An eclectic mix of characters will descend upon Bulli this weekend of what is so much more than just folk music.
The Illawarra Folk Festival (IFF) is the region’s biggest music event with a curated playlist of more than 155 artists – world, roots, bluegrass, gypsy and Celtic music, as well as poetry, comedy, dance and yoga.
The line-up is diverse, just as its audience. You will find families, bohemians and solo fans wandering from stage to stage around Bulli Showground and Grevillea Park for the four-day event.
Musical director David De Santi has been attending the festival since its inception in 1986 in Jamberoo and started volunteering a few years later, mainly so it would be easier to get a gig.
Now he grabs his accordion for around 20 performances at each festival.
“It’s a lot about community and participation,” he said.
“We could be a lot more commercial and run bigger acts … but we have about 50 locals, the rest are from around Australia and there’s 15 international artists.”
Like all 350-plus volunteers, De Santi doesn’t get paid. The engineer devotes hundreds of hours to the festival each year for the sheer joy of folk.
The IFF is just as much about the folk who attend as the numerous varieties of folk performed around the grounds.
Often you’ll see patrons busking during downtime, or hear the sounds of a fiddle late at night. But as De Santi – and many other IFF fans attest – the 12,000 people who attend are a down-to-earth, friendly bunch.
One of the well known regulars to the annual festival is Campbell “Swaggie” Irvine who has been tramping around Australia for 40 years.
The traveling poet is easily recognised by a well worn bushman’s hat, long white hair and beard, and a wrist full of colourful festival entry bands.
IFF volunteer Nick Hartgerink said he’s seen Swaggie at Bulli many times over the years. He’s known to travel from festival to festival and perform his poetry – keeping alive the traditions of the bush poets and swagmen.
“Initially I was captivated by Australian bush music after seeing the Aussie bush band the Bushwackers perform in New Zealand in the early '70s,” he told The Age.
The Illawarra Folk Festival continues until Sunday in Bulli. www.illawarrafolkfestival.com.au