When National Folk Festival artistic director Katie Noonan needed a household name in kids’ entertainment for the line-up, “child entertainer extraordinaire” Justine Clarke was the obvious choice.
Clarke has co-written children’s books, recorded celebrated kids’ music and, perhaps most notably, her pedigree in The Biz includes a long-time role as a presenter on Play School.
In short, she knows how to capture a crowd of tiny humans.
“I watched Play School religiously as a child and actually probably well beyond the target age range,” she laughs.
“The storytelling is what fascinated me.”
Clarke has cultivated a forte in storytelling by all mediums, and the very best of it will captivate young audiences at the National Folk Festival later this week.
The Festival’s program is positively brimming with options for the littlies, but it’s expected that Clarke’s uncanny grip on the inner workings of those little minds will make her a highlight.
“Kids love a good three-minute pop song, and they know a good song when they hear it,” she says.
“They enjoy music they can somehow get involved in, that they can sing and dance to because kids are not passive listeners. They see themselves as part of the world, not separate from it, so the song has to move through them in some way. I try to tap into that.
“The other reason you have to think about kids’ songs differently from other music is that you can bet it’ll be on repeat more than any other music in the household. So it has to be enjoyable for parents. They have it hard enough – they don’t need bad music on repeat in their lives!”
Justine has three spots in the program including one singing and reading alongside fellow children’s author and songwriter Josh Pyke, with whom she co-authored children’s book A Banana is a Banana.
“Josh is an extraordinary songwriter and we’ve written a lot of material together. I’m looking forward to getting up there with him,” she says.
She will also be exploring the work she’s done with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.
“We wrote a song called Words Make the World Go Around and it’s just celebrating a collective love for reading,” she says.
“It has become a sort of anthem for the Foundation, so I’m looking forward to that, too.”
Clarke says when she’s not on stage at the Folkie, she’ll be discovering the Festival herself and has already set her sights on a few performances.
“Archie Roach’s performance will be a highlight for me. Seeing him play in a folk festival atmosphere will be extraordinary and unforgettable,” she says.
“I’ve never seen Emma Donovan and the Putbacks live, so I’m pretty excited about that.
“I also want to see the Spooky Men’s Chorale. I’m a sucker for a choir or any group singalong. I think it’s one of the most moving and direct sounds for the human ear. It’s like an arrow straight to your heart. It immediately makes me cry.”
Must-sees aside, Clarke says she’s more of a “wander around and see what catches my eye kinda gal”.
“But that’s the beauty of this festival, it’s like a utopia and I love the idea you can just sort of wander around this ideal world where everyone is singing and playing and engaging in creative activities,” she says.
“I like to drink in the atmosphere.”
Folk festivals offer an atmosphere that seems designed for children, according to Clarke. No matter where they go they can soak up a vibe in a safe environment that’ll create lasting memories.
“They have freedom to wander,” she says.
“They’ll be seeing this vast space where people are roaming around in free formations, hearing different strains of activity and music wafting from different areas, and seeing people sitting peacefully, listening to music.
“Those kinds of images and experiences are very powerful. They leave an impression. They stay with us.”
The National Folk Festival runs from 14 April to 18 April 2022, at Exhibition Park. Click here for more information and tickets.