The folk festival bows out

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Phoenix Collective of Canberra.

Music / Closing concert of the national folk festival. At Epic, April 18. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD.

A FEATURE of the National Folk Festival this year has been a series of carefully timed concerts.

In addition to the opening and closing concerts, artistic director Katie Noonan has scheduled three “Songs of…” concerts featuring music by Don Walker, Joni Mitchell and this year’s NFF Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Judy Small.

The tribute to Joni Mitchell took place on the main stage of Narragunnawali on Sunday afternoon. The format was simple: a row of chairs along the back of the stage where the dozen or more performers sat and then took turns calling for their song.

The concert was hosted by former Canberran Queenie Van Zandt, who toured a Joni Mitchell tribute show for five years and was able to fill in the gaps with excerpts from Joni’s biography. The songs were almost all from Mitchell’s earlier work, up to the mid-70s, and I suspect almost everyone in the audience knew the lyrics to each one. All the performances were enjoyable, with a few stars from The Little Quirks and a young vocalist Jo Davie, whose clean treatment of “Both Sides Now” was delightful.

The closing concerts of the festival are always very different from the opening events. This had a similar structure to the opening concert in that it was a single element of a selection of artists from the festival plus the presentation of a number of prizes, which were carried out effectively and respectfully in the first part of the concert.

Neil Murray, who wrote “My Island Home”.

A local First Nations dance group led by Serina Williams and her family opened the concert with a welcome to the country and smoking ceremony followed by three short dances. This was followed by Neil Murray singing “My Island Home” (which he wrote) with Jude and Alinta Barlow, who had performed the Ngunnawal translation of the song at the opening concert.

After the awards ceremony, the concert continued with songs by Lior & Domini and Montgomery Church, a spoken performance by Omar Musa, a song by last year’s National Library Folk Fellow Archer, which sounds like s It had been transported from the 1930s (in the nicest way), a playful Nordic dance tune from the Phoenix Collection String Quartet before Neil Murray’s final song, “Black Fella White Fella” from the Warumpi Band, with a full stage of the festival choir, the Phoenix Collective String Quartet (with smiles from ear to ear), the Hauptman Trio and more than a dozen singers as well as Murray and his guitarist.

It was a wonderfully chaotic way to end that once again had the audience on their toes.

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