With a convivial and inclusive atmosphere and a diverse range of local and international artists on offer, the Port Fairy Folk Music Festival is an essential annual event for the dedicated music lover.
The swinging vintage tunes, quirky humour and vibrant showmanship of the tea-drinking, sharply dressed Pokey LaFarge kick-started our festive weekend in style. The heady and wonderfully nostalgic sound was lapped up by an enthusiastic audience. The rollicking and suitably high-spirited Drinkin’ Whiskey Tonight featured a thumpingly good upright bass solo, smokin’ horns and nifty guitar.
The all-chick a capella group Ginger and Tonic put some doo-wop lip into several covers and originals. They swapped their roles around but primarily we had the bassist who held time with percussive notes (and sometimes plain beat-boxed), the lead melody maker, and the other two harmonising. Beatbox gal absolutely nailed the rap in Whatta Man by Salt ‘n’ Pepa.
Archie Roach packed out stage 3 for his first performance of the festival – we squished ourselves into the skin of the tent hoping we wouldn’t get kicked out. Roach has the very slow natural vibrato of a bona fide vocalist, and the crowd was also hanging on his every spoken word between songs, despite the fact he isn’t exactly a fluid orator. He also gesticulates when he sings, as if he is speaking. It was a special set.
After that it was time for Ash Grunwald, whom I historically do not like because he’s a smug little thing, isn’t he, but I shall be totally honest here and say he roasted his set to a crispy, spicy, tender loin. He’s probably a vego but I still think the analogy is apt. His stomp junk percussion and Delta blues jams made the whole tent bounce, then he’d bring it down super slow so that we could build up to frenzy again. Jolly good show old mate.
Chris Wilson was totally brilliant of course, and his lead guitarist Barb Waters, whom he’s obviously enamoured with, was nailing all the big chordal rock-out work. I think they were both impressed with our tireless dancing, too. “It’s Saturday, FFS,” Chris said. “No little chairs or professional people clogging up the place.” I may have quit taking notes at that point.
Ben Salter (who has performed at previous festivals as part of The Wilson Pickers and The Gin Club) proved to be one of the many memorable highlights of a weekend that was awash with musical treats and some exceptionally tasty Guinness. Armed with acoustic guitar, poetic lyrics and soaring vocals, Salter delivered thoughtful songs that both mesmerised and charmed. Like Roy Harper, Salter possesses an epic voice that immerses the listener in the emotional heart of each song. His stripped-back reinterpretation of Bobby Darrin’s Dream Lover cleverly unlocked the song’s emotional core.
Tousle-haired troubadour Rory McLeod told rambling and entertaining tales, played the spoons on his head, made the harmonica wail and raised our spirits with his humane lyrics and idiosyncratic tunes that are so full of his effervescent passion for life. There’s something very loveable about McLeod whose warm, entertaining and unaffected “blethering” places each song into context and ensures that there are no barriers between performer and audience. Then 1960’s Aussie pop sensation Normie Rowe, whose vocal cords have lost none of their power, treated us to classics such as It Ain’t Necessarily So which sounded fresh and vibrant even after all these years.
That hilarious and multi-talented quirk-master Mal Webb instructed us on the benefits of using “nose oil” to get the appropriate action when wielding a guitar, exposed us to the trippin’ world of sideways yodelling and freaked us out with a glimpse into the strange life of “water bears”. This joyful eccentric showcased a unique verbal, vocal and instrumental dexterity that was nothing short of dazzling. With wild fiddle and addictive beats The Twoks generated a hot fusion of folk and dance while Jack Carty impressed with a vocal style reminiscent of Thom Yorke and Jeff Buckley.
Sunday morning Buddah in a Chocolate Box gave us a really gorgeous soundtrack to burn alive to – Fiddler’s Green was still completely packed despite the temperature, perhaps because they’re Port Fairy locals who have played the pubs for eight years, and finally got themselves a spot in the 2014 festival. They proffer unaffected, infectious grooves and beautiful folk sagas with a story inside each one. Singer Adrian Calvano sounds very like Jakob Dylan, with a raspy growl that can lead a fragile breakdown, then shoot up into a roar when the violin gets jiggy.
That night the happy little Irish Glen Hansard sent several hundred harpoons straight through people’s hearts, I think. “This is a song about someone you love making the same mistakes over and over, and you’re trying to rephrase the advice you give, that you’ve given before, and they’re going yep, yep, yep.” Good Lord, how special and relatable is that? The rawness of his singing voice and his themes are so world-affirming you’ve got to adore the man.
The swashbuckling Gleny Rae Virus (resplendent in red boots and a sequinned dress) and her nattily attired Playboys sung about pirates, New Orleans and the Rio Carnival whilst creating a lounge vibe that was ideal for a Sunday night.
Daniel Champagne displayed an attention-grabbing physicality as he conjured intricate melodies and rhythms from his guitar while Love Over Gold featured wonderful vocal harmonies and the warm chemistry between Pieta Brown and Lucie Thorne. Both Daniel Champagne and Love Over Gold expressed their appreciation for the Port Fairy audiences whose attentiveness remains one of the many highlights of this world-class festival.
BY GRAHAM BLACKLEY & ZOË RADAS
LOVED: The friendly atmosphere.
DRANK: Guinness, Red Duck Pale Ale and Red Duck Porter.