200 acts, 750 shows: The diverse line-up of the National Folk Festival

Gold Coast artist Elska epitomises what the National Folk Festival, now in its 53rd year, is continually aiming to do - keeping folk music relevant in an ever-changing world.

She defines herself as a pop artist but plays the harp, using a traditional instrument usually associated with classical music, but reinterpreting it all for a contemporary audience with the help of a loop pedal and vocals.

Australian pop artist Elska will be playing Canberra's National Folk Festival. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Australian pop artist Elska will be playing Canberra's National Folk Festival. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Im excited to be part of a festival that embraces so many different genres of music, Elska said at the 2019 program launch on Wednesday.

I'm a pop artist, which doesn't technically fit into many folk festival line-ups, so for the National Folk Festival to have opened their arms and heart to what it is that I do is wonderful.

The national will run over five days at Easter, from April 18-22. Close to 200 acts, including 14 international acts, will perform more than 750 shows throughout 20 venues.

There will also be a childrens festival, themed bars, food and market stalls, roving entertainment and an engaging, multi-discipline arts program including craft and dance and art.

Director Pam Merrigan said the 2019 line-up was one of the most diverse yet.

We got acts spanning the full gamut of folk, from contemporary and trad to bluegrass, celtic, country, blues, dance and even a pop infusion, she said.

Merrigan saw Elska perform during Australian Music Week in November 2018 and she knew straight away she wanted her on the program.

The thing I really enjoyed was she was using the harp, an instrument associated with classical music and with traditional music, say Scottish, Irish .. as well as South American ... in all sorts of different incarnations of the harp all over the world.

Its an instrument many different people have used as a voice over the years.

Merrigan said folk music was most relevant when it was contemporary.

It can still be informed by tradition, or it can be influenced by tradition, but Elska is using this instrument and reinterpreting that in a contemporary context.

Merrigan is also excited by the presence of Australian music legends John Schumann (Redgum) and Shane Howard (Goanna) who, along with a six-piece band, will come together for two performances of Songs for Times Like This.

Those two bands were really important bands in the 1980s when they were at their peak, Merrigan said.

To have these two musicians, Australian musicians, who have continued to make music and tell stories and still be relevant is a big part of what folk music is.

Another act, Irish band Jigjam, also highlights how Merrigan sees the evolving definition of folk.

You think they're Irish, you think you know how they should sound, but they have been influenced by more of an Americana sound, without losing their Irishness, she said.

Its about taking music and imagining it in different ways.

The festival will also feature an exclusive debut from Scottish duo Ross Couper and Tom Oakes, USAs award-winning Kittel and Co., Japanese folk trio John John Festival, and troubadour Irish Mythen from Canada.

Australian talent includes award-winning country singer Fanny Lumsden, edgy Americana/country singer James Van Cooper, a rare appearance by The Fagans, and young contemporary folk-pop trio Little Quirks.

Tickets are on sale now at folkfestival.org.auSee the full 2019 line-up at folkfestival.org.au/2019-performers.