Folkie plays on despite dark times for music festivals

IN a time when music festivals around Australia are struggling to sell tickets, the Port Fairy Folk Festival is thriving.

A niche market, camping over several days and a well-established audience has seen the event weather the storms raging in different parts of the festival market. 

In the past 12 months festivals such as Harvest, Homebake and Peats Ridge have been scrapped, while others such as Big Day Out and Soundwave have had ticket sales lag in some cities. 

“I was aware, but I didn’t have any doubts that we’d sell out. We had a different audience that was going to come no matter what,” Folk Festival director Jamie McKew said. 

“It’s a dedicated audience, they’ve been coming for so long but it’s an all-age festival. 

“It’s a meeting place and a reunion time as much as anything.” 

All 11,000 tickets sold out in the final weeks before the event. 

Adelaide’s WOMAD festival held on the same weekend as Port Fairy has moved into a similar sound — but being an interstate festival it’s not perceived as a threat to sales, even with big names like Billy Bragg headlining. Port Fairy owes much of its success to low labour costs made possible by an army of volunteers, around 600 of whom work through the weekend. 

Hundreds more work setting up the tents and arena. 

“If you add it all up there’s nearly a thousand volunteers behind it, which actually means you can keep your ticket prices down,” Mr McKew said. 

“WOMAD’s tickets are dearer than ours.

“It’s a community-owned festival, it’s not driven by a commercial imperative.” 

At the end of the day, the town sells itself.

“The really popular festivals around the world, the keys to them are the location, that’s always in Port Fairy’s favour.” 

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