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Folk Rhythm and Life Festival: 3-5 December 2010

June 2, 2011
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Bilyana, VIC

We were apprehensive about the weather as we rode the bus from carpark to campsite at FRL under louring skies. Rain was predicted for the whole weekend, and sure enough we pitched our tents in double-time between heavy showers. Fortunately, the organisers had had the foresight to lay down hessian over the main paths so they didn’t dissolve into complete slurry. Brothers Hamish and Bill Skermer threw open their property to 2,500 punters and nearly 100 performers for three days and three stages of diverse music including folk, blues, jazz, electronica, reggae and rock.

We made our way to the main stage to check out Kutcha Edwards‘s soulful folk tunes. As he sang the skies opened, and then the roof. Water poured through splits in the tent, drenching those below. Volunteers walked around carrying long poles to puncture pouches in the canvas where water had pooled. But nothing could dampen the first-night spirits of festival-goers.

As dark fell, the Campers Stage was filling up in anticipation of Liz Stringer. By the end of her set people were standing in the rain to hear her, not surprising considering her rich, powerful voice, poignant lyrics and emotional range. She got people dancing to ‘Featherweights’, then finished with tear-jerker ‘High Open Hills’. She declined an encore despite shouts for more. ‘There’s heaps more great bands waiting to play, stick around and hear some of them’.

On Saturday we woke to sunshine and blue skies and went for the first of many dips in Reedy creek, walking through a clearing of yellow and purple wildflowers and clouds of orange butterflies.

Back in the main area we bought coffees and headed to the Campers stage, where local band Loon Lake was also helping perk up the drowsy mid-morning crowd with growly surfer rock.

Later Mal Webb kept us amused with his dexterous verbal manipulations, inventive use of looping and quirky take on the world in songs such as ‘Counselor Edward O’Donnell MP’ and ‘The Rooster Tree’, about a tree that looks like, well, a rooster (and has 7000 Facebook friends).

Mal Webb

To cover a no-show band, singer and loop artist Mihirangi threw together an FRL supergroup comprising herself and Mal Webb as MCs, DJ Katch on the decks, Matt Kelly on vocals and tambourine, Canadian Kira Gosselin on guitar and jazz legend Chris Wilson on harmonica for a joyous jam session. This impromptu event demonstrated the spirit of FRL at its best, accommodating the unexpected and turning it into a pleasant surprise.

Mihirangi

With its mellowed-out hippie vibe, FRL is no place for control freaks. Not that it’s poorly organised – far from it. But the occasionally loose arrangements require a willingness to go with the flow. A singer/songwriter who had a gig at a previous Folk Rhythm & Life festival asked the organiser what time she’d be playing, since the gig list didn’t provide any times. ‘Just use your intuition’, she was told.

On Saturday night Dallas Frasca emerged with her fire-engine red dreadlocks festooned with Christmas tree lights, and ripped the place up with her raunchy headbanger metal-blues. My notes get a bit messy at this point, influenced by the wild gig, the near-total darkness, and arguably a few Beechworth pale ales. Phrases like ‘Wields her guitar like a strap-on sex toy’, ‘frantic manic orgasmic thumping hardcore’ are scrawled erratically across the page. Towards the end, guitarist Jeff Curran crowd-surfed in a recycling bin. I had to have a quiet sit-down in the chai tent to recover afterwards.

Dallas Frasca

I got up early on Sunday morning for a quick swim and some yoga. Well, that was the plan. Yurt 1, where the yoga class was scheduled, was locked up with a sign indicating that the class had been relocated to the DJ tent. I trotted over the bridge, ironically feeling a bit stressed by now, and found seven or eight people stretching out of synch. ‘There was a bit of confusion about where it was being held’, one of them told me, ‘and we’re not sure where the instructor is, so we’re just doing our own thing. You’re welcome to join us’.  I decided to have breakfast instead.

At the main stage, newly-formed Tully Sumner Band soothed the hungover Sunday afternoon crowd with their gentle folky combination of guitar, banjo, violin and double bass. We spent at least three hours lazing on a couch, soaking up music and beer and eating awesome Japanese pancakes. (Catering overall was excellent, with a wide selection of stalls selling reasonably-priced noodles, fajitas, pizza, pancakes and roo burgers).

Tully Sumner

I stretched my legs by browsing the market and buying some cute-as-a-button jewellery from The Cat’s Pyjamas. By the way, if you’re on a really tight budget be sure to take some unwanted clothes and/or books to barter, as there’s a swap spot for both.

 As the day began to cool it was time to get moving to Austin Busch. This is a band that isn’t afraid of alienating the dance-floor with a difficult tempo. Drummer Chris Port kept the audience guessing with a ragged beat, but  interspersed enough bursts of catchy jazz to keep feet moving.

Reggae band Fyan Walk wrapped things up with set that was simultaneously energetic enough to dance to, and chilled-out enough to loll through on a sofa. I did a bit of both. After the last official set, the stage was open for a jam that lasted till dawn.

Despite the odd organisational hiccough, this is well-run festival with a laidback, friendly vibe. There’s a ban on dogs, BYO and glass, which makes sense when you think about it; a friend cut his foot on broken glass left on the ground by a previous, irresponsible camper. Proximity to the national park makes the presence of dogs untenable. As for BYO, while there were certainly lots of cheeky flasks and casks around the camping grounds, their absence from the main stages kept the atmosphere relatively civilised, an important consideration given the huge population of children at this festival. Kids were everywhere during the day; dancing, playing in the mud and generally having the time of their lives. Just like the rest of us.

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