Enda is a regular at the National Folk festival and will perform with Dave O’Neill who spent many years as Artistic Director at the National Folk Festival.

Canberra locals Black Mountain String Band also gave the audience a preview of the joyful energy that will explode onto the stage at the Folk Festival. The members of Black Mountain String Band played fiddles, banjos, guitar and double bass and crowded around the microphone to perform songs that are an original take on the long tradition of folk and bluegrass music.

Five Reasons To Get Folked in 2016

All Our Exes Live in Texas

All Our Exes Live in Texas are a Sydney band that combines mandolin, ukelele, accordion and guitar into four-part folk heaven. With their debut album due for release in mid-2016, the Exes performance will be a highlight of the Folk Festival.


Every day at the Folk Festival there will be a myriad of delectable food stalls including kransky, gozleme, japanese pancakes to satisfy your festive food cravings.

Just for Laughs

Sparrow-Folk, the musical comedy duo that describes themselves as ‘Kath and Kim on citric acid’, will be bringing their award-winning, literally laugh-out-loud cabaret show SuBIRDia to the Folk Festival.

The Speigel Zelt

The Spiegel Zelt is 97-year-old, fully transportable theatre from Belgium that is an attraction of its own and will host a variety of amazing shows throughout the festival; especially featuring the more edgy and intimate acts on the bill.

Bring The Kids!

One of the most exciting features of the kids program is Larry Brandy, an aboriginal storyteller. Larry Brandy is a Wiradjuri man who enjoys sharing his culture with people of all ages and invites kids to join him as they learn together.

There is so much happening that it would be impossible to describe it all, with 18 stages of folk music and 116 market stalls and events ranging from henna and crochet workshops to circus, dance and spoken word performances, so make sure you check out the full program here.


Molly McLaughlin

Molly McLaughlin was less than thrilled to move to Canberra a couple of years ago to study Arts and Economics at ANU, but she can confirm the city has grown on her since then. Along with writing for HerCanberra, she spends her time reading, eating noodles and planning her next adventure. More about the Author