- WHAT: Tamar Valley Folk Festival.
- WHEN: January 18 – 20.
- WHERE: George Town Centre.
- HOW MUCH: Weekend $100, concession $95; Saturday $60, concession $55;
- Sunday $50, concession $45, plus tickets for individual events available.
- TICKETS: ticketebo.com.au/tamarfolk
- STAY: Camping available, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
For the first time, the long-running Tamar Valley Folk Festival will be in competition with Mona Foma with patrons.
But headliner Damien Leith isn’t too worried.
The former Australian Idol winner and Irish expatriate reckons the George Town weekend will be embodiment of “craic”.
“Folk festivals are always – in Ireland we call it the craic,” he said.
“It means a lot of things, but overall, it means just, fun.
“It’s generally linked to music, singing and dancing. They’ll all say ‘the craic is mighty.’ That means the atmopshere is incredible. If you say something’s great craic, it’s just amazing.
“The craic is always mighty at a folk festival. You can’t compare it to any other festival.”
Folk festivals are one of his favourite settings to perform for two reasons.
The first is the music itself – the “sparseness” of a storyteller accompanied by just an acoustic instrument. That’s the best way to draw the audience in to the heart and soul of a song, he believes.
The second reason is that they’re just really fun.
“When it comes to getting right down to the nitty-gritty, when it comes to getting to the real stuff, the songwriting, there’s nothing like a folk festival,” he said.
“There really, truly, isn’t.”
The Tamar Valley Folk Festival has been running since 1992 at George Town, taking place this year from January 18 – 20.
Damien Leith will be joined by the Heart Collectors, Jim Brown, the Dixie Chooks, Jacob Boote, the New Holland Honey Eaters, and Innocent Eve, among 26 acts in total.
One local musician is Tony Newport, who will be performing the show Fathers along with Vince Brophy.
The show is an exploration of the themes of fatherhood and masculinity in folk music, and was born of Newport’s journey in coming to terms with his relationship with his own father.
“My father lived a pretty hard life,” he said.
“He wasn’t a particularly...responsible kind of a person. But he was still my father.
“He worked up on the North-West, right at the tip of Australia, around Port Hedland and those sort of places. I worked up there for a little while as well.
“All those contractors camps, they were all men. Men from all over the world. Aussie blokes, some were married, some weren’t – it was a pretty interesting place to be.
“And so that generation – I think a lot of them were lonely, is what I really think. And sometimes music is the only way men get to express their emotions. ”
If there’s one song that reminds Newport of his father among all others, it’s ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’, popularised by Johnny Cash.
The track is a benchmark of the simple, sad honesty that typifies the best folk songs – four minutes and ten seconds of the regret and self-loathing of an alcoholic, against the restrained plucking of an acoustic guitar and some strings.
Newport figured that if the song, and others like it, are able to help him understand his father when words fail, then surely others are in a similar position.
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The importance of these types of songs is a phenomenon he noticed while busking in Launceston.
“I was playing in the mall once, and there was a girl there, she would have been about 15, and she looked like she was doing it pretty tough,” he said.
“I was singing a Johnny Cash song, and she came over and gave me two dollars.
“I don’t reckon she had a lot of money.
“So, I reckon that song meant something to her. Music touches all of us in certain ways, and these kind of songs, they’re very powerful.
“Occasionally people will come up and they’ll say, ‘I used to sing that with my dad in the car’, and the way they say it, you’ll think, maybe dad’s gone.
“So you’ve got to do a bloody good job.”
His set will features songs by Kris Kristofferson, Paul Simon, Jimmy Buffett, Warren Zevon, Johnny Cash, and Leonard Cohen, among others.
That generation – I think a lot of them were lonely, is what I really think. And sometimes music is the only way men get to express their emotions.Tony Newport
Damien Leith is planning on taking in as much of the other acts as possible at the festival.
But along with taking the chance to reflect, the way the more down-turned folk songs invite one too, he will also be celebrating.
After all, the day he performs will be his 43rd birthday.
And he’s happy to spend it in Tasmania.
“It’s one of my favourite places to perform,” he said.
“It really is, I love Tasmanian audiences.
“They really get behind the music, and they’re there for a good time.
“I like to have a bit of fun on stage, it’s not just about the music it’s about the chat, and the stories, I like to try and link it all together, and I find in Tasmania the shows all really go down really well.”
His set will be a whole mixture of his back catalogue, from his 2018 album Gospel, to the songs made famous by his winning stint on Australian Idol 12 years ago, to a new song that will be included on his forthcoming album of originals.
[In Ireland] they’ll all say ‘the craic is mighty.’ That means the atmosphere is incredible. If you say something’s great craic, it’s just amazing - and the craic is always mighty at a folk festival.Damien Leith
“A folk festival isn’t asking you to do anything specific, it’s just asking you to get down to the songs,” he said.
“You can really create a setlist of just great songs that have good stories to them.”
The Tamar Valley Folk Festival is a not-for-profit community-based festival that includes music, song, dance, poetry, and musicians in the street on Saturday morning.
It has grown from Irish roots to encompass folk music in all its forms, and includes the Tamar as one of its major drawcards.
Expect “the picturesque setting by the river to come alive,” said co-organiser Christine Atwell.
Damien Leith will be playing at 2.30pm on Saturday, January 19, as well as at the Welcome Concert in Friday night at 7pm.
Tony Newport and Vince Brophy will perform Fathers on Saturday, January 19, at 10.15am.
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