National Folk Festival 2018: Making beautiful music together
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National Folk Festival 2018: Making beautiful music together

With more than 900 events and 200 artists performing at the 2018 National Folk Festival, it's easy to forget that music can be an intimate experience. Panorama spoke to three couples making beautiful music together and what keeps them inspired.

Hat Fitz and Cara love the feeling you get when you know you have connected with the crowd.

Hat Fitz and Cara love the feeling you get when you know you have connected with the crowd.

Photo: Meredith O’Shea

Hat Fitz and Cara

(Cara Robinson and Hat Fitz - only his mother knows his real name)

How did you meet?

Ten years ago at the Castlebar Blues Festival in County Mayo, Ireland, we were playing with our own separate bands. Fitz asked me for a dance as the band played their last song and I said yes. We danced awkwardly around the room as you do then we busted out into a barn dance where he spun me around vigorously until I hit my head on a marble pillar, I fainted and woke up on his shoulders.

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What's the best thing about working together?

The feeling you get when you know you have connected with the crowd with your music and you have created that music together and when you travel to these amazing places and you can share it with each other.

And the worst thing?

The worst thing is when you're both knackered and you have been on the road for what feels like ages and you both naturally need time out, that's when a relationship can be hard as you judge everything about the other person.

Describe each other's music

Fitzy's music is seeped in strong rhythmical tones where he pulls endless riffs out from under the hat, dipped in vintage blues and hill country sounds.

Cara's music comes from her strength in vocals and drums where she lays down melodies and lyrical content, tallied with her love of southern soul, roots and folk.

What or who are your inspirations?

For Fitzy it would have to be his first album by Bo Carter called Put your banana in my fruit basket that he found in an old milk cart, from there he has collected various blues artists from the 1930s such as Elmore James, Freddie McDowell and many more.

For me, it would have to be my first cassette tape of Atlantic Soul set 16 when I saved my pocket money up at 13 years old. From there I have been introduced to the music of Donny Hathaway, Shirley Brown, Roberta Flack, John Lee Hooker and many more.

What's the secret to a great collaboration?

Understanding where the other one is coming from musically and knowing how to nurture that.

Your highlights of the National Folk Festival?

We're really looking forward to seeing Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys, All Our Exes live in Texas, Cat and Clint, Elephant Sessions, and our lovely Aine Tyrell. We're also looking forward to a few late night jams too. We love this festival, the way every artist is made to feel a part of the festival.

Cat and Clint say playing music with someone you love is a buzz.

Cat and Clint say playing music with someone you love is a buzz.

Photo: Supplied

Cat and Clint

(Cat Moser and Clint Dylan O'Gradey)

How did you meet?

We met through the music scene in Melbourne when we lived there. Probably The Lomond Hotel in East Brunswick - one of the last bastions of quality live music and fair pay for bands.

What's the best thing about working together?

The thrill of sharing the varied experiences you have touring and playing together with someone you love is a buzz. It's also really comforting to look over at your partner on stage.

And the worst thing?

Living, working and travelling together can be tiring. It can lead to bickering over silly things. It's hard to have real ''time off''.

Describe each other's music

Clint has a really solid guitar style that never wavers. Great for backing fiddle tunes, especially the curly ones. He comes from a blues rock background and is an amazing electric guitar player. He also used to play a lot of delta blues. I come from more trad folk. I started learning violin at eight and music was always big in our house. My parents took me around to festivals when I was young and I started meeting other youngsters playing trad. My gal trio The Beenies won the Chris Wendt award back in 2000 when we were still classified as "youth".

What or who are your inspirations?

Our inspiration comes from generous friends who have shared the music with us, old heroes long passed, and friends we've made in the US. Just to name a few: Pete Holmes, Sandilands, Headbelly Buzzard, Peter Daffy, Albert Hash and all the Spencers from Whitetop, Jackson Cunningham, Lily May Ledford, Buddy Thomas, John Ashby, The Roan Mountain Hilltoppers, Ola Belle Reed, Roscoe Holcomb, Elizabeth Cotten, John Haywood and all the Cowan Creek and Whitesburg community in Kentucky, Mac Traynham, Shay Garriock, Bob Herring…

What's the secret to a great collaboration?

Having similar music tastes and a common musical goal. Listening to one another and being honest about your thoughts on arranging music and sometimes meeting in the middle.

Your highlights of the National Folk Festival?

We adore The Stockmans Camp venue with Pete Daffy and the crew. They have the best sound and atmosphere at the festival. We also love the sessions bar where we used to play sessions til sunrise, pop into the volunteers breakfast, get a few hours sleep and repeat. I think we're getting too old for that now.

Gudrun Walther, front, and Juergen Treyz, on her right shoulder, perform with Cara.

Gudrun Walther, front, and Juergen Treyz, on her right shoulder, perform with Cara.

Photo: Supplied

Cara

(Gudrun Walther and Juergen Treyz)

How did you meet?

We met at a festival where we both played in different bands.

What's the best thing about working together?

To have your partner with you on tour and to completely understand what's going on in each others lives. To share our greatest passion, music, and also to be able to travel the world together.

And the worst thing?

We have to make a greater effort than other couples to have a day off because our work is always present in our conversations. And sometimes you get on each other's nerves on a long tour - but that's also true for band mates that are not partners.

Describe each other's music?

Juergen studied jazz guitar and works as a producer and composer - so he has a broad musical horizon, a profound musical knowledge and likes to combine lots of interesting elements from different styles. But he also has a deep understanding for trad music, which makes him an ideal partner in crime for me.

My musical background is very trad - I played Irish music and German music from a very young age (I was five years old when I got a baby fiddle, six when I played my first tune) and soon also fell in love with other European traditional music styles from Scotland, Scandinavia, France, Bulgaria… Within these trad styles, I was always drawn towards the artists and bands who were creative in arrangement and composition - people who reinvented the tradition, and created something new. I guess this is exactly the common ground where Juergen and I meet - and with our combined backgrounds we are able to make music that is both ancient and up-to-date.

What or who are your inspirations?

Too many to make a list! We honestly love all music if it is played with heart and soul.

What's the secret to a great collaboration?

Respect. Always respect each others feelings and opinions. Keep an open mind. Be polite. Be patient. Try everything at least once.

Your highlights of the National Folk Festival?

It will be our first ever festival in Australia and we are looking forward to everything! Going to Australia has been on our bucket lists and going there on tour is even better because we enjoy meeting new people through music. And what better place to do that than a music festival? So we are looking forward to new audiences, inspiring musical encounters and hopefully making new friends!

The National Folk Festival runs in Canberra from March 29-April 2. For details head to folkfestival.org.au

Karen Hardy

Karen Hardy is a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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