Harrietville Festival Laid to Rest

by | 14 Feb, 2013 | 5 comments

Harrietville Festival

HvilleNews today that the 2013 Harrietville Festival will not proceed comes as a shock to many and expected by a few.

There has been much uncertainty about the future of the Harrietville Bluegrass & Traditional Country Music Convention over the past few years resulting from the discontent over plans to move the event to Beechworth back in 2011. However, the closure of the planned Beechworth venue in mid 2011, forced a re-think by organisers and the festival returned to Harrietville that year. In the mean time the Great Alpine Pick, also in Harrietville, was developed by a group of enthusiasts who longed for the Harrietville of old. A festival where pickers would gather to trade licks, enjoy each other’s company and generally take in a relaxing weekend of bluegrass and old-time music. The Great Alpine Pick has to some extend revisited the Harrietville of old.

There is a great challenge for festival organisers in the 21st century. The difficulty lies in finding a manageable balance between developing programs for music audiences and delivering enough opportunities for musicians. By that I mean it is difficult to know when a festival stops becoming attractive to pickers and grows the interest of music audiences. As time progressed not everyone who came to the Harrietville Bluegrass & Traditional Country Music Convention came to watch the performances. Many came to jam and to socialise. The need for pickers to gather, regardless of the calibre of talent on the concert program saw the Harrietville festival fragment into several fringe events located across Harrietville.  Alas, this fragmentation saw the start of the Harrietville organisers great challenge – a pickers festival or festival of concert appearances. Despite their best efforts to contain the Festival to a central arena, many unofficial festival events emerged in several locations across Harrietville. This segmented audiences and musicians alike.

While there are many tremendous moments and performances that result from the recent festival format, Harrietville of old was a tremendous introduction to the bluegrass and old time musicians of Australia for me. My first Harrietville festival was in 1998 and I delighted in wealth of musical talent that descended on that tiny town for that Spring weekend in November. I was so intimidated by the gathering of musicals skills that surrounded me, it was not until the 2000 festival that I first took my instrument from its case. I spent those two years at home practising to be “good enough”. Today,  I am one of the jam junkies that attends purely for the social jams and the occasional bluegrass concert, depending on the artist.

Organisers have done a sterling job of building and developing the Harrietville Bluegrass & Traditional Country Music Convention over the years and sadly it shall be no more. Many will have their own thoughts on the history and resulting developments of Harrietville and some may well disagree with my observations – so be it. Fortunately we are still able to express and share opinions here in Australia and I welcome your thoughts.



  1. Emma Hinchliffe

    Thanks for this post, definitely touches at how people felt about Harrietville as a location.
    I am a business owner in Harrietville and there has been discussions around creating an atmosphere over the same weekend (as it will not clash with a moved event) for enthusiasts who love Harrietville to still come and jam, catch up with friends, share their music with the town etc. Venues around town would host shows or jam sessions & offer spaces for workshops etc. over the weekend and everything would be free.
    Do you think that would be something the Bluegrass community and lovers of Harrietville would embrace? Would love to hear your thoughts or anyone elses! Thanks.

  2. Bill Rollins

    I have attended the last five Harrietvile festivals and it I have friends who have attended all 24 events. Music festivals, whether they be folk or heavy rock, are struggling to survive in Victoria and last year we lost the Blackwood Fiddlers Convention also which was hastily relocated to Greendale at the last moment, with neither festival continuing due to the now extreme layers of permits and admimistration required. Harrietville was an ideal location as it allowed many Victorians to “thaw out”, in the company of some excellent and friendly people from up north.

  3. suzette herft

    That is indeed sad news Greg. I have only been for the last couple of years and have been one of those who went to the concerts as well as enjoyed the jam sessions. Meeting and makingnew friends was always one of the highlights. Some of the friends I made included musicians from the States who I visited when I was over there, as well as renewing friendships with people like yourself who came from all over Australia….
    Especially in the light of the recent bushfires in Harrietville…. It’s a sad time for Harrietville. Harrietville needs their friends. Suzette

  4. Les Thomas

    This is very sad news. The ideal would be to have festival like this survive so that they can provide a chance to see and hear wonderful and inspiring playing that can then feed back into the jams.

  5. Roslyn McLean

    Yes, I loved the “old” Harrietville too. My first festival was in 1997 and I think you may find that in those days it was held, not in November, but in October. The weather was sublime, the flies weren’t as bad the spring flowers were spectacular and the festival was small and personal and onlookers like me felt included. All those elements added up to an unforgettable atmosphere. Once it moved to November and grew to more unweildy proportions, the festival seemed to lose its soul. I attended 11 festivals in all. The Jones and Dear families did an incredible job. Many thanks.