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The Folkie: More Than Just the Music

Bettina Richter

I would happily hang out at the National Folk Festival having only caught a smattering of music.

A quick cache of my favourite memories from the Folkie include in no particular order – dipping crunchy hot churros into hot chocolate on the way back to my caravan at 11pm at night, sipping ciders in the afternoon sun with a friend at the cider garden at The Scrumpy Bar on Easter Monday, and chancing upon flamenco guitarists busking in Central Park under lanterns late at night.

folk-festival-banners feature

I’ve eaten vegetarian in a teepee, joined in an African singing and dancing workshop, watched the art of dance seduction at the Tango Social Club in the Piazza, and eaten so much gozleme over a 5 day period that I can’t look at it again for another 12 months.

This year I’m looking forward to just simply hanging out at the Flute’n’Fiddle with old friends – listening to music, talking, laughing and scoffing down delicious German Kranskies stuffed with sauerkraut and German mustard. I want to discover just what’s on offer at the new FringeWorld precinct and also will make sure I catch a couple of acts in the divine Spiegel Zelt, a 100-year-old Spiegeltent from Belgium – anything you catch there is amazing. I’m also looking forward to absorbing some really interesting talks as there’s a number of fantastic authors and panel events to choose from this year.

Image by Ben Davies

Image by Ben Davies

Last year I took my kids to the Festival for the first time. My teenage daughter simply enjoyed roaming around the Festival dipping in and out of music venues, soaking up the atmosphere and grazing on offerings from the many street food stalls. My youngest daughter would have happily spent every single day of the Festival in the Community Arts area. She painted on murals, made sculptures and at a woodwork workshop built a fantastic home-made toy. They both created beautiful lanterns and on the Sunday night we joined the Festival Parade as it threaded its way through the Festival Village. We walked with people young and old from all walks of life to the sound of a loud street band. At the end of the parade we danced in the marketplace alongside a giant stilt-walker with a supersized paper mache guitar to Midnight Oil’s Beds Are Burning.

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Don’t miss out on experiencing the world-famous Session Bar which goes all day and into the night. Sometimes there’s still people there as the first glimmers of sun hits the festival flags. It’s like opening a secret door into a wild underground bar with musicians in every corner with violins, upright basses, guitars, percussion, and instruments of every flavour under the sun, jamming and sessioning on the floor, on chairs, against the wall, at the bar.

I always come back with one momento of clothing to remind me of that year’s National Folk Festival – there’s always something new and interesting to shop for which you can’t find anywhere else. Last year it was an up-cycled waistcoat and slouch pants which I discovered on the last day of the Festival. The year before I shopped at Melbourne designer stall Jude and came back with angled navy and grey layered tops and clothing. The first year my partner gifted me an incredible jacket from Planet Fab which I still wear today. You can buy exquisite hand-made leather journals, browse for a new hat at one of the outstanding milliners, and if you’re so inclined you can even return home with some burlesque-inspired nipple tassels for that special raunchy evening you’ve been planning.

folk festival food feature

And finally, what do I love about folk music? That folk music is for everyone. You don’t have to be an elite classical pianist or have completed your grade 8 violin exams to participate or perform. You just have to have a love of music, a love of life. That’s really what the folk life is about – celebrating who we are and what we can be.

the essentials

What: The National Folk Festival 2017
When: 13-17 April 2017
Where: Exhibition Park, Canberra
Tickets: Full season passes, day and evening passes available online at

HerCanberra are proud sponsors of the National Folk Festival 2017

Feature image: Conchillia. Images supplied.


Bettina Richter

Bettina Richter lives on the far south coast of NSW and works in the arts and music industry, working with artists, authors, theatre directors, musicians and filmmakers. She has an MA in Writing from UTS, has written and produced documentaries for ABC Radio National, been a producer and researcher for film and TV and has written for various publications over the years, including writing a regular column for Arts Hub. More about the Author