43rd Top Half Folk Festival by Hugh McDonald

Posted by on Jun 20, 2013 in Festival Reports, News | 0 comments

A Small Festival in the Top Half of Australia.

I flew into Alice Springs from Melbourne to perform at the Top Half Folk festival with my two guitars, an overnight bag and my usual mixture of anticipation and apprehension.

I was excited to be the “headline” act for the first time in my solo career. I’d experienced this many times previously as a member of Redgum, both in the ’80’s and more recently with our new band, the “Vagabond Crew”, but this was different, I was on my own and felt considerable pressure to deliver the goods.

No sooner than I had touched down my apprehension magically began to dissipate. First with the warm “Territory” bear hug I received from my old friend, local singer-songwriter, Barry Skipsey then with each subsequent friendly gesture from other performers and audience members at the festival. I was really made to feel at home and sensed that everyone wanted me to give my best and this made my job so much easier. Unless you are a slightly awkward singer songwriter who has felt the nakedness of revealing your inner thoughts and feelings on stage before an educated and critical audience, you may not know what I’m talking about but a welcoming feeling and friendly atmosphere at a festival goes a long way towards bringing out the best in me.

I experienced that at the Top Half Festival before I took the stage and as a consequence, I think I gave my best.

The audience was receptive and engaged with my music and when I spoke with people later, it was clear they had listened carefully and understood everything I was trying to express through my lyrics. They even laughed at my jokes!

I’m sure that the other performers would feel the same way because the audience seemed to distribute their generosity evenly amongst all of us.

The highlights for me were the informal unaccompanied sing-along’s in the dining area. Men and women from all over the country with  massive voices, singing the songs they’d sung for years, improvising harmonies and bass parts, filled the room with effusive music . A rousing rendition of “wild mountain thyme” abruptly segued into a risqué parody of the same by a tall Liverpudlian and was met with belly laughs from all. That was early in the night! Then followed two hours of humorous poems, sea shanties and bush ballads with everyone joining in.

I will treasure the experience of seeing one of our living treasures, Ted Egan, at 80 years young, singing his ballads of the outback accompanied only by his fingers on a beer carton and metronomic, tapping foot, the aforesaid carton kept perfectly in tune by the removal and consumption of excess cans of VB. I couldn’t quite figure out his tuning system but I did notice that his performance got better the more he “tuned” his instrument!

Listening to Ted’s observations of outback Australia, drawn from long experience, a sharp intellect and his glowing humanity was a real privilege.

The festival is held at a beautiful spot on the banks of the Finke River in the shelter of an ancient, iron-red rock escarpment and while I was standing transfixed by the rock wall someone quipped,” don’t tell Gina Reinhardt or she’ll dig it up and sell it”. Unfortunately it’s all too true. Not enough of us value the natural beauty which surrounds us. At night you can lie back under Lawson’s “crystal chandelier” and take in the heavens. By day, you can take bush walks or watch waterfowls, egrets and cranes in the river or hawks gliding through the unbroken blue sky.

The Top Half Festival is unique. Its friendliness, abundance of talent and stunning location make it one of the best I’ve ever performed at.

Thank you to the festival organisers for inviting me; it was an honour and a privilege. A small festival? Not small, “boutique”!



Hugh McDonald