We played for about two hours or so and had an absolute blast. It was one of the most foot stomping, sweaty, enjoyable sets I’ve played with the band. Tahu MacKenzie whipped the audience up into a frenzy. I could not think of a better way to spend a new years eve.Read More
Impressions from a guest 'flogger' - Kieran Ford.
Charlotte enters the marquee. It’s the evening concert. She’s been gone a while. She’s looking pale.
“I’ve just been held up by a bunch of kids on the steps demanding a ransom to let me past. I didn’t know what to do!”
And so began Whare Flat.
It’s a strange place, this. A world in which Lord of the Flies-esque chaos co-exists with an elderly couple dancing in a corner, a tent dedicated to Honky Tonk, circles of twenty-somethings huddled around a box of wine, and the stage, endlessly oozing with talent.
It is in many ways a timeless place. A place where generations mix, where the young listen to the old, but where the old ask just as many questions in return. But timeless also in that it’s a place where the young seem to be most keenly embracing eras almost forgotten by the eldest on the campsite - the dances of the 30s, the singers of the 50s, brought to life once more. Something old is something new.
For most of my festival - my second visit - I sat behind the bar, serving pints. It’s a fantastic place to capture the festival; to witness the big moments on stage, but the little snapshots too. And as I thought about writing this blog, one-by-one these images came floating by:
The smile reaching from ear to ear when a child realises that a waffle the size of their face is all for them.
The rolling of the eyes from a veteran festival-goer answering for the umpteenth time the question from the excited first-timer: “is this the first year you’ve done this? I’ve lived in Dunedin for 30 years, and never knew it was happening!”
The scowl from the nearside benches towards the chatty folk in the cafe.
The surge of joy that waves through the audience when the harmony just hits that button, and the music seems to melt, bringing both singers and listeners into this unparalleled togetherness for the briefest of moments.
The bright-eyed excitement when the keen dancer hears a song to be danced to, and finds a person to dance with. They scuttle together to the back of the marquee and begin to bop.
That moment when the song ends, the most beautiful of songs, and no one claps - just for a second - as if applause might break the spell.
The look on the faces when the keg of beer ran out.
It was a good place to see in the new year.
And another bead has been threaded onto the long and colourful necklace of Whare Flat Festivals reaching back into time and always around to find again its Folk beginnings.
This year we were full to the brink, with glorious artists, with four generations of punters, with concerts, sessions and workshops, with plenty of sunshine (on the last two days), with campers and tents, with song and with instruments. What a great vibe!
So many of you came out, the place was absolutely buzzing.
The Honky-tonk tent was honking, our new stage was put to the test by the sheer weight of talent displayed on it, the hall was heaving with dance workshops. There were musicians playing at all times in all places available. There was a trio of two trombones and a drum kit in the tent next to mine but they were out most of the time. So was I.
A massive thank you must go out to all our volunteers without whom none of this would have happened. Every year they come back, they work hard, they take things in their stride, they miss out on their favourite artist because something has to be done; they smile and sing and party and try and do it all the next day. Quite a few work on the festival throughout the year too. Thank you, you are amazing. (Tahu would probably say that better.)
Hope to see you all next year,
I was just watching a documentary on the weekend that was made about the Whare Flat [Folk] Festival and it made me think about what inspired me to become the coordinator of this event and what kept me doing it for so long. Whenever you talk to people about why they go to the festival and what takes them back there it sounds a bit like a broken record - it is the community. You can arrive there on the first day knowing no-one and you leave four days later having made a lot of friends. Even if you only see them once a year you always feel a connection with these people and often that inspires you to attend other folk festivals where you will often meet up with those same new friends. It is this aspect of the festival that I find is missing at festivals in other countries. - if you don't already know people, it is easy to feel left out and disconnected.
So what is it that does this for us? Most religions learnt long ago that singing together creates a connection - so does dancing and eating together. I met the same people at all the events at the overseas festival but there was never any connection, so sitting in concerts doesn't do it. At times I think I lost sight of this as I focused on trying to bring new styles of music and different artists to inspire our members. This is important to keep us learning and developing as artists but without the connection we lose people - there are many concerts you can go to but now that villages are rarer and fewer people attend church, it is not easy to feel that ongoing connection that humans seem to need for well-being. (Ha - there speaks the psychologist).
I first attended the Whare Flat Festival in 1979/1980 having been asked by a friend to help him run a singing workshop. I had no idea what to expect and was astounded with the range of music I discovered, the instruments I didn't know existed and the quality of the performers. I didn't know I was a folkie but quickly discovered that I loved everything about this festival. I hadn't realised that I could spend four days immersing myself in music and dance and feel friends with people I'd never met before.
That was the beginning of my folk adventure and since that time I have been every year - 37 wonderful New Year celebrations - 20 of them as the director of the festival - and I'll keep going as long as I can.
In 1996 the Pioneer Pog 'n' Scroggin Bush Band were guests at the Australian National Folk Festival in Canberra and I went along as a supporter. Although I didn't get any feel of festival spirit that is a common ingredient of folk festivals in NZ, I was once again blown away by the quality and range of artists to be found there. I realised that as organisers of folk events we had been looking to the UK for most of our artists (Ireland, Scotland and Britain), yet right next door we had a wealth of talent that we could afford to bring across the sea. I came back to Dunedin inspired and put up my hand to take over coordinating our annual event and ended up with if for a lot longer than I'd expected. (See next installment).
I really do like the poster for the festival this year, the stars above the manuka, the moon and the morepork, the outline of the tent with its guy ropes.
It recalls happy wanderings in the dark with my violin, back from a session or an evening concert, still mulling the music, when a morepork call alerts me to the quiet of the site, the light of the low moon behind the trees, the Milky Way above, and, looking up with a smile and a little sigh, I stumble over the guy ropes again.
The line-up of violins this year is also quietly exciting; Serbian, Scottish, old time American, I know I will be completely blown away, like last year, at the way each player makes the thing sing out exactly the way it should while all the serious skill this must take is somehow wrapped up in smiles, banter and foot stomping; beguiling nods and winks that make the fiddle playing seem completely effortless. There is little reason why they shouldn’t act and look more like tennis players, grunting at particularly strenuous ornamentations, wearing sweatbands and sport shoes, determined to keep time. But they don’t, they look like they are having a ball.
It’s the shared joy of these musicians, makes me forget the guy ropes every time.
Every year in late December when I turn up the Silverstream Valley Road and head into the glen where the Waiora Scout Camp is nestled, I experience the same feeling that it was just last week I was here - but I'm only ever driving this way to go to and from the annual Whare Flat Folk Festival. I guess thirty-five years of doing it gradually compresses the experience in your mind.
As a veteran of this thing I might be expected to wax lyrical about the good old days and deride the youthful, electric eccentrics that infiltrate the midnight sessions and daytime stages but, the truth is, it's the very thing that keeps me coming back. Mostly, when I'm not strumming something, I'm a desk jockey - the interface between "it's too loud" and "we can't hear the fiddle," and the sublime moments of synergy when fine performance and great technical wizardry come together like a classical sculpture before its arms were broken.
There's a soft side to the festival and there's an edge, and it's the ability of those two things to coexist that makes the gathering special. Age ceases to exist, we're all singers in the midnight choir, pickers and drinkers, dancing like nobody's watching.
At the apex of the year, one is remembered, the next is faced "with friends on every side"; and we're reminded of why we come back time and time again.