Renowned Australian music programmer Justin Rudge has been announced as the new Port Fairy Folk Festival director.
Mr Rudge steps into the role following Caroline Moore and Jamie McKew as the third person to hold the position.
Currently living in Madrid, Spain with his family, Mr Rudge will be working remotely until the coronavirus restrictions lift ahead of the 45th Port Fairy Folk Festival scheduled for March 5-8, 2021.
"It's truly an honour, I should be honest and say it's also a little daunting, but I can't wait to learn more about the areas I'm not as familiar with and this is what I'm going to focus on first," Mr Rudge said.
"Given the current COVID situation, there is no doubt the 2021 festival will likely look a little different.
"I am sure festival goers who have been attending for the last 44 years will understand this but I am excited about the real opportunity to use what faces us as a strength.
"Initially I want to wrap my head around the massive amount of information from previous festivals.
"I love that the patrons of the festival refer to the event as 'ours', I want to acknowledge that without the loyal audiences, there is no festival, so I will be doing my best to ensure each and every punter has a transformative experience during the festival."
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As a music professional Mr Rudge has worked across multiple areas of the industry from festival and venue programming, tour promotion, artist management and a variety of community, government and industry projects.
Mr Rudge has attended Folkie himself, most recently as part of Tami Neilson's crew in 2019.
"It was a fantastic experience for myself, Tami and her band, and I'm glad to have had the 'backstage' experience now that I'm the program director," he said.
"All of her shows were fantastic, and it gives me a good insight into the artists' perspective of the festival
"Outside of Tami, the musical highlights for me that year were Neko Case, Skerryvore, Alejandro Escovedo, Stephen Pigram, Ben Waters and Derek Nash, Ralph McTell and Kasey Chambers.
"I have been programming festivals since 2011, most recently the Echuca Winter Blues Festival since 2016.
"I have really enjoyed immersing myself in the community in Echuca, and I see Port Fairy as a similarly close knit township. Port Fairy represents such wide musical genres, including so many things I love, so I can't wait to get stuck in."
While the dark coronavirus cloud looms over the 2021 folk festival, the committee is already in planning for the event. No doubt, the four-day event will look different compared to years gone by.
"It certainly seems there will be challenges for international travel in the immediate future, and that this may have a significant impact on the musical and cultural programming of the festival, at least in March 2021," he said.
"I think the two real positives to potentially come out of this are to be able to shine a spotlight on the wonderful and diverse talent we have available in Australia, and secondly, to be really creative with new works and collaborations, and provide the loyal audience with genuinely new experiences.
"Health and safety will be of paramount importance to patrons, artists, employees and stakeholders across festivals, and indeed, all aspects of industry for the immediate future.
"It will provide different and unique challenges for everyone, and as we have seen so far through the crisis, Australians have responded responsibly to the changes that have been required."
As for his own experience, Spain has been an epicentre for the coronavirus and Mr Rudge has experienced strict lockdown restrictions.
"We have been through some of the fiercest lockdown restrictions in the world; our daughter didn't leave our apartment for over 10 weeks," he said.
"While there has been a devastating amount of loss of life here and across Spain, we have remained thankful for our health, and largely enjoyed the time together as a small family.
"Only last week the green spaces, parks and outdoor restaurants have re-opened under new restrictions and capacities, which the population is very respectful of. This has provided a real boost to our morale as you might imagine.
"In general we have been so impressed by the Spanish people's calmness, resilience and positive attitude throughout the crisis. It's certainly a period of our lives we will never forget."
Mr Rudge hopes, along with the rest of the Folkie community, the coronavirus restrictions will ease in time for another successful event.
While live music events worldwide face enormous challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 global crisis, I am excited to start planning next year's festival and am confident we can face these challenges and provide the Port Fairy and folk communities with an unforgettable experience in 2021.Justin Rudge
Port Fairy Folk Festival president John Young said Justin's experience and established career working in the live music industry provided an excellent platform for the Festival as it moves into a new event format following the impact of COVID-19.
'We were very impressed with Mr Rudge's background and solid experience in working with live music and festivals," Mr Young said.
"Justin brings with him a wealth of experience, inspiration and ideas with community and folk music at the core.
"We are excited to be continuing the extraordinary work his predecessors, Jamie and Caroline, have done and are thrilled to be passing the baton onto Justin to deep dive into the planning of our world-renowned festival."
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