6-8 JANUARY 2017, TASMANIA, AUSTRALIA
By Hugo Unwin
In the 35 years since Cygnet Folk Festival was first held, the magic surrounding this site has remained unchanged. I admired this glorious pocket of Australia as we departed Hobart, where the boundary between lush national park and city streets is unnoticeable. While travelling to Cygnet we indulged in regional Tasmania’s local cherries and apples, a tasty confirmation of our proximity to the agricultural centre of Tasmania.
Apparent on arrival to Cygnet was a general sense of excitement, driven by the promise of a weekend of folk, fun and friends in the brilliant Tasmanian sunshine. Our first enjoyment of music was Bill Jackson and Pete Fidler. Especially apt was the ballad ‘They Were Never Here’, an indictment of the genocidal actions of nineteenth century pastoralist Angus McMillan throughout Gippsland, Victoria. The song had added pertinence in Tasmania as a state which bears the historical stain of the despairingly tremendous annihilation of the local Aboriginal population in the years following colonisation.
During the remainder of the afternoon I ducked into open houses, art studios, music halls and churches, all abuzz with a palpable tension between self-restraint and self-indulgence so common to the first night of a multi-day festival. Saturday morning saw the enactment of a commitment to see ‘things other than the music’, so frequently promised upon perusal of the lineup prior to a multi-faceted festival. This came in the form of the ‘The Poet’s Breakfast’, a celebration of regional and Australian poetry, with concomitant themes of life in the outback, loss and community.
Theresa Young, a promising young artist now based in Hobart, delivered the standout musical performance of the afternoon, with her delicate music resonating in the Supper Room. As a central figure in the Tasmanian folk music community, Theresa performs with stoic passion, focus and presence, to the tremendous benefit of the listener.
Sunday morning began with an invigorating dip in nearby Kangaroo Bay. The musical highlight of the afternoon was the Song and Tune Writing Competition, sponsored by APRA and won by Theresa Young. Alan Gogoll delivered a breathtaking performance in this bracket, with the captivating Bell's Harmonic.
Azzband performed wonderfully on Sunday afternoon. This group hail from across the globe, finding commonality in a collective cultural consciousness. Such an endeavour brings to mind Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, but with a far more grassroots and authentic sense of cultural collaboration.
The Director’s Concert and Final Cabaret delivered a range of magnificent performances. I have discovered that in Tasmania, those from other parts of Australia incorporate ‘mainlander’ into their cultural identity. The same is true of the sense of community and creativity engendered by festivals such as Cygnet, which remind us of the immense benefit we have simply by being thankful for one another.