The annual Palm Creek Folk Festival kicks off tonight, showcasing some of the best local, national and international performers with everything from music and dance to art and craft workshops spanning the four-day event.
While some acts will make their debut at Palm Creek this year, other festival staples will return – including Townsville bush band, Wattle n’ Gum. Band co-founder, Bill Laing, said the event was an integral part of Wattle n’ Gum’s calendar.
“We’ve been performing at Palm Creek basically from the very start – before it grew into the larger festival we all know now! We used to play at a little festival up another creek in that Woodstock area, then were asked to play at the first Palm Creek Folk Festival and have played there ever since,” Bill said.
“If you join us at Palm Creek, you can expect a really good bush dance. That means there will be a big mob of people on the floor doing set dancing with lots of energy and having lots of fun; everybody from 2-80 year olds dance with the band looking down on you with big grins on our faces.”
Wattle n’ Gum, celebrating 35 years in 2018, formed in the early 80s thanks to some good timing.
“Back in 1982 the Rasmussen State School P&C wanted to run a bush dance, but no band was available so they decided to make their own. They had a very energetic P&C President, John Patrick, who formulated this vision of having a bush band and as the universe would have it, my wife and I arrived in Townsville virtually the same month the P&C formulated their plan, in February 1983,” said Bill.
“I met John at the university when I arrived here and he found out Sue and I had set up a very successful bush band in Broken Hill five years earlier, so obviously the two things were well-placed for us to get together and he asked us to come and train a bunch of people up – parents mainly. From that humble beginning we trained a bush band, I could call dances and trained John up as well – and Wattle n’ Gum was born!
“There’s about 15 performing with us this weekend. A lot of us are now retired and know most of the tunes very well, because we’ve played them a lot before. Dance calling and running a bush dance is different from a concert: with a concert you want the band to evolve a bit, whereas with a bush band you can kind of do the same things year after year – with little changes here and there, but the audience loves it anyway because the dancing plays such a big part.”
With 35 years under their belt, Bill says the band is showing no signs of slowing.
“I think there’s really two things that have helped Wattle n’ Gum last successfully for so long: one is the band itself and the other is the community that we’re in. With the band, we’ve never auditioned people, we’ve always just accepted them. They can be pretty rough around the edges or young and inexperienced, but we accept them. Our record was 30 people on stage at once.
“Then the community; we just love what we do which is really simple but family-friendly entertainment, where people don’t just sit in their chair and watch, they actually want to get up and dance. We’ve found over the 35 years we’ve been going that people love to get up and get involved, which is sort of the complete opposite to the spectator-style sport TV is encouraging nowadays. And what’s even better is they love they can dance with their kids!
“We’re always on the lookout for new musicians, especially young ones, and help train them – it’s not daunting, we help you with all the music. It is our 35th year running bush dances, and I can’t guarantee this for sure because it’s not an easy thing to research, but I’m pretty sure that’s a world record!”
Catch Wattle n’ Gum performing as part of the Palm Creek Folk Festival from 7-10 June, just South of Townsville. Online tickets have closed, however there are plenty available at the gate, with more information and programming here.
Following Palm Creek, Wattle n’ Gum will perform their annual Paluma Bush Dance to celebrate the Winter Solstice on Saturday, 30 June. If you’re interested in performing with the band, get in touch and we’ll pass Bill’s contact details on.