2 April 2024

Numbers down but National Folk Festival shows why it's needed more than ever

| Ian Bushnell
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folk festival attendees

The Festival parade filled the streets at EPIC yesterday in an outpouring of colour and community spirit. Photos: Ian Bushnell

The numbers may have been down on previous festivals, but in the current economic environment, organisers are thrilled with the 2024 National Folk Festival, which played out under blue skies and glorious sunshine over Easter at Exhibition Park.

Festival Director Heidi Pritchard said it was too early to provide official crowd figures or say where the Festival may land financially, but the event proved once again how important it was to the ACT economy and the cultural life of the Territory and the country.

Ms Pritchard said numbers were lower than the usual attendance of 38,000 to 40,000 people, but that drop-off was unsurprising given the change in people’s spending due to the cost of living increases.

Despite that, venues were often packed across the site, especially on Saturday, and the many workshops and opportunities for participation were popular.

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Ms Pritchard said last year’s event injected $5.76 million into the ACT economy, but she believed this figure understated the Festival’s contribution.

“I would argue that number is quite low and we are doing a larger sample size this year to try to get a more accurate figure,” she said.

But it wasn’t just about the money a festival like this generated, but the human and cultural capital.

“COVID closed us down, and it made it really hard to find that human connection. Things like these festivals that are kind and accessible and participatory remind us what it is to be human, and they remind us of our human connections,” she said.

“And I think that’s what a lot of people found in these last five days.”

Ms Pritchard said festivals also supported the arts and musicians who would struggle to survive without them.

“We need to keep the arts alive,” she said.

Ms Pritchard said the Folk Festival this year prioritised Australian acts over bringing in a high-profile international performer because it wanted to support the Australian music scene.

It also focused on the rising generation of young folk artists who had such a strong presence across the venues.

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Ms Pritchard said she believed the Festival brought back the 19 to 30-year-old demographic who had been missing from folk festivals for a while now.

“I feel like we respected our core audience but also started to explore a younger audience as well. There was something for everyone,” she said.

Ms Pritchard said a highlight of the Festival was the way performers collaborated for surprise appearances and their audiences, whether through workshops or community choirs and ensembles.

“I’m really proud of this festival, our 1000 volunteers, our performers – I’m just proud of the whole thing,” she said.

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James Temple7:05 pm 03 Apr 24

Amazing festival this year under very difficult economical conditions , so many great artists supporting this iconic festival, well done The National

Brian William4:12 pm 03 Apr 24

when you think about what there is to do, it really sn’t expensive. $148 for a full Saturday that starts at 7am and runs through to 2am? Grat for families, great for everyone. And so very entertaining.
And if cost is truely a factor you can’t get past. free free to help out and be a volenteer.

The NFF was a lovely place to be over Easter. Crikey! Around 1,000 volunteers to coordinate, yet alone artists! Good mix of nostalgia (The Spookies and Fred Smith) and new acts like the wonderfully choreographed Indonesian dancers. Maybe another coffee cart next time.

Stephen Saunders2:38 pm 02 Apr 24

It’s a great event, well managed, well loved, but a few more internationals would boost the bill, and the ticket price structure is becoming a real handicap.

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