Port Fairy Folk Festival founder Jamie McKew has gone down in folk music history as the first Australian to receive the prestigious Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Award.
McKew stands tall among giants with past recipients including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez.
The award, presented by the US-based Folk Alliance International, acknowledges his tireless work since establishing the festival on the back of a truck in 1977 and creating opportunities for thousands of artists in Australia and abroad in the ensuing 40 years.
"When I found out I was stunned, speechless really. I think I went weak at the knees," McKew said.
"I started with a dream to run a festival and it has become an absolute phenomenon ever since. I guess it all boils down to the power of music and the community.
"That's what folk music is all about, it's about a community of people coming together to dance, share stories and music together. All the things you do sitting around a camp fire - it's an ancient tradition really.
"People have done that ever since fire was discovered, it meets a real human need I feel."
McKew will be presented the award at the coveted International Folk Music Conference to be held in Geelong in March next year.
"I got to go to my first conference in Montreal last year and it was the most exceptional four days. Everyone stayed at the Fairmont Hotel and in the evenings there were showcases going in all the hotel rooms," he said.
"If you can imagine say the Novotel in Melbourne running music in all the rooms from 9pm until 3am, there were fairy lights and 30-40 people packed into a single hotel room to hear someone play, while there were shows running all up and down the corridors - it was bedlam, but it was magic.
"Next year it will start in Geelong and finish in Port Fairy just before the festival. It's a really big deal for Australia let alone Geelong and Port Fairy to have the Folk Alliance choose us to be their third regional location for their boutique ExChange concerts.
"We probably don't realise it, but Port Fairy is really quite famous around the folk music scene."
Four years ago McKew handed the over the reins to Caroline Moore, who applauded her predecessor for his grit and determination in getting the festival off the ground.
"It's a huge honour for Jamie and acknowledges all the hard work he's done ever since he established the Port Fairy Folk Festival," Moore said.
"His work over the 40-odd years has significantly changed the folk music scene in Australia. Not only has now become part of the DNA of Port Fairy, but it's one of the world's most regarded folk festivals.
"Jamie is also the first Australian to be awarded, it's huge especially when you look at the alumni of that award, it puts up front and centre the significance of the work of Jamie."
The festival founder has etched himself into the Australian and international music scene as a taste maker for up-and-coming talent, with many artists cutting their teeth at Folkie before launching into musical fame.
"I don't think I've ever told this story, but I remember Missy Higgins sent us a tape and it was one year when we were a bit snowed under and I didn't get to hear the tape until well after the festival was finished that year. She was still going to school in Geelong at that time and I've always regretted that we could have had Missy Higgins before anyone knew who she was," he said with a laugh.
"I always thought it was important to keep the balance right, you can be a massive festival and book world-famous acts for world-famous amounts of money, but we like to do it in a more down to earth way by taking a more inclusive approach.
"It's important to include people at every level to give everyone a go, every year we're discovering new acts trying new things. We've had so many new artists come through, like The Waifs who played on Fiddlers Green who were unheard of, and Xavier Rudd who went to school with one of my kids and called me up one day to tell me he'd started playing music and that he wanted a gig at Port Fairy.
"The festival is really good at nurturing new acts, we're like a family."
Taking place from Monday 2 March to Wednesday 4 March, the ExChange event will start with an opening concert featuring performances from Port Fairy Folk Festival's Artists of the Year Gina Williams & Guy Ghouse, as well as Shane Howard and The East Pointers.
Members of the music industry are invited to register at www.folkexchange.org to attend and participate in workshops, artist showcases, and industry sessions.
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