As any British festival-goer will know, the itinerary for a musical weekend is usually filled with drunken dashes from one stage to another in order to catch an earful of the headline acts, interspersed with a few wild-card entrants that are highlighted on a mud-splattered schedule.
Fairbridge Folk Festival is pretty much the exact opposite of this, with most bands playing several times in various venues over three days and some of the artists actually holding songwriting workshops.
Can you imagine Alex Turner discussing chord progressions in a tipi at Glastonbury? Or Slash giving a shredding tutorial to under-12s at Leeds? How about Pete Doherty giving an inebriated poetry reading at Secret Garden Party? Actually, come to think of it, that one may have already happened…
Those who arrive early for the Friday night warm-up session are treated to the supercharged funk of Dilip N The Davs. The charismatic bandleader positing himself as a reggae-tinged Frank Black, as he commands a band containing a particularly prodigious lead guitarist through a blend of ska and roots tunes that start the festival with a funky bang.
Seizing the party torch, Melbourne dancefloor band Flap! ensure that no foot is left un-shuffled with a rambunctious mix of brass folk and calypso songs.
Travelling 9,000 miles to one of the world’s sunniest countries would usually ensure that a festival-going Londoner avoids the possibility of rain permeating the weekend of music. Usually. Nonetheless, the driving rain that arrived on late Saturday morning failed to stop play as crowds braved heavy weather to nip between acts.
Groups playing venues with the most cover see a spike in their attendance numbers as poncho-clad folk-lovers refuse to let the wet dampen their spirits.
Keeping spirits aloft, Celtic rockers The Borderers imbue their performance with a sense of urgent frivolity, effortlessly segueing from the sing-along stomp of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ to The Proclaimers’ ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ via a couple of their own high-octane creations.
Tinpan Orange earn their title as Fairbridge favourites by returning with the same deft musicianship and hypnotic stage presence that has won them so many fans over the previous years.
Statuesque frontwoman Emily Lubitz twirls her trademark auburn locks as the Melbourne band showcase a selection of pretty and intelligent songs that are of a much higher quality than your standard indie fare.
An honourable mention must go to Belleville Gypsy Swing who, despite the glorious sunshine that graces Sunday’s morning, begin playing the Mandja Marquee stage to a miniscule audience.
Their lively mix of Parisian gypsy swing and Django Reinhardt originals soon fills the previously empty tent, with punters cramming in from all sides to dance at the front of the stage.
Seasoned performer Kevin Dempsey offers a masterclass in solo musicianship, taking a one-man-and-his-guitar approach to cover a wide variety of traditional folk songs in The Loft, his dextrous skill on the fretboard emanating one gorgeous melody after another.
Any Aussie festival wouldn’t be complete without a few kangaroos hopping throughout the campsite, prompting hackneyed folk-inspired Crocodile Dundee impressions all round (“That’s not a banjo, that’s a banjo!”).
One notable element of Fairbridge is the huge amount of buskers that are peppered around the festival, some of them barely out of nappies. These swarms of seemingly feral children serenade passersby with any instrument that they can get their hands on, some simply crooning their favourite tunes a capella with a dollar-filled hat next to their feet.
Hedonists who have been jaded by one too many piss-and-vinegar festivals in the UK may consider this as "wholesome" taken to the nth degree. Yet while some may consider certain parts of the festival to be unbearably twee, there are hordes of folk fans that will see Fairbridge as a Mecca for good, clean, family fun. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t let Pete Doherty anywhere near the Youthopia stage…
Words: David Harfield
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