Illawarra folk festival has been going strong for thirty two years. It’s current home is The Bulli Showground, Bulli, New South Wales. Bulli is a suburb of Wollangong. It was a mining town and there’s much evidence of its heritage around the town and the festival. Bulli (it’s an Aboriginal word meaning “two mountains”) sits on the coast in the shadow of a tree-covered ridge (the Illawarra Escarpment).
Thurs 12th Jan.
Following the harmony and the songwriting workshops we did this morning we had a nanny nap to catch up on some much needed sleep back at Tim’s house. We were feeling a bit brighter when we returned to the festival site in the evening to play our first set of the festival.
We were on the bill for the taster event, which gives punters the chance to see a 15min spot by acts new to the festival. No time for a full sound check – plug in, test the mic and you’re off. This took place at 8.45pm on the Slacky Flat Stage. (Slacky Flat was an area named for the coal waste that used to wash down from Slacky Flat creek.)
The sound crew did a great job, they’d turned around an eleven piece band in about 10mins a few minutes before our set.
We did our 15 mins which seemed to go okay, some nice comments and a few cheers. We then had a beer (Coopers pale) and went home to bed. We were due on stage again at 10am the following morning.
Fri 13th, Both awake early. Fuss the dog, breakfast, fuss the dog, shower, fuss the dog, load gear into the car, fuss the dog, head for the festival. We’re now missing the dog.
Things get going early here, the first acts were playing at 9am. We’d thought that there’d be no one around to see us play at 10am but there was a respectable crowd in the Global Green Marquee for the start and it filled up nicely about tens minutes in.
They seem to like us, our CD pile is shrinking.
Later in the day we saw Christine Collister and Michael Fix on the Black Diamond stage. We’ve both been fans of Christine’s for over twenty years, but Michael was new to us. He’s a real class guitarist and can carry a lead vocal. They played a belting set, opening up with an Emmy-Lou Harris song “Deeper Well”.
We got the chance of a brief chat afterwards, Michael is an Aussie, but this (like us) was Christine’s first visit. Her husband has family here.
We also caught the wonderful Tim O’Brien. What a player and he seems a really nice bloke.
Sat 14th Jan
Hot, hot, hot oh man. Keep drinking the water. Here’s a thing. A lot of UK festivals, in fact festivals world wide, could learn something from Illawarra. This is the height of the Australian summer but no one on site will sell you a bottle of water. They don’t allow it. Music festivals are one of the biggest contributors to the mountains of plastic bottles that are slowly clogging up the seas. Illawarra are doing their bit. You can buy a drinks bottle or take your own and there’s a good supply of water stations where you can fill up free of charge.
We were due on stage at the Black Diamond Marquee at 2.15pm. At 1.30pm we were slowly cooking back stage and talking to George & Noriko, a Japanese blues duo like nothing else we’ve seen before. They had just finished a high energy set and the beautiful Noriko was sat on a chair bent double feeling decidedly unwell due to heat stroke. Oh bugger.
It was okay, they had four or five fans on stage, giving the impression that you were playing in a fan oven. Despite rubbing half a bottle of talcum powder in his hands, Dave’s fret board was still covered in sweat and, although she spent the night with her hair in rags to give it a nice curl, Kip’s hair was straight and plastered to her head ten minutes into the set. All of which was forgotten when we saw the queue at the CD stand. While we were there a chap came up to Dave and said “I’m a mate of Phil Biggs, he says hello.” Small world.
We hung around to watch Tim O’Brien again. He was every bit as good as yesterday. He could have screwed up once just to make us feel better. Selfish swine.
Sun 15th Jan
It’s raining, I want my money back. Fussed the dog.
The rain had stopped by the time we reached the Honey Eaters Lounge which was the site for our final gig of the festival. They have a shuttle bus to take you up the hill to Honey Eaters, which is great as it would have been a bind lugging the gear up there on foot. There’s a stall up there called the Tantric Turtle and it makes the best mug of “wake up you bastard” coffee we’ve ever had. No sleep until Tuesday. On the bill just before us was a great duo from Brisbane called “Out of Abingdon” Tina plays really cool double bass and Warwick plays smokey jazz/blues on the guitar, they both sing. Great music for a chilled out Sunday afternoon. Just before our set Dave went looking for the toilets. No sign where we were so he went further up the hill to the next venue thinking there would be some there. There wasn’t but you did get a cracking view of the toilets situated about thirty yards down the hill from where we were sat.
The gig was very loose and a lot of fun, we finished with a good crowd and another CD queue, happy days.
Hats off to Mr David De Santi and his team for staging a smashing festival. No hassles, very friendly and some great music.
Ps Check out Melbourne band Tinpan Orange, very different and very good (thanks fo Moor & Coast Cris for the tip)
Also we got to see Andy Irvine and Luke Plumb play a blinder on Sunday afternoon