We Talk With Justin Rudge, Port Fairy Folk Festival Program Director

Interview Port Fairy Folk Festival 2022

Port Fairy Folk Festival 2022

11 to 14 March

Program Director Justin Rudge Talks To LTTL

LTTL: We all know it’s been a super rough time for live music for two years, particularly in Victoria. And it all started at the conclusion of Port Fairy Folk Festival 2020 with the global lockdown within a few days of the festival closing. The outlook looks more promising than for a long time and the 45th edition of the PFFF (11 to 14 March) will be one of the largest folk music gatherings held in Australia for a while.  Do you feel that there seems some symmetry and significance for PFFF to be leading us out of the pandemic effectively bookending our tough two years? (Sorry for the long-winded question)

Justin Rudge: It’s absolutely been a challenging two years for everyone in the music industry, and indeed our world in general.  It feels slightly surreal that we are heading out of the abyss, and for that we are truly grateful!  At this stage, it seems the timing for our return is perfect, and we can’t wait to welcome every back to Port Fairy.

You were appointed as Program Director I think in May 2020. It must have been a pretty unusual period for you, plenty of ‘what-ifs’ and plan B’s to consider?

Unusual is one of many words I could use to describe the last 22 months!

It was such an honour, and amazingly exciting, to be appointed as only the third program director in the festival’s 45 year history.

That was soon countered by the disappointment only a couple of months later to have to postpone the 45th festival.

The ‘Folkie’ has great history and success at putting on the festival every March.  When that option was removed, we did what so many others did – ran different events, online content, hibernated, worked on business plans and structures.  I believe we used the time to the best of our abilities to prepare for the next 45 years.

No doubt the challenge of confidence moving forward to the festival has been difficult, and it was really only in November 2021 that we could commit to putting on a full scale event – which was then again in jeopardy by December with the emergence of the new variant.

I don’t want to think about how much time I have spent working on pandemic related issues, only to have them change 180 degrees a month/week/day/hour later!!

It will all be worth it to see our wonderful community reunite.

The festival line-up is very impressive with some international acts included who will be among the first to arrive in Australia for a long time. How difficult has it been to keep the lifeline with them going?

As I had been based for a couple of years in Europe, I was fortunate to have really strong relationships with a range of great artists.  While I’m a massive advocate for Australian artists, it will be wonderful to have a sprinkling of international artists at our event in more numbers than anywhere else in Australia for the previous 2 years.  While it hasn’t all gone to plan (!), our musical community has ridden the waves, and I thank all the agents, managers, promoters, and artists for their kindness and patience as we’ve moved forward. 

How much do you consider the local community and the history/tradition of the town contribute to the festival’s unique character and longevity?

It’s a huge part of what happens at the festival – it simply wouldn’t happen without the community support, as well as the huge efforts of the volunteer committee, and our army of volunteers that get the festival up, going, and packed up every year!

I am fortunate to be in regular contact with founder Jamie McKew, who constantly provides wonderful nuggets of information and history, and we are working on a larger project to document and celebrate the festival.

No doubt the pandemic will see some adjustments and changes this year – and I’m sure some will be fantastic, and others perhaps less so – but the heart and soul of the festival will shine through. 

What would you say are the fundamental criteria for selecting artists to perform there? Musical diversity, mixing international with local performers, balancing drawing power with innovation? Others?

I think you’ve covered it all here!  It’s an incredibly diverse lineup, and it’s absolutely been challenging to provide that diversity within a smaller range of options with border restrictions. 

Respecting the musical traditions and history of the festival is vital – but Port Fairy is also a trusting audience – they are keen to see new things and experience new cultures.

And of course – we need some popular artists to ensure the success and future of the festival – but I hope that we also generate this through new and exciting experiences.

In recent years, the festival has sold out. But 2022 is pretty different with health and safety protocols to the fore and perhaps hesitancy from some punters.  Are you experiencing an increase in ticket sales later this time which reflects growing confidence levels from the public?

We put tickets on sale for the 2022 festival way back in March 2021, and while it provided some challenges, having such a long window really allowed us to assess and react to the confidence of our existing and new audiences.  It’s been a real credit to our community that they have such well founded faith that we will deliver a special event even in the current circumstances.

This has been reflected in strong and largely consistent ticket sales, which spurs us to keep going and create a magical event for those that show such wonderful support for the festival. 

Are you planning much the same presentation scale this year in terms of performance areas, number of sets? 

Perhaps surprisingly, yes, it will be pretty close to the size and scale of the 2020 festival.  There’s some challenges around larger ensembles, and collaboration events are also tricky, but we’ll have about the same number of stages, artists and performers across the arena and township.

As well as music there’s an abundance of other creative events, local crafts and fine food at the festival, what can we expect to see this year in that space this year?

 We are so fortunate to have partnered with the Archie Roach Foundation this year with the support of RISE to present the inaugural Archie Roach Foundation Stage.  There will be a huge amount of art, craft, language, and culture presentations as a part of this stage, and I’m so excited to see this roll out.

All our favourite and regular food and craft stalls will be back as well, which is wonderful as they have also had a challenging two years.

Radio broadcasts at festivals are a terrific way to introduce new artists. I’ve particularly enjoyed them at Port Fairy because they are presented so well. Will there be some live broadcasts this year and can you provide any details?

I’m also a massive fan of radio broadcasts!  We’ll have ABC back again this year, doing a live broadcast with 8 artists on Saturday morning at the Reardon Theatre, which is always a highlight of the festival.

Tell us about The Port Fairy Folk Festival Committee. How large is it and how you coordinate all the many strands of events and programs, volunteers, Publicity, logistics, sound, stage production, artist support etc. it’s quite an achievement in itself, even before the first note is played!

The committee is absolutely incredible!  Their dedication over the last 2 years in such challenging times has be astounding, and I’m so grateful for all their hard work.

The committee is currently 11 people who all handle a huge amount of responsibility across the festival – it really wouldn’t happen without them!  We have a small team in operations, a huge amount of qualified contractors, and a small army of volunteers over the festival weekend itself.

Over 45 years, they have developed a well oiled machine, and we’re so glad to have them back and putting everything together again!

Thanks for your time! It’s going to be exciting.  See you on Friday 11 March

Can’t wait!


More Music Adventures Await!


Interview Port Fairy Folk Festival 2022

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Author: Rob Dickens

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