Words and photography by Leah Hulst
The Port Fairy Folk Festival has always been on my to-do list, and it was just the feel-good dose I really needed.
The weekend started with bagels and coffee as my friend and I set off from Melbourne at 8am on Friday morning. Just over three hours away, we planned our times and the events we wanted to see on the Port Fairy Folk Festival app, making planning a dream. With fiery tunes in the car, we were delighted to arrive at the local caravan park, whose owners were just as happy to check us in, tell us about the weekend ahead.
We walked around town early to check out what it had to offer. There were people coming in slowly, the streets being blocked off for market stalls for the weekend. We grabbed a quick pint at the local pub and decided to head to the festival.
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The first night was a little slow with the event fully kicking off on Saturday, with a crowd of mostly older couples with deckchairs in hand, but equally excited to see the events of the night. My first stop was the Archie Roach Stage with a Welcome to Country, followed by an intimate Maple Glider performance at the Island Stage. When I entered the tent, everyone was sitting on the seats provided, or on chairs or blankets they had bought themselves. He created an inclusive environment accessible to all, allowing people from the front to the back of the tent to enjoy their set.
Following Maple Glider, my mate and I took a quick stroll and grabbed a bite from the local vendors, then headed to the Guinness tent. It was the only place where you could drink alcohol, and it was a real “change of atmosphere” from the outside. Large rows of tables everywhere, packed with people enjoying the live music on offer, no deckchair in sight. In order for us to buy drinks, we had to queue and buy tokens, which we would then exchange for drinks, which felt a bit counterintuitive and clumsy, but relieved the pressure from the bar staff.
After spending about an hour here, we had our drinks and headed to the main event – John Butler. Full disclosure, I’ve been a HUGE John Butler fan for a while now, and I’ve been hanging out for it for a long time, so when he hit the stage, I was thrilled to say the least. John Butler has an undeniable, intimate, educational and humorous stage presence. He played a few new songs, old bangers, and even a surprise duet with his wife and singer, Mama Kin, but it was when he started playing “Ocean” that the crowd was well and truly captivated. Everyone was sitting quietly, tapping their feet or hugging their loved ones. No one was allowed to dance, which in some ways was a little disappointing, but it allowed everyone to be a part of the event. No matter where you sat in the tent, you could see and feel the emotion that flowed from the performance.
The next day we went into town and enjoyed a delicious breakfast from Bank Street and Co., then strolled to the market which stretched all over town. Baked goods, gin, clothes and literally everything in between, we enjoyed the stalls while the local artist played music and a silent disco of kids danced between us.
The town was in full swing on Saturday with young families, cute dogs and older couples enjoying the festival. Everyone was in good spirits enjoying the music, food and entertainment for the kids. People bought picnics to enjoy the sunshine while the music hummed in the background, a truly happy and serene environment that they could be a part of, and that continued throughout the weekend. A variety of colorful and intriguing artwork, all supported and managed by the Port Fairy community.
There is an undeniable hold that music has on people. Although there is so much turmoil and uncertainty in the world, we can sit down with our friends and family for a weekend and not only escape reality for a brief moment, but enjoy what we have right now. We can all enjoy what life has to offer, which is perfectly reflected by the Port Fairy Folk Festival. Young bubbas at their first festival, teenagers running around are delighted to have a long weekend away from school and the older generation is delighted to be reunited with friends and family. We all find the excitement and freedom of life outside of confinement. The Port Fairy Folk Festival is exactly what we need right now.