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Byron Shire
April 22, 2021

Here & Now #51

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Here & Now 51 picS Sorrensen

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I like festivals. In a world where contact with other humans is increasingly replaced by cyber-contact with computers, festivals are orgies of real human contact.

Alright, since the sexy seventies there hasn’t been a lot of actual orgy making at festivals – at least not for me. And I certainly haven’t been invited to any group gropes at this one.

But then again, the National Folk Festival in Canberra is not noted for its all-in sexual activities. Besides, it’s too bloody cold. It’s freezing.

I bought an ice-cream in a cone yesterday from one of the festival stalls. I still have it. It’s harder than when I bought it. I could use it as a tent peg. I haven’t eaten it because my tongue stuck to it and it took two glasses of mulled wine to unstick it.

It’s definitely too cold to expose skin – except if you’re a teenage Canberra girl cruising the festival with your friends. Then you wear a fluffy jacket, beanie, gloves (with smartphone attached) – and a short skirt that leaves your legs fully exposed to the Antarctic elements. I guess sometimes you have to freeze to be cool.

The human contact here is definitely not orgiastic in a physical way, though it is person-to-person and non-virtual. It’s social. And there’s plenty of it.

People turn off their television, emails and central heating, grab their funny festival hat, dust off their accordion retrieved from the garage, and come here to make contact with their tribe.

They talk to each other (using mouths not fingers). They smile at passers-by. They applaud street performers. They laugh at Morris dancers. They walk with volunteers pulling wheelie bins and discuss recycling.

People sit in front of a stage, not a screen. Then after the gig they have a Guinness with the performer and talk about his Appalachian guitar technique. And the cold. And the crazy Canberran teenagers.

No-one is lying to your face. There’s not a suit and tie to be seen. Politicians don’t come here.

Here, there are musicians, dancers, poets, jugglers, painters, parents, butchers, bakers and and candlestick makers. It’s a celebration of humanity. It shows that people together are peaceful, caring, inclusive and creative.

But then there’s the Session Bar… I have a confession to make: I don’t really like traditional folk music. I don’t like Irish jigs and reels. I call it diddly music. Because it goes diddly, diddly, diddly, diddly. Over and over again.

It’s like there’s one song that a drunk Irish bloke wrote a hundred years ago and everyone who has a fiddle or banjo or accordion knows that song.

The Session Bar is where people jam on that song. Oh dear… I mean, it’s great that people can go to the Session Bar and, once a year, play that song with others. It where people participate; the stage disappears and everyone is a performer.

Good. (For them.) But that song goes for about three days. Diddly, diddly, diddly, diddly.

Musos come and go; empty glasses stack ever higher; morning comes, then evening, then morning again; beards grow; the banjo player passes out; children are born – and still the song goes on. And on. Diddly, diddly, diddly, diddly. Oh dear…

Normally I’m not attracted to the Session Bar. But tonight I love it.

Hundreds of bodies plucking, blowing, picking, bowing, hitting, squeezing, sitting, drinking, singing, laughing…

Sure, it all makes an awful noise but the heat of such human activity rises with the diddly diddly and warms the room. Ah, sweet warmth…

I sip my Coopers and take off one of my scarves. The fiddle takes a solo. Diddly, diddly… Love it. I even tap my toe.

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  1. You and Glover were brilliant – people just loved your shows, as heard over and over again outside the gig sites on every occasion you performed (we went to all of them!). They even loved the dodgey Easter sunday jokes at the Scrumpy. Naughty boys!
    You missed a REALLY great session with the Coopers (Guinness was dumped a few years ago, more’s the pity) on Saturday with Dave De Santi and the Italians. We pumped for 4 hours and not a diddle could be heard – just gorgeous Spanish women singing and wonderful accordions, tambourines (yes wonderfully played) by the Italians, clarinets, etc. Huge crowd around all joining in. Magic stuff and I have bruises on the accordion knee to prove the power of brilliant sessioning! That is one of the beautiful things about sessions at the National – magnificent performers and amateurs alike just making music together Make it Saturday night next year, you two!


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