Folkie defies trends by going big, says managing director

National Folk Festival
Exhibition Park in Canberra
28 March – 1 April 2024

A community of regulars allows the National Folk Festival to flourish in an environment which has seen the cancellation of large festivals such as Groovin the Moo, according to NFF Managing Director, Heidi Pritchard.

Richard spoke to Heidi Pritchard at the launch of the 2024 National Folk Festival

Speaking at the festival launch recently, Ms Pritchard said, ‘Our job is to ride through this time and come out the other side – even better, even bigger.

‘But it means being financially responsible. It means listening to our audience. So that means doing the best we can … We’ve just gone big’.

Pritchard is a veteran of large institutions, having come to the festival – because she loves it – a year ago after 11 years at the National Library of Australia and 12 at the National Museum of Australia.

She compares the scale of the festival, with its eight stages, to that of the recent National Multicultural Festival. Venue sizes have been increased and the three artistic directors have each added their own flavour to the lineup.

A criticism of last year’s festival was the congestion caused by consecutive performances by headline acts, The Waifs and Billy Bragg. This year, says Pritchard, they’ve spread performances by big-name artists across the entire five-day festival.

She says while, over-55 retirees are the festival’s largest demographics, there is a strong effort to ‘cultivate the next generation of folkies’, with high-class acts and workshops for kids at the Family Fest.

Nearly two-thirds of attendees come from interstate, and are more likely to stay in hotels and Airbnbs, or with family and friends, followed by camping. Many come to days before and stay two days after the festival, bring an estimated $5.57 million into the ACT economy last year. And, says Pritchard, it helps change visitors’ perceptions of Canberra as a city rather than just the seat of Parliament.

‘It doesn’t matter what your definition of folk is, you are going to find it at the festival,’ she says.

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