When we were in Denmark we discovered a band we really wanted to see was playing at Skagen Folk Festival so decided to detour and go there. We had an amazing time and remembered then that on our back doorstep we had a similar festival of our own and vowed to check it out when we returned home.
Fairbridge Festival is held at Fairbridge Village five kilometers north of Pinjarra on the South Western highway. The festival is usually held over three days on the middle weekend of the school holidays in April, but due tothe celebration of its twenty fifth anniversary and the proximity of ANZAC Day it was extended to four days.
Despite living in Perth for the last twenty five years we’ve always found an excuse not to go . While at the festival we had a chance to talk to a few people who had attended over the years, it seems there is a real sense of community. Many started coming when their children were young and many of the young people who originally came to Fairbridge Festival with their parents over the years now come on their own. It’s become almost a family tradition and we regret not taking our children when they were younger but hope to introduce them to it next year.
This year Fairbridge Festival hosted over 100 different local and overseas acts across its 13 stages. The acts were drawn from over 500 applications to provide a nice mix of music, dance, comedy, workshops and activities. Using the festival program we planned our weekend carefully to optimise our time. The guide had a description of each of the acts, performance times, venue and a map of the grounds.
What to Do at Fairbridge Festival
If your thing is to just see some good music you are definitely in heaven at the Fairbridge Festival.. The diversity of entertainment is a real tribute to the organising committee, both local and international acts including a good selection of groups that sang in their traditional languages. We enjoyed everything from a multicultural folk band from Denmark (Himmerland) who taught us to sing part of a song in Swedish, a crazy Australian band singing songs from South America to a beautiful young indigenous singer from Groote Eylandt near Darwin…. and everything in between
There are a variety of venues, which vary in size, some holding just 50 people to huge tents holding a close to a 1000 hundred so you have so many options. We did find some of the smaller venues fill up quickly so missed out on seeing a few things we had marked down to see but as the choice is so diverse we quickly found something else to do so it was all a positive experience.
There are also roving groups nd street theatre where impromptu performances are on. So we spent a bit of time just wandering around watching them. We also spent time wandering through the market stalls, some run by local community groups to raise funds along with all sorts of trinkets, crafts, t-shirts, clothing and handmade products. There’s everything you’d expect at a craft market with fairly reasonable prices. Around the festival were busker stops where budding performers of all ages hone their skills. It really adds to the flavour of the festival.
Also part of Fairbridge Festival is a variety of workshops, at one of the larger venues (Hoopla) there were different dance classes on all day. They were great fun and nobody took themselves too seriously so everyone was welcome to join in. These included Perth’s own Mucky Duck Band, who had the crowds including us, up folk dancing and having a great time. Some of our fondest memories from when our kids were young was seeing the Mucky Duck Band at the Whiteman Park bush dances. During the day some of the bands even took part in dance classes with patrons learning Irish and folk dancing.
We mistakenly attended a bush poetry workshop with the Inglorious Bardsters thinking it was a folk music duo. At the time it seemed a bit strange that there were no guitars in sight as we chatted to the two performers. Once we heard them announce it was a bush poetry workshop a sense of dread crept over us. As we were in the front row we couldn’t creep out without drawing attention to ourselves so we went with the flow. However, after regaining our composure Ron put pen to paper and came up with a bush poem about our experience.
An Accidental Poet
A poetry workshop, well that was a surprise
We’d found some vacant chairs, and met the two blokes eyes
We thought it was two singers and sat right up at the stage
Now we have to write a poem and he’s handing out a page
I couldn’t back out now, without looking like a twit
So I took the pen and paper and I jotted down this dit
An accidental poet with a poem now to write
Like a roo stuck on a motorway or rabbit in the light
Now the blokes have started pacing so the pressure’s on me now
My hands have started shaking and sweats running down my brow
Now the minute’s nearly up and I’m coming to an end
Next time I’ll read the brochure and skip poetry my friend
Later Ron was invited to recite it in front of the crowd, sadly I was shattered after two days so we did not get back.. Overall it was a wonderful experience to participate in the festival and of course we now have this poem to remind us of the experience.
Another local favourite who snuck in for an impromptu performance was John Butler. The program billed it as ‘Secret Concert” in the Clubhouse, we were intrigued and headed over to discover hundreds of people trying to get into a very small venue. In what could only be described as the worst kept secret, John Butler and his wife, Mama Kin packed the “Clubhouse” with a large crowd looking on from outside jostling for a glance at the star. Sadly we could not hear a note so headed off to find another venue and more music.
Children at Fairbridge Festival
Children are a big part of Fairbridge Festival, many of those there on the weekend were there with both their parents (who probably came as kids) and grandparents. There was a great selection of things for them to do from concerts to art activities, they were kept busy . Children were also welcomed into the venues to enjoy the music and of course the workshops. It was lovely to see the dance workshops with the children getting involved, they always bring life to these sorts of things and help others not feel so self concious.
Eating at Fairbridge Festival
I was amazed at the selection of food, all the food stands cooked fresh food , there were lots of vegetarian and other dietary options so no one would go hungry. On average the prices ranged from $10 – $15 a meal and you were spoilt for choice, The biggest challenge for us was to work our way through all that was on offer… We enjoyed some amazing “Nicely Spiced’ chicken and chips, Indian Tacos, Mexican Nachos, Turkish Gozleme to name a few…..who says you need to travel to enjoy the food of the world.
Sleeping at Fairbridge Festival
There are a variety of accommodation choices, most people bring their tent and camp. There are a couple of areas to choose from, it is pretty rustic but there are showers and toilets available. We spoke to a couple who have been coming for a few years and their advice was not to expect too much, some days the shower queues are long so they don’t bother. This is more than made up for in the atmosphere of the festival. We were also told to make sure you check out who is camping around you. If you are with your children camp near other families so you are all waking up together and it may be a bit quieter at night.
For a bit more you can do Cosy Camping where your tents are set up for you already, you just arrive and move in. You can even buy your tent at a discounted price the end of the festival if you like.
Then you have the top of the range Glamping where everything is set up when you arrive, you sleep in blow up beds with nice linen and you have access to shower, toilet and kitchen facilities.
The onsite cottages are used to house staff, volunteers and artists
There are also some hotels and motels close by where you can drive in and out each day. You can find the best prices here or have a look on the festival website here for other accomodation options.
How to make the most out of Fairbridge Festival
- Buy (or download) a program – take a highlighter and work out what you want to see and do. If there is something you really want to see get there early.
- Be flexible- a couple of times we wanted to see an act and the rooms were already full so we found other things to do.
- Leave free time to enjoy the markets, the roving entertainment and the food.
- Be prepared for all weather, while we had beautiful weather during the day it got quite cool in the evenings. Apparently it often rains as well but it is all part of the fun, festival organisers call is ‘dust suppression’.
- Take change as you will see many kids busking, this is their introduction to public performance so it is nice to reward them even with 10 cents.
The 2018 Fairbridge Festival will be held on the weekend of the 20th – 22nd of April. We are already planning to start our own tradition and bring some friends to enjoy it with us. Early bird bookings open mid-January (normally) and you can pay your tickets off as well which makes it easy. You can subscribe to the festival’s eNewsletter, which will alert you to when tickets go on sale and other festival news – click here to sign-up.
We are already looking forward to it…..see you there