Illawarra Folk Festival's school of world beats

Martha Spencer and Jackson Cunningham from Virginia, are here for the folk festival. Picture: ORLANDO CHIODO
Martha Spencer and Jackson Cunningham from Virginia, are here for the folk festival. Picture: ORLANDO CHIODO

It isn't often Appalachian banjos, Klezmer fiddles or bluegrass mandolin come to the Illawarra, let alone to one of the region's most beautiful churches.

That is what made yesterday's folk school at the Northern Bulli Uniting Church so special, as more than 120 people came out to learn unconventional instruments from some of the best in the world.

Part of the Illawarra Folk Festival happening just over the road at the Bulli Showground, big-name performers including the London Klezmer Quartet, Japanese drummers Taiko No Wa and Grammy award-winning guitarist Dom Flemons have been tapped to share their skills with the community.

"It's an opportunity to learn from people who you would never ever get a chance to be taught by, big international acts," said folk school co-ordinator Ann Lehmann.

"There's nowhere else in Australia you could learn some of this stuff."

The folk school kicked off yesterday with a full day of classes including the autoharp, ukulele, Derbak drums and flamenco. The Whitetop Mountaineers, from Virginia, USA, led an hour-long workshop on Appalachian banjo and mandolin.

"We cater for everyone from total beginners to seasoned players, and really young people to whatever age," Ms Lehmann said.

"That's the thing about folk music, it doesn't seem to have those age barriers. You see 12-year-olds on stage with 70-year-olds."

The folk festival begins today with opening concerts and welcome dances ahead of the program kicking into full swing tomorrow morning.

The festival wraps on Sunday night, with tickets still available.

Visit for more information.

Festival schedule

Thursday, January 16

2.30pm: Opening concert, Slacky Flat bar

2.30pm: Early bird poets, Grandstand bar

5.30pm: London Klezmer Quarter, Slacky Flat bar

6.30pm: The Great Tripe Dinner and Concert, Grandstand restaurant

8pm: Welcome bush dance, The Chapel

9pm: Dom Flemons, The Miners Camp


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