22 March 2024

National Folk Festival strikes a chord with youths and children

| Dione David
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Person playing a guitar

National Folk Festival organisers say that coaxing young talent through the ranks is integral to folk’s fabric. Photo: Fiona Bowring.

Felicity Dowd’s first time performing at a folk festival is an experience she will remember for all the right reasons.

“I remember walking up on stage and shaking like a leaf. But even from the wings, I was falling in love with the feeling,” she says.

‘Youth stages’ are a common feature of folk festivals, where a generous exchange of knowledge and encouragement between experienced performers and up-and-comers is an integral part of the ethos.

READ ALSO UOW music student named Youth Artist of the Year at Australian Folk Music Awards

The folk scene is littered with successful artists who started this way, including Felicity, who only headlined her own tour last year, released her own single and was named Youth Artist of the Year at the Australian Folk Music Awards.

She also won the Gill Rees Memorial Award at the National Folk Festival (NFF) after performing on the ‘Bohemia Stage’, which allows people of all ages to sign up to perform in front of friends, family and, invariably, supportive passers-by.

woman with guitar

As a successful artist who launched her career on youth stages at folk festivals, Felicity is excited to pay it forward at the National Folk Festival. Photo: Elise Idiens (Mane and Tales).

This year, Felicity returns not only to perform but, fittingly, to help run the Youth Blackboard, which provides children and young people of all experience levels with the chance to sing a song, slam a poem, tell a story, or do anything else in between.

She says youth stages and blackboards are a gateway to a lifelong love of folk music and culture.

“I got my start on these ‘blackboard’ stages, and when you’re a kid or an emerging artist, it really gives you the confidence – and the opportunity – to take your music to the people. And there’s honestly no better place to do that than at a folk festival,” she says.

“There’s a wonderful community in folk music, and whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been doing it for years, there’s a sort of peer mentality. Everyone is equally valued. Folk festivals are a platform where everyone is given the chance to discover who they are as an artist.”

READ ALSO Strong ticket sales point to National Folk Festival being more than just a music event

But while the NFF favours immersion over “passive consumption”, there’s plenty in it for the kids who don’t necessarily want to get up on stage or perform.

Many of the shows are specifically designed for kids. Moreover, this is the first year that almost every act is interactive, with workshops, participation components or activities that are perfect for children.

People dressed up at the folk festival

There are plenty of ways for kids to get involved at the NFF without performing. Photo: Sabine Friedrich.

From roving entertainment to parades, arts and crafts, and dance and music workshops taught by experienced performers, most of the program is equally geared towards youths and adults.

“If not for young people coming up through folk – both as performers or lovers of the genre – it won’t survive into the future. I think the folk community has an innate understanding of this, and it’s why festivals like the NFF are not geared towards one particular age group,” Felicity says.

People sitting down next to a fence

The NFF program is equally geared towards youths and adults. Photo: Amber Moloney.

“There will be tonnes of little pockets for kids to escape to, and it’s not about just keeping them occupied so the adults can enjoy the festivities unencumbered. This is an accessible and inclusive festival created for everyone’s enjoyment.

“If you’ve never been to a folk festival, give it a go, jump in with two feet, and see what happens — the results will often amaze you.”

The National Folk Festival will take place from Thursday, 28 March, to Monday, 1 April, at EPIC Showgrounds. Adult tickets start from $44, concessions from $33, youths 12 to 17 from $14, children five to 11, $10, and it’s free for kids under five. Book your tickets today.

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