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11 Apr 2018


Cruising from tent to tent and stage to stage at a music festival will always turn up a surprise act.

A musician or band you didn’t know about, or one you didn’t know was even on the program. That’s the beauty of festivals – they can take you out of your comfort zones and lead you into unchartered territory.

Finding new music at a music festival is an adventure in itself.

The National Folk Festival (NFF) in Canberra over the Easter long weekend was no let down when it came to that.

With literally hundreds of acts performing over five days, discovering new music was a cert.

Here are just a few. Check them out online … or when they are next performing at a venue near you.

The Northern Folk, from Melbourne were a real find. Think Mumford and Sons… but maybe better. Eleven musicians turning folk songs into stomp rock, with brass included.

Acoustic duo Ryanhood from Boston were sponsored at the NFF by the USA Embassy and they were infectious. Mixing guitar and rocked up mandolin with fine vocals, these guys had audiences stomping. They even paid tribute to their favourite band Midnight Oil by covering a song or two of theirs.

Steve Poltz is a favourite of mine, but he was new for people I was with. And they couldn’t believe what they were seeing and hearing This Canadian-turned-Southern-Californian is a genius…. even if a little unhinged. Switching from beautiful ballad to crazy narrative in an instant, Poltz had his audiences right where he wanted them. His performances were funny, sad, beautiful and mesmerising all at the same time. Simply stunning.

One great surprise was to see the legend from Fremantle Lucky Oceans (yes, the same Lucky Oceans who for years was the voice of Radio National’s Daily Planet until ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie decided to can all music shows on RN) play pedal steel guitar with brilliant songwriter Harry Hookey.

From Ireland was Susan O’Neill, who performs under the name SON. U2’s Bono loves her work and with good reason. Using a loop to present her powerful guitar, trumpet and vocals all at once, she filled every pavilion and tent she played in. Mesmerising songs combined with stage presence and beautiful musicianship made for an unexpected treat.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Mick Thomas, whose songs I have cherished since his days leading Wedding Parties Anything, now fronting his new outfit The Roving Commission. But it was outstanding. Thomas is a master at song writing and performance. Great shows.

Most acts performed a number of times across various stages throughout the weekend, so it was easy to get a taste of lots of varied music.

The NFF, or the National as it is affectionately referred to, once again showcased musical genres from around the world – and some of the best home-grown acts.

All designed to broaden your musical tastes and horizons.

Published: 11 Apr 2018