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Your guide to the vibrant sounds of the National Folk Festival at EPIC

With everything from a pygmy dance party to "glam" folk on ukulele, the acts at the National Folk Festival will be diverse, but there's one thing that all have in common event director Pam Merrigan says – they're making music on their own terms.

This year will be the festival's biggest line-up of international acts with 23 spread around the 18 venues including English folk revivalist Bob Fox, multi-Grammy award-winning ukulele player Daniel Ho, Chris While and Julie Matthews from the UK, and blues performers Joe Filisko and Eric Noden from the US.

But the big names from the world folk scene will join more than 180 Australian acts at the Exhibition Park event beginning on Thursday and if people get sick of the music there's also folk craft and market stalls.

From the traditional to contemporary genre-bending, the festival caters for all, but Ms Merrigan said there was a push to attract a younger demographic.

"We want to get them educated to the idea that folk music isn't a museum piece, it isn't old music," she said.

"It's living, vibrant music of today, it's just the way particular performers are interpreting their music and sound."

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Traditionally, folk music could be anything that defied definition and was often seen as less professional, Ms Merrigan said.

"These days there is professionalism in folk music, particularly the young performers are very highly skilled and talented on their instruments, but they choose to determine themselves the kind of music they're making," she said.

"They're not going to be dictated to by producers ... they're calling the shots for their music and that doesn't mean a lot aren't commercially successful ... but they're doing it the way they want to do it."

Ms Merrigan said the organisers aimed to present different experiences for the audience from big concert venues to intimate settings.

"[Folk music] is a bit like the difference between organic food and processed food, we eat both types ... but organic food is close to the source, it's close to the person who's produced it that's what I like to think as the modern take on folk music," she said.

"It has that more personable approach and as such there's a closer connection with the performer and their audience."

It was a sentiment shared by harpist Maire Ni Chathasaigh who will appear as part of Ireland's Heartstring Quartet with her husband guitarist Chris Newman, sister fiddler Nollaig Casey, and her husband guitarist Arty McGlynn.

"People feel a sort of ownership of folk music ... whereas music that's purely commercial like pop music ... is sold to them as a product," she said.

"The audience that will be coming this weekend are largely practitioners ... a lot will play and sing themselves so it has a much more community orientation than a rock festival or a pop festival."

Although rooted in traditional Irish folk music, Ms Chathasaigh said the quartet would perform some unexpected music in its "eclectic show".

Ms Chathasaigh said she had noticed the expansion of the festival since she first performed in Canberra about 20 years ago.

Ms Merrigan said as many as 13,000 people were expected on big days during the five-day festival and about 52,000 over the entire event.

For more information or to purchase tickets visit http://folkfestival.org.au.