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Byron Shire
March 8, 2021

S Sorrensen’s Here & Now: Turn back time

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Image S Sorrensen

Canberra. Easter Sunday, 7.15am

I can’t find any coffee. Not one of the coffee stalls is open. It’s past 7am. Surely there is a law somewhere that says that coffee must be available from 7am. This is Canberra, for heaven’s sake, capital of Australia, land of laws.

I mean, you can’t smoke at this festival unless you’re in a designated smoking area, which is a fenced-in pen with a sign saying it is illegal to drink in the pen and illegal to smoke outside the pen. So, if you want to have a beer and a smoke, you have to lean out over the fence, sip your beer and pull back to have a drag on your fag.

I have wandered through the mist for half an hour. No-one has risen yet, not even Jesus. All the stalls are shut, their tent fronts pulled down like lids on sleeping eyes. Even the little coffee truck, which has the best coffee and the worst service of all the festival coffee joints, sits closed and unattended.

I stop my wandering and stand in front of it, anyway.

Hmm, the service is the same…

I recommence my circumnavigation of the National Folk Festival, passing the Bohemia bar, where, as I recall, I spent a few hours last night, hanging out with my good mate, with whom I have shared many festivals and many festival stages. Well, maybe it was about eight hours. We sat at a table under the full moon and drank Coopers beer from recyclable Sapporo beer cups. People came and went.

I chatted with a cool guitarist with a sad voice and a cowboy hat. He talked about his guitar and said at $6000 it was a bargain. He asked about my ukulele and I told him I paid $40 for it. Oh. I said it was a bargain.

I tried to keep up with the oblique references of a fiddle player. She kept mentioning really famous musos whom I didn’t know but I should have. Eventually, tired of being ignorant, I faked it and nodded as if I knew about that accordion player from Tennessee (nod) who wrote that great 6/8 tune (nod), covered by that banjo player from the Truckstop Heroes (nod) on his first album…

She left to follow a saxophone riff to its source and to talk with someone who knew the important stuff.

People came and went, but at the end, as the fat moon slid into Lake Ginninderra, it was just my mate and me, shooting the breeze and bending the elbow.

It was a great night. The festival had buzzed, hummed and squealed with people eating, drinking, laughing, playing, dancing, talking… people being people. I reckon, I said to him, this is close to how people would naturally live together if allowed to. This is tribal, medieval. Like turning back time. It’s human not corporate, relaxed not desperate, inclusive not divisive.

There are markets and music, communal living and personal talents. People ditch the lethal drabness of the suit, and dress to liberate their spirits. Children swap the iPad for the busking acrobat and the bubble man; adults, the demands of the screen for the crowd-surfing folk singer and the sexy flamenco dancer.

This festival lifestyle – where peaceful diversity is the norm, where the interaction is non-virtual (you clap or hug to show you like someone), where the social divisions are based on activity not wealth, where the smiles are genuine, where no national politician comes – reflects what humans really value.

A shape materialises from the mist. It’s the coffee man! (From the stall with the good service and ordinary coffee.)

‘Hey,’ I say. ‘How come you’re not open yet? It’s past seven.’

He smiles through his rainbow-coloured beard: ‘Did you wind your clock back last night?’


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