Illawarra Folk Festival in tune with region

There is no doubt the Illawarra Folk Festival has become a shining light in the cultural and artistic life of the region.

It has well and truly put the Illawarra on the map when it comes to folk music, with artists coming from all over the world to play on the festival’s stages and in its tents.

Among the 170 acts playing over the four days of the festival, there were performers from New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.

With Australia being such a long way away from the rest of the world, it speaks volumes about the folk festival’s reputation that artists from around the world want to make the trip to play there.

The festival started life as a much smaller event – and in a different location. It was brought to life in 1985 at Jamberoo and the influx of folk fans it would bring saw the sleepy country town bursting at the seams each September.

That was great news for the local pub, which always seemed full from the moment the festival started until the time the final act took its bows.

Due to financial reasons and the struggle to run a growing event – to this day it is entirely run by volunteers – there was no festival in 2005.

The following year it returned in a new time – January – and a new place – at Bulli Showground.

The change saved the organisers the cost of having to build and dismantle the infrastructure needed to give the bands a place to play.

It also brought the festival closer to the people, with Bulli much easier to get to than Jamberoo. Especially for those who like a few ales while they take in the sounds.

That surely increased the size of the crowds. While dedicated folkies would always make the trip to Jamberoo each year, it was likely too far to attract casual fans or those looking for something to do.

But with the festival at Bulli, it makes it much easier for people to take a punt and experience a day of folk music.

It also brings visitors to the region. According to the festival’s artistic director David De Santi about half of the more than 10,000 people who attended were from out of the Illawarra.

So while it gives so much to the city in cultural terms, it also provides a shot in the arm for the region’s economy too.

And that should be music to everyone’s ears.

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