This March (6th-9th) marked the 39th anniversary of the prestigious Port Fairy Folk Festival, and this year’s line-up boasted some of the most diverse and engaging acts from around the world.

From Glasgow all the way to Virginia, folk musicians answered the call to perform, bringing top-notch music and multiculturalism to the cosy Great Ocean Road town.

It was my first time at the festival, and with my fold-out chair slung over my shoulder I trudged through the morning’s mud and into the kingdom of tents that backed onto the overflowing Southcombe Caravan Park.

There were impressively massive marques as far as the eye could see, pulsating to the pub-rock bands warming up inside of them. A whooping 30,000+ grey nomads and folkie families converged on the Cricket Club green clutching annual programs – veterans of the event marked out their four-day schedule with highlighters while the rest of us downloaded the official iPhone app.

The main festival site – The Arena – was set up along Campbell St and the adjacent camping ground, but other gig venues included the Surf Club, Fiddlers Green & Railway Place, Reardon Theatre, Lecture Hall, St John’s and St Pat’s.

100-odd volunteers ensured the days and nights went off without a hitch, while street performers and magicians kept the mood light in pop-up circus tents in the middle of the arena. There were workshops held on clogging and ukulele playing and instrument making sessions, as well as crafts for the kids and craft markets for the parents.

The music, however, was the main attraction, and here are my favourite acts from the long weekend…

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Steve Poltz

Perhaps the highlight of many people’s festival this year, uber friendly Canadian/San Diegoan folk singer Steve Poltz received standing ovations everywhere he went. Combining effortless fingerpicking with razor sharp, witty lyrics, Poltz charmed the pants off the Port Fairy Folk Festival. He peppered every song with long anecdotes about growing up and being ill (he had a stroke on stage four months ago!) and even though he’s 55, his childlike zest for life and a love of audience participation made him the most energetic and fun act around.

“It was my first time there,” Poltz told me. “I loved it. I just want to live inside that festival and never go anywhere else. They like to sing along, they like to listen, they like to jump up-and-down, and they like to throw chairs at each other.  Also they give me good food!”featured-marlon

Marlon Williams

The lanky Kiwi troubadour played against a backdrop of artificial stars, robed in a Deep South aesthetic with white jeans and a brown Fedora. He chatted effortlessly in between songs, ensuring the crowd that despite his dark musical themes he is in fact “a really happy guy” in reality. An eerie silence fell over the crowd in Stage 5 as he sung of murders, insane asylums and marriage breakdowns, with the broody ballad ‘That’s All I Can Remember’ seeming a particular favourite. The voice of an angel… if the angel had a dark side!295336-98154-34

Whitetop Mountaineers

Virginian partners Martha Spencer and Jackson Cunningham are as Southern as can be. Their shows featured old time country duet singing, up-tempo fiddle, mandolin and guitar instrumentals. Martha broke-out into traditional Appalachian dancing as Jackson played a fast-paced banjo solo. Together, the pair had seriously adorable Virginian accents, and combined with their hillbilly singing style, the result is was an authentic ragtime set. A delightful duo.Ross&Jarlath_0

Ross Ainslie & Jarlath Henderson

Having already seen the boys late last year at AWME (Australasian Worldwide Music Expo), Glaswegian duo Ross and Jarlath brought their high-octane Celtic set to the PFFF big stage. Joined by their regular touring guitarist Ali Hutton, the duo performed a mix of rousing, foot-stomping, head-banging pipe jigs and whistle ballads about rolling country sides and long lost love. Their sets were straight from the homeland, but not without a few nods to Australia. These came out most wonderfully through a bagpipe rendition of ‘Thunderstruck’ by AC/DC – which the crowd loved!

“PF was great!”, said Jarlath Henderson, 29. “A really cool fest with some cool bands and a really warm vibe. Aussie crowds were quite reserved I guess! They seemed really appreciative! It was great getting a chance to play for them, and hang!”.

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Gordie Mac Keeman and His Rhythm Boys

A funky and playful four-piece from Canada, Gordie Mac Keeman and His Rhythm Boys brought big smiles and a big bass to St Pat’s as the final act on Sunday night. Frontman Gordie went from tap dancing whilst playing the fiddle to jumping up onto the double bass in the finale, all the while beaming out at the cosy crowd from between two impressively massive sideburns. Bassist Thomas Webb and drummer Mark Geddes showed off their multi-instrumentalist skills by playing the bass together… Without looking. The talent of some people just makes you sick doesn’t it?

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Buffy Sainte-Marie

She may be 74 years old, but this Canadian legend can rock out! Famous for penning the Academy Award winning song ‘Up Where We Belong’ (covered by Joe Cocker for An Officer and a Gentleman) and ‘Universal Soldier’ (covered by Donovan), Sainte-Marie and her full band brought a rich mix of traditional Canadian-American Cree songs and rock-pop ballads. All of those at Stage 3 were toe-tapping to the singer-songwriter’s iconic mouth-bow on ‘Cripple Creek’, before Sainte-Marie took a big bow and left the stage dancing with her band. What a legend!

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Sinead O’Connor

Organisers believe approx. 5,000 festival goers clamoured to see Irish superstar Sinead O’Connor for her first performance at the festival. She came out in jeans and a beanie, controversially sporting a chunky crucifix and dog collar with tattoos visible on her neck and hands. She didn’t interact with the audience and had trouble with her earpiece, but her temperamental tendencies were almost completely forgiven when we heard her voice. Still a whispering Irish lilt with subtle trills, the packed crowd hung on her every line. She played classics such as ‘Thank-You’, ‘The Last Day of Our Acquaintance’, ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’ and, of course, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. She’s still got it.

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John Butler

His set on the Saturday afternoon was advertised as a solo performance, but after a few solitary songs John Butler invited his trio, We Two Thieves (which includes his wife Mama Kin) and Jeff Lang on stage for a sing-a-long. They crowded around the microphone much to the excitement of the standing room only crowd. Like one big musical family they sung folk tunes together, Kin and Butler’s harmonies rung out accompanied by Lang’s impromptu slide guitar melodies. A true warm-and-fuzzy moment for all in the tent.

 

Until next year Port Fairy folkie, Slán!