Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Keith and Liz Lowell – Volunteers Illawarra Folk Festival 2020
Interviewer: Jo Oliver
Interview Date: January 2020
Jo Talking with Keith and Liz, and I understand that you’ve come some distance to come to Illawarra Folk Festival, so…
Liz Ah, yes, we’re from Adelaide, and, ah, we come over every year.
Jo And what brought you? What brought you to come all that distance to this particular festival?
Keith What we normally do, um, we’re retired, and we’ve chosen a lifestyle of going to music festivals and volunteering. So each Christmas, alternately we will go to Woodford or Signet which ? opposite ends of the? country and they’re both around Christmas, so we do them alternately. And then from there we come here, ‘cos, eh, you know, it just works out that the distance is right. This year, however, we didn’t go to Woodford, but we weren’t going to miss this festival [laughter], so, so we came direct here from Adelaide.
Jo Wonderful. So, we get you every year and they get you on the alternate year.
Jo And what do you – what’s the nature of your volunteering when you come?
Liz I’m an MC.
Keith Um, I’m Jack of all trades. My preference is always to do the set up and pack down because that means you get the entire festival uninterrupted, and I also like physical work. I had an office job for years and getting out doing physical work’s, for me it’s fun. Um, this
year I’m doing MC’ing as well because they’re, they’re short of volunteers here, so, um, I said I can do, can do MC’ing as well, so I’m doing both.
Jo Right. So, the organisers know ahead of time what your skills are, do they? And, and how you’re … [Laughter] going to…
Liz We actually complete a fairly exhaustive questionnaire, um, as to what we’ve done before, where we’ve been, who they can talk to for references, things like that,
Jo Mmm, wonderful.
Liz before we actually come over.
Keith But we, we come to Kiama as well and it shares a lot of common organisers, so it’s got to the point where they ring us and say, “Are you coming and will you do..?” [laughter] will do anything? When’re you gunna be here, and… [Laughter]
Jo Yeah. And what does MC’ing involve?
Liz Doing a little bit of research on the acts, introducing them, um, so that, so that the audience know what to expect, I guess. But also, not going so far that you take up their time. Jo Yeah.
Liz It’s a fairly fine line. [Laughter]
Jo Right, yeah. And is that on the main stage or do you move around? I’m not quite sure how…
Liz I’ve got three venues this time. Um, I had Black Diamond yesterday afternoon and tonight I’ve got the restaurant, and then tomorrow I’ve got the big stage here at Slacky Flat.
Liz I did that last year. Usually, I’ve got the late shift at Black Diamond Saturday night with all the kids. I haven’t got that this year. I’m really looking forward to it! [Laughter]
Keith I had the midnight shift at [laughter] the restaurant last night and, and that was full, like chockers. So, the other part of it here is the MCs are also venue manager.
Keith Which means you’re responsible for crowd control, safety, all that sort of thing. And even saying the venue’s full and closing the door on occasion. We haven’t had to do it here, but on other festivals we’ve had to do it a little.
Jo Yeah, so it’s a big job, mmm.
Liz A bit of politics involved.
Keith Yes. [Laughter] And in the end everybody needs to have fun, so while there are the rules and the regulations you have to abide. You also gotta make sure that the audience has a good time, so [clears throat].
Jo And in between do you get to listen to the music?
Liz We do, and we patronise the bar.
Liz It’s always fun.
Keith Well, volunteering always involves a free ticket, so we have a free weekend pass to go anywhere we want. Some festivals you get more than the, just the free ticket, you’ll get a canteen, and here we get drinks and we, set up pack down get fed. So there’s a ?..? canteen for the volunteers. So you’re well looked after as a volunteer.
Jo Wow. You know how they much they value your, your work.
Jo And you’re very necessary. And what, when you do get to listen to music, is there
a particular sort of music that you like to listen to?
Liz Celtic, um, is my …
Keith Celtic. background, um, I’m a Scott
Liz I was born in Glasgow, so, ah, I follow the pipes [laughter].
Keith Yeah, Bluegrass and f-, folk music in general. A little bit of country, but we don’t go to like the Tamworth’s and the country if it’s special festivals.
Liz There’s a bit crossover. You do get the odd country artist at festivals like this. It’s bit of
a mixture. But sometimes we’ll just go to a venue and say come at me.
Keith Yeah. And that’s the beauty of MC’ing…
Keith Is that you will get, you, you’re basically there for four, five hours and whatever comes, comes. You haven’t chosen it, you’ve basically… So, you often get to see acts you probably wouldn’t choose to, and that’s always a good thing, you can discover a whole lot of new things.
Keith The other benefit, we found, is you get to know the artists. So, it’s reached the point now where quite a few of the groups we get hugs. [Laughter]. Especially as soon as they see us whether it’s MC’ing or whether it’s, er, because, um, that you’ve got know them, you’ve introduced them a few times, you’ve chatted to them, because MC’ing you tend to chat to the artists.
Keith Um, so that’s another benefit we find with this.
Liz Get to know people.
Jo That’s right. So it’s a social thing as well?
Liz Very much.
Jo Yeah, yeah. And you’re quite a veteran of other festivals. Is there – how would you describe this particular festival? Does it that have a particular character or flavour?
Keith Um, perhaps. I, I, there are – festivals vary in their character or flavour. This one is what I would call a festival on an oval. So, you’ve got a closed environment where you’re checked at the door and then it’s free for all. You have other festivals that are festival at a town.
Liz Like Maldon.
Keith Say like Maldon Festival where the venues are all around the town and you have a door checker at each of the venues, and – but free – you can wander free you don’t have to pay to be in the town, if that makes sense. And there’s a lot of free use that goes on at those, so…
Liz Here it’s a closed site.
Keith This is a closed site. Um, um, Woodford is pretty much a festival on an oval. It’s a closed site. Ah, and the National is, but there are a number. So they’re the two main flavours of, um, um festival. And this is definitely one of the better run and better organised festivals on an oval, definitely.
Jo Mmm, are there benefits of it being closed? Does that create a different atmosphere because everybody’s here?
Keith We love it because it creates a village atmosphere.
Jo Yeah, that’s right.
Keith If you’re, if you have a festival at a town with venues scattered around the town, you, basically it’s a town with some shows on, whereas this creates like a village atmosphere. And Woodford is the epitome of that because it’s so far removed from civilisation that literally every – and Fairbridge is another one – literally, um, you are isolated. So you have all your food supplies, all, everything is provided by, within the village.
Liz If you don’t take it in you buy it onsite.
Jo Mmm. And what, what do you like about it being a village?
Keith Oh, just [laughter] that’s, the atmosphere is what you come for. The music is a, a big part of it. But there’s the people who like dance, um, there’s people who come for the stalls. So, you know, it’s all, it all, um, creates an atmosphere and different people have different focuses.
Jo Right, right.
Keith We tend to be the music type.
Jo Yes, yes.
Keith We come for the music mostly.
Jo Yeah. And is the music here of a particular character, or, how..?
Liz No, it’s bit of a mixture. But we’ve go to Yass which is an Irish and Celtic festival and we volunteered there, and we’ve been to Glenn Innes and Port Arlington,
Keith Port Arlington.
Liz which are also Celtic festivals, but this one is, is more of a mixture.
Liz Much more – I mean you’ve got Eric Bogle, um, singer/songwriter extraordinary.
Keith Many of the, the touring artists, like they’ll do Woodford then they come here then they’ll, you know, so they move, so you see the same artists. Which is why it doesn’t actually worry us if our working duties mean we don’t get to see an act that we would like to see, because we’ll catch them again some other time [laughter] somewhere else, you know.
Liz They do the circuit.
Jo Yeah. And do the festivals – I assume they communicate with each other so that there is that circuit happening, do they about when…
Keith No, it works the other way. The, the managers of the artists communicate with, ah, festivals to, to set up a tour itinerary. So, and the locals, um, what happens there is online they apply so they, they bid to say, “I’ll come, I’ll do this stuff, and I want this much money.” And then the organisers choose. The artistic director of the festival chooses who
they’re going to have, and that, so it happens that way. So that, that’s how the music
program is developed.
Jo Yeah, yeah. And with all the ones you travel to do they go right through the year, or is there a particular season that..?
Liz There’s a festival season. There are a couple of winter ones. Um, after, there’s not usually much after the National in Canberra because we’re getting into winter and all the artists are going for the European summer for the festivals over there. Um, there are a couple of exceptions. Port Arlington Celtics in June.
Keith Glenn Innes is a little later.
Liz Glen Innes Celtic is in May. There’s a Top End Festival, um, which is either at Darwin or Alice Springs, ah, alternate years. and Fairbridge is April?
Keith It’s after the National, because we got across there one time.
Liz We did one year. Um, Easter was early, so we went to the National and we didn’t even go home to Adelaide. The closest we got was Burra and then we shot off across the Nullarbor.
Keith Straight across the Nullarbor to, to Fairbridge which is near Perth.
Liz So we would tell people that over there and they said, ”My God they’re die hards.” [Laughter] ”You did what?” Because we had to be there a week early because he was on the set up.
Keith Yeah, ‘cos being on set up, being retired, we can get, normally get to the festival early which gives us the opportunity to take part in the set-up part of the festival.
Jo Mmm, right. Which I guess makes the whole period of the festival even longer than…
Keith For us.
Liz Oh, for us definitely.
Keith But we’re retired.
Jo Yeah. So what proportion of your time would you be at festivals versus at home?
Keith A ?live in a? residential village for the over 50’s, so it’s, you sort of, you don’t have to lock up really.
Keith Um, but um, we are the joke of the festival, they call us the nomads.
Keith ?The joke of the village actually. Yeah, um, um the nomads or the gypsies? We’re at home probably for only about half the year, and it’s ?a week and. Or Less? a week here, a week there.
Liz We’re going to be overseas for 5 months.
Keith So yeah, a lot of our time is on the road. We string two or three festivals together to make a single road trip and we do tourist…
Keith And we now have friends all over the country that we’ve made in this life.
Liz We had a, a young relative out from the UK last July August. We had her for 7 weeks and she’s 20 and she couldn’t believe that wherever we went we knew somebody. So, we’d get invited out for dinner or we’d meet somebody out or something like that. That’s the great thing about this traveling lifestyle is the people who you meet. And you meet somebody, you just click, and you stay in touch. And We’ve always got a bed in Tasmania!
Keith Yes. [Laughter] And in Glen Innes, and yeah.
Jo And how long have you been having this wonderful lifestyle?
Liz About eight years.
Keith Yeah, 2013 I retired. We started well before that, so we didn’t sort of…
Liz We practised.
Keith I retired and then started, we actually practised, um, and got the hang of it and decided it’s what we wanted to do.
Liz We bought an old bus for peanuts and, um, Keith finished fitting it out and we thought when he retires we’ll upgrade. We’ve never bothered, we just kept the old one.
Keith [Laughter] It’s going beautifully.
Liz We decided we were going to keep going until either the bus dies or we turn 70.
Liz We’re getting there.
Jo And you, you sleep and everything in the bus? And do you have to stay in caravan parks?
Keith Yeah. We, we set it up to be plugged in, so we want power. The fridge in particular has to have power.
Liz And I’m not camping in the bush. There are things out there that want to eat me. [Laughter] I’m not doing that. I’m, I’m not a native Australian.
Jo Oh, okay.
Liz I’ve been out for a long time, but I’m still not a native.
Jo It’s been very interesting and a great addition to our interviews today to have, um, you both come along.
Liz Have you had other volunteers?
Jo Ah, one other earlier on.
Jo But a different story to yours.
Keith Of course.
Jo Everybody’s story is different. Yeah, well thank you so much for your time.
Keith You’re welcome.