Founding Director Jamie McKew reminisces on 40 years of PFFF
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Dear Port Fairy Folk Festival Friend,

Forty One Festivals in forty years …. in modern terms Port Fairy Folk Festival is accelerated.

Between December 1977 and March 2016 we presented 40 festivals. How so? Well, we held two in a space of just three months. That is… the 3rd was in December 1979 and the 4th in March 1980. We celebrated the 40th festival in March 2016 - 18 months ahead of the 40 year anniversary.
On the cusp of presenting the 42nd Port Fairy Folk Festival, a significant coming of age is to be celebrated now. Forty years ago the inaugural festival was presented on 2 - 4 December 1977, and Jamie McKew reminisces…
"Were you there? Do you remember it well? Ah yes, the Port Fairy Folk Festival was born 40 years ago this weekend, when our ambitious and hopeful crew of folk music enthusiasts - certified cultural activists - travelled to Port Fairy on Friday the 2nd December 1977 to get the show on the road. To be more accurate, to get the show on the back of a red truck as well as fire up dances at the Drill Hall (also known as Fairy Palace) and at the Community Centre, not to mention at what was left of the pubs (one having curiously burned down). The audience came from far and near, as still is the case forty years on; a large haul of Melbourne 'folkies', a decent catch from Port Fairy, seaside folks and blow-ins from the bush. There were lots of beards for the fellas, flares for the legs, woolly jumpers for all.
On Friday Dec 2nd The Colonial Ball commenced at 8pm. The band flashed into action! Driving fiddles, guitars, accordions, mandolins and lagerphone echoed loudly and proudly around the high stone walls of the Drill Hall/Fairy Palace. The startled crowd stirred into action, rushing to get on the old wooden floor and dance, dance, dance! It had been a long trip but now it really was 'on for one and all'. The dance caller shouted 'spin your partner' or 'do-si-do' and 'four steps in - four steps out'. In a minute the whole floor was a blur of spinning, swinging, flailing humanoid figures, grinning like Cheshire cats, the males through scruffy beards.
It was only after about an hour into the first night, the dancers and band well warmed up, that it became obvious that this first festival was well on the way to become the unstoppable phenomenon we now know. There was no turning back, no stopping, no doubt that this show had loads of energy and an instantaneous momentum like a haystack had been set on fire. No one would be putting this out anytime soon. And with these first minutes of the first festival, I felt that the infant festival had been safely delivered on schedule – loud and boisterous – and destined for a bright future. I was very happy with 'our new baby,' but could never have imagined to be happily delivering my last edition some 40 festivals later! That was to be 2016 and that's another story.
On Saturday Dec 3rd came the Irish Breakfast and Street Stalls on Fiddlers Green followed by Shanty Singing at The Wharf at 12.30pm. A concert at the Community Centre followed at 3pm with Declan Affley, Poteen and more. At 8pm it was time for a Ceilidh led by Tipplers All and other musicians.
On Sunday Dec 4th at the Gardens Oval it was to be Gaelic Football, Spud Throwing, Sack Races and Sheaf Tossing - which was replaced by authentic Turd Hurling to make use of the acres of fine cow patties. Tickets to cover the Concert and Ceilidh were a hefty $4 and only 400 were available. It didn’t sell out but about $1000 covered expenses. Success was celebrated at the endless sessions in 'The Stump'.
Festivals are the essential community gatherings and have been for hundreds of years.  On reflection, simple rough and tumble folk dances - whether bush, Irish, African or Italian, they are all micro-communities linking arms and discovering a powerful energy much greater than just the sum of the individuals. This 'community energy set free' is the magical power of a well-constructed and just-enough-organised festival. Some caution may be thrown to the winds and good luck is a welcome friend. This energy is contagious and has the power to attract large communities to our great festivals and the Port Fairy Folk Music Festival is one of these.
There is no doubt that a festival enriches, revives, rejuvenates, unleashes a tide of energy, happiness and joy into our communities. This is the way the warm and generous people of Port Fairy and district welcomed my group’s festival idea from the first meeting with John Brophy and his volunteers. 'Lets go for a drive around town and tell us what you need' was his response. That 'whatever it takes’ attitude was all we needed and the rest is history”.

- Jamie McKew, Founding Director The Port Fairy Folk Festival

Stay tuned for more stories of the old days via our website and facebook.
Pictures by Jamie McKew - December  1977
John Brophy - watching the band from near the old bandstand. Foreground - my Nana (Ann Harman) in the green dress. 
Ceilidh Dance in the Drill Hall (now part of the Victoria Hotel).
Ivan Milligan - centre having a beer - one key man in our crew.
 The dancers in a blur of frenzy.
Arms a-tangled puzzle confound the dancers to the delight of the wicked band playing the devils reels!
The main outdoor stage at The Gardens - near the old band rotunda - a final song once the meeting is over. My Yamaha PA on the truck.
Cliff Gilbert-Purssey (just going out of frame on LHS) was a key organiser for the Melbourne contingent. Nick Mercer - was one of the booked acts (foreground). A very good crowd enjoying a sunny afternoon.
This was the first poster - I asked Mick Thomas if his brother Steve could design a poster and gave him the words. This was the brilliant outcome. The image was blown up from a tiny image in the 'Clancy Brothers Songbook'. 
This is a pic of a copy of an original ticket, which was pale green. (If anyone has an original to donate, we’d love one.)
Early Bird Tickets closing 08 December Click here to book
The dates for the 42nd festival next year are March 09 – 12, 2018
Ph: 03 5568 2227 | F: 03 5568 1819 |
Copyright © 2017 Port Fairy Music Festival, All rights reserved.

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