Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project –
Interviewer: Jo Oliver
Interview Date: 25 October 2020
Jo So now I’m talking with Anne Lehmann-Kuit, and what’s your involvement in the Illawarra Folk Festival?
Anne I run Folk School which happens two days before the Festival on the Wednesday and Thursday. And we have from 9 to 5 each day, um, three simultaneous sessions where people can do hour long workshops in things like, um, ah, song writing, singing, guitar, banjo, Italian mandolin. Um – U – um, [laughter] I can’t even say it! Uillieann pipes, which is the Irish pipes.
Um, all these kind of amazing folk traditions that are quite niche and people get a chance to, to learn with, with often our international guests at the Folk Festival but also national and local guests as well. And I also run the Youth, Folk, Tradition Awards, or the Youth Tradition Awards and they’re on this afternoon. And they, the concept for that is encouraging, young people who play folk, or encouraging them to play folk and we have five categories: Australian folk song, folk song from another culture folk tunes and then original tune in a folk style and original song in a folk style and we give $100 cash for each category. So it’s quite motivating, a lot of kids finish songs for that ‘cos there’s an end point, so it’s kind of a stepping, stepping stone, um, and it could quite motivating for kids. And also we get some quite phenomenal it’s kind of like ‘youth’ being under under 26. So there’s, we have 8 year olds and we have, you know, professional musicians but it’s a nice kind of space.
Anne And it’s just, again trying to keep in mind, the traditions that are part of the Illawarra Folk Festival. So, the Illawarra Folk Festival and David De Santi’s kind of made a point of, of really wanting to embrace, um, the folk traditions so, um, yeah, it’s kind of giving a bit of a, ah, a space for that to happen with the youth.
Jo And is that different, is that focus, different than other folk festivals like to the other
Anne So there are so the different festivals have got different, um, ah, so some have, have become broader. I’d say Woodford is quite broad. Um, Blue Mountains Folk Festival I think has also probably broadened out a little bit. Canberra can be quite folk, um, maybe around the same as Illawarra. So, each festival’s goes its own feel.
Anne And then the other thing I do is I play. I’m playing with three different acts as well.
Jo Wow, so you’re a busy lady. [Laughter] What, what do you play Anne?
Anne I play guitar and I sing and I do children’s, um, performance called Illawarra nature story songs so we, um, we research local plants and animals and then we write, we write songs and stories about it. And it’s really interesting, like I found out that monotremes don’t have teeth and they’re much older than mammals. They found that out yesterday and I wrote a song yesterday about echidnas.
Anne It was really fun.
Anne And kids get to be really creative. So, so my background is I’m a music therapist, so my major drive is to encourage kids to be free and flexible and use music as an expressive, um, component of their everyday being. So that, it all kind of ties in. Most of the things I do kind of fit into that ethos.
Jo And the workshops, um, are they on site, that…?
Anne They’re across the road at the, at Northern Illawarra Uniting Church.
Anne We find it’s best to be off site while they’re setting up.
Jo Yeah, that makes sense.
Anne And it’s also, it’s a, it’s a rain proof venue which is quite handy.
Anne Okay. Yeah.
Anne And it’s also beautiful so you’ve got that beautiful sandstone church, so we use that, that venue. And then there’s a big hall and then there’s another room, so we’ve got three kind of separate spaces we can use and a fabulous kitchen. And our volunteers do lots of baking, particularly one volunteer, ??Sabean?? Kelly. She bakes a lot and, um, we say, we don’t pay the tutors very much at all. It’s quite embarrassing how little we pay, but we say, um, “This is all we can afford, but it will be fresh home baked brownies.” And that normally makes them go, “Oh, okay then!” [laughter]
Jo I’ll do it!
Anne Yeah [laughs]. And, and, there’s a lot of love in there, so that’s it’s a nice space and then they all get to join in on each other’s sessions as well.
Jo So it sounds like there, there is a lot of love. There’s a lot of commitment to a common goal here.
Jo Of, um,
Jo promoting and sharing,
Jo um, traditional music.
Anne I, I think that the thing about the folk festival is that it’s more than just folk music, it’s, it’s about, um, it’s about exactly that. It’s about people, um, really being open and friendly and, I mean, it’s all run by volunteers and that, that feeling you get when you walk in, it doesn’t matter what kind of music you like, most people get, um, um, like, you know, just<Multiple Speakers> really attracted by the feeling.
Anne Um, it’s a really special space and, and for me, like I’ve spent a lot of time kind of thinking what, what is folk music. And for me I’ve come to the conclusion it’s music that’s kind of set in time and space. So you kind of have a concept, something that’s happened at some point. And, um, so, um, there’s songs that are written now about the fires that are going on, they’re set in time and space. So if you listen to that song in 30 years, you’ll have an inkling of what’s been going on. And that’s kind of really, from a history perspective.
Anne it’s really important.
Jo Yeah, it is. It’s a cultural record.
Anne And, and the, She Loves Me Baby She Loves Me is also very important.Um, and that’s timeless, but that’s not necessarily set to a… often the She Loves Me Baby but then she died, that’s a folk tune. [Laughter]
Jo It’s got the pathos.
Anne It’s got the pathos. Yeah.
Jo Oh wow, and with the young people that you’re involved with, are they, um, a lot them local or do they come from further afield?
Anne Ah, so some, ah, so, we also offer scholarships for Folk School, so some of those come from further afield. We have people, um, travelling from Queensland, there are Campbelltown locals. Um, so yeah, it’s kind of broad. Yeah. So some people are here for the festival and they ??introduce traditions?? When they find out about it. Other people come specifically for Folk School and they don’t stay for the festival, they just do Folk School. Um, so it kind of all, it depends on, on the individuals. But yeah, there’s a, a broad range.
Jo Yeah. And what would you say about how things have changed over time? Is there, is there a lot of interest in young people, by young people in folk music now, or is it growing or is it lessening?
Anne Um, so this year it’s been really exciting. So one of our, um, our folk youth so she won the Youth Tradition Awards, um, when she was about 11 years old. [Loud Bang sound in background] Now she must be all of 17 and she’s now running the Youth Folk. So she’s getting the word out amongst her friends. And there’s still a bit of a, um, kind of a conception that folk’s not for them, like they’re more hip. So she’s kind of trying to do a stepping stone and also trying to open the festival up so that the concept that gets back what folk is a bit broader. Because I think when people come in and they’re cool, whatever, whatever they’re during, their rock or their surf or whatever and they see someone just be phenomenal on a mandolin, it’s going to make them want to go, “Oh, I want to play that! That’s amazing.” But if you haven’t heard it, you wouldn’t know about it. So I think it’s a lot of, um, just introducing people to, to something that’s just not heard on like mainstream radio. So unless you’ve got parents, or you seek it out yourself you wouldn’t get a chance to hear it. So you wouldn’t know if you like it or not because you haven’t experienced it.
Jo Yeah. It’s that exposure, mmm.
Jo So what do you see as, as the future of the festival?
Anne I think that the future’s a, I’m quite positive about the future of, of the festival because we have this young, young crew kind of coming through. And there is, um, there’s always that worry that a lot of our volunteers are, are older and there’s a point where they’re going to get, like just get worn out, so we do need to keep replenishing. Um, and we need to also, um, hand over control to the younger people which is always, can be a little bit hard and a bit, I think, scary when people have got a particular idea. Um, but that’s part of what is going to happen, and that’s the whole thing of like, you know, like folk music is music of the people, and that changes, like it keeps… So, um, yeah, so one of my favourite composers, Leo Brouwer, set Beatles songs as folk tunes because they are the music of our generation, they are the folk tunes of our generation. So it’s, it’s the songs that people kind of know, will become – so it’s kind of it’s always shifting. Um, I think, um, the whole folk festival movement, um, is, is really strong. And if we don’t have interference from government with licensing and all those kind of obstacles, um, I think that they will keep thriving. And there’s also like it’s, it’s really lovely that, that, like um, there’s um, at the bar you can buy a stubby holder and 100% of the proceeds go to Cobargo which is one of the other folk festivals that we all go to. And there is a sense we all look after each other, and so another friend is organising instruments for people who’ve lost their instruments further south. And there is that sense of we’re a really strong community and people are hungry for strong community. And I think so if people, if people [laughs] if people walk through the door they’ll get it. It’s getting people to walk through the door and just keep spreading the word.
Jo Fascinating, Anne. Thank you so much…
Anne My pleasure.
Jo for your time and all that in- interesting information.
Jo It’s been great.
Anne Okay thank you.
Jo Thank you.