Yackandandah Folk Festival 2015 @ Yackandandah, Victoria, 20-22 March
I came in on the midday train, three-and-a half hours in a sunny carriage from Southern Cross station to Wodonga. I inspected some scale models of old train carriages at the station, and bought some Lions Club fizzers and musk pastilles, 50c a pack – before Darren rolled up in a big white van, and I jumped in. We trundled over undulating bitumen for about a half an hour, passing paddocks and valleys and stores and trees and sheds, before setting the robust vehicle down just outside the town centre of Yackandandah.
Yack is cosy and – mostly – a time capsule, with the various antique stores housed in buildings as distinctively dated as the furniture, trinkets, tin signs and musty books they contain. A small busker-child screeches on a stunted violin. A white-haired man dressed as Elvis in a catsuit croons by the museum.
DAVID FRANCEY appears in the marquee, the Scottish-born, Canada-based construction-worker-turned-folk-favourite convincingly captivating the seated crowd with his stories painted over stripped-back guitar canvases. Francey seems like a good sort, and apparently his musical guilty pleasure is Avril Lavigne, who is one of mine too, so there’s an instant affinity there. Good on you David.
Night falls and we catch bite-sized portions of acts, mostly more raucous than those during the day: blues-infused excursions like THE HUMPHREYS and GEOFF ACHISON & THE SOULDIGGERS. We catch some of THE JESSICA STUART FEW, who match electric guitar, double bass and drums with live koto, to create a strange but compelling mix of pop, jazz, prog and global folk which sometimes hits, sometimes misses.
Before it gets too late, we head back to the house we’re staying at and watch the first episode of Sex and The City. Total time-warp.
Sunday dawns, and after a hearty sleep-in we roll back into town and settle in the marquee. I last saw STRAY HENS in pared-back trio mode at Nannup festival; Yack sees them flesh it out with a rhythm section, and the full vision begins to become clear. These are hearty pop-folk janusisms, steeped in anglo-celtic tradition but decidedly forward-focused. Both sprawling and intimate, these tunes could sit happily on primetime radio but never compromise a rich intricacy, with flurrying fiddle and thrumming guitar knitting together over dense bubbling drums and bass.
NIGEL WEARNE delivers a consistently mellow and unwavering trail of unhurried fingerstyle inventions, with a lowish and reassuring voice leading you through the bracken. It’s soothing folk in the Jansch-era bedroom tradition, somehow never deviating from its mood or sound without sounding repetitive or undynamic.
FANNY LUMSDEN and the THRILLSEEKERS, meanwhile, bring the full country flavour: from hair to boots, it’s the real deal, and though the configuration is a duo they pack a punch. Unflustered by the fickle winds of fashion, Fanny works in a distinctive tradition and works the country dance hall circuit for real, burrowing into the bullseye of her chosen sound.
JESSE MILNES & EMILY MILLER prove to be a real treat – old-time, dust-flecked country and neat harmonies against simple chords, delicate picking and rustic fiddle. Soon, SUADE effortlessly impress with the a cappella feats fusing harmony and inventive beatboxing. As the day gets old, I find myself wandering the dwindling market stalls, collecting an armful of books in the antiques shop, sampling a delicious local pie.
The festival trails off, rather than going out with a bang: but it’s charming and apt. Yack hasn’t been so much a party as a warm pool of sound and lyricism to bathe in for the best part of a weekend. Having submerged myself, I feel cleansed from the inside out.