50 Folkin’ Years

Band of Dawn feature on a huge artist line-up for this year's Palm Creek Folk Festival to be held 8-11 June 2017 IMAGE: Sarah Joy Photography.

It’s said that your 20s are the prime of your life. When you hit 30, you have a better idea of your future. At 40, we sent my dad skydiving to double the amount of greys on his head. Then by 50, you start slowing down.

 For people, it’s the age at which you either start dying your hair or risk shopkeepers asking for your Seniors Card. But for the Townsville Folk and Acoustic Music Club, it’s the age at which the organisation is hitting its stride.

 Perhaps best-known for their organisation of the Palm Creek Folk Festival, the Club also coordinates many local events behind-the-scenes to showcase the best acoustic and folk artists living in or touring through the region.

50 years ago, the Townsville Folk and Acoustic Music Club was the first club of its kind anywhere in Queensland. But how, for half a century, has it lasted?

Don Jarmey, who joined in 1989, said the appeal of the Club was in more than just being able to play an instrument.

“We would get so many people joining in: as well as musicians, there’d be people who would come along just because of how accepting it was, of everyone from students right through to single mums,” Don said.

“I remember sitting there one day at a table with a guy who was a bricklayer, a lady who was a lawyer, an associate professor of geology, and a guy that installed pools … There’s no class distinction there. You’re all there for a common love of good music, which builds a community in itself.

“Some of the people would never have performed for an audience before. When you get them up on stage for the first time, they play two songs and absolutely love it. Whenever that happens is a great feeling, helping people to connect through music. That’s such an important thing: there’s no elitism.

“It’s also a great way to learn how to understand microphones, how to set up foldback, and how the behind-the-scenes side of things works. If you want to be a performer, you have to take the time to learn those things too.”

While only half the age of its older cousin, the Palm Creek Folk Festival was formed by a Folk Club committee in 1991 – and was not initially the success it is today.

“We had our first Festival at Melville’s Farm, and it definitely didn’t work as well as hoped. We expected roughly 400 people but 86 showed up.

“From there, we had to rethink the whole thing. We moved it to Pangola Stud, charged a lot less to attend, and had about 180 people. By the fourth year, there were 500 people and obviously now, the Palm Creek Folk Festival sells out with 3,000 people attending.

“It’s still a great music event now, but not what you’d call a folk festival. The folk heart is still there: the volunteers come back each year for no financial reward at all which is part of that ethos. In its early years, there were a lot more ‘folky’ musicians and bands, but now you’d be hard-pushed to find a dozen proper folk acts from around North Queensland.

“That’s forced Palm Creek to evolve, but there’s nothing wrong with that: when it’s selling out with crowds of 3,000 people, they’re doing a great job, and I’m proud that I was a part of its beginnings.”

While not centred on folk music anymore, the festival maintains its folk atmosphere: and is a legacy that is expected to last as long as the club that started it.

From humble beginnings, the Palm Creek Folk Festival is now a major drawcard on Townsville’s annual tourism and events calendar. This year’s full lineup will be announced soon, with more details available at palmcreek.com.au. To hear from one of this year’s Festival artists, click here!

 The Townsville Folk and Acoustic Music Club organise events at various venues across the city. Join them for regular performances at the Bellevue Hotel’s Folk Club Stage every second Thursday, and stay up to date by joining their public Facebook group.

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