Harrietville Revisited

by | 19 Feb, 2013 | 21 comments

HarrietvilleWe announced this week that the organisers of the long running Harrietville Bluegrass and Old Time festival will not be hosting a festival for 2013.

Some of the local townsfolk have come together to try to continue the event in some form, and are seeking expressions of interest from regular attendees, musicians and bands for a potential festival this year at Harrietville.

The following statement was sent to us this morning from one the local business community:

Nick, Janet & Co did a great job over many years to build up a great following of Harrietville Bluegrass lovers & loyalists. The folks of Harrietville love you all too and we would love you to keep sharing your music with Harrietville & each other on the same weekend into the future.

The community is proposing creating a relaxed, free & easy weekend of bluegrass, friends, jams & community.
The ‘Harrietville fringe’ will be a weekend of free ‘sessions’ (shows & structured jams) around town, jamming in the street, Breakfast jams at the cafes, late night sessions at the parks, workshops in free spaces etc. All FREE!

The Harrietville community has created a great bond with the Bluegrass and Old Time Music community over the years and we want to keep the magic alive but in a more relaxed, flowing into Harrietville kind of way.

At this point we are hoping to gauge interest whether without the ‘main event’ you would still come along to Harrietville for this weekend, supported by the community and share your bluegrass with us.

Please let me know your thoughts – good or bad – ASAP so we can start preparing, or not.

You may add you feedback to the comments list below:


  1. Banjo pickin fool

    Mmmm, sour grapes indeed.
    From which side though?
    Good luck finding another Harrietville.
    I know where most people will be on the third weekend in November, festival or not.

    • Harro Skapinskas

      “Actions speak louder than words”, so the saying goes. At this stage I have not seen anyones name(s) put down to do anything but talk, if anything was going to happen word should be filtering down by now. Who actually is prepared to spend several months organising the event? Any names? Who is prepared to spend several hundred $’s in accomodation, fuel, food to “maybe” have a jam happening? I think a great deal more has to be done on the organization and advertising side to let the bluegrass public know the state of the proposed November event, after all the public also has to plan ahead. Can anyone add factual comments to the current state of planning?

      • Greg McGrath


        As I wrote on the 22nd Feb, there is a group of people working now, to bring a smaller scale event together for November this year. There is a meeting with key townsfolk and bluegrassers in April this year to bring this together. I expect that once that meeting has taken place then their will be something to report, (advertise) and from there the work begins.

    • Greg McGrath

      To the Banjo Pickin’ Fool – please use your real name when posting to this blog in the future.

  2. Hunter Owens

    Too little, too late. This is an opportunity to establish a festival somewhere else where it is truly wanted and appreciated. This is a sour grapes reaction. “You don’t miss your water ’til the well runs dry.”

    • Greg McGrath


      I am aware of at least three other groups of people who are considering (exploring) the likelihood of another festival event elsewhere.

  3. Greg

    I am aware that the local business community are now working with a small group of Harrietville stalwarts, including musicians and festival goers, to host a festival for 2013.

    For the moment I think that expecting anything like recent H’ville events with big marque and a fenced off arena is far fetched. The 2013 festival will likely take place across a number of existing venues, pubs, halls, conference spaces etc. delivering some feature concerts, a range of workshops and some free events.

    Utilising the town’s existing infrastructure for the moment while working collaboratively with the townsfolk and the musical community to deliver a festival event that is manageable within the scope of known resources makes perfect sense to me.

    • Helen Ludellen

      I’m very pleased to see this discussion about the possibility of continuing a bluegrass and old timey event at Harrietville. As we all know Harrietville is now synonymous with bluegrass and old-timey music in Australia, thanks to the previous long-running event run by the Dears and Jones’ and supported by a very generous patron.

      It would be sad if this annual gathering in November were to stop altogether. If the locals from Harrietville and surrounds are interested in keeping the event going, as it now appears that they are, then let’s pitch in and keep this wonderful event going. I am sure the bluegrass community and the Harrietville community can work together to do this. I’m up for it!

    • Mark Stevens

      Four years ago I came with my friend to Harrietville festival from Sydney and have been back every year since with more people in tow. In 2012 we housed 10 people in a fantastic house opposite the top pub. I am fairly sure all of us would make the pilgrimage again this year. The main drawcard for us is not the marquee and amazing on stage artists (which we all enjoy), but the relaxed atmosphere and the beautiful surroundings that make picking in Harrietville town such a delight. I really hope there is an event this year; regardless of the format I will enjoy it as much as any other year.

  4. John Taylor

    I’m pretty sure the locals knew what was happening Howard – the folk in Harrietville and around and about the town are not a bunch of hicks. And I’m sure that even the uninitiate amongst them would have worked out over 24 years what was going on – and liked what they saw and heard. If a town doesnt want you to do your thing in their town, you dont last 24 years. QED. If folk are, however, genuinely interested in continuing an event in some form in November then those efforts ought be supported with constructive comment and ideas and good will.

  5. Gary

    COuldn’t agree more John,
    Whatever the future of the November festival it’s essential the Harrietville community are consulted and included.
    I really cant believe anyone would even attempt a festival in a town they dont even live in without working with the local groups.
    Local community involvement is a powerful thing and takes alot of work and communication for it to be succesful, once the relationships are in place and lines of communication are honest and transparent great things can be achieved.
    Looking forward to see how things develop.

  6. Mark Woods

    It’s the US acts and the concerts that are hard to replace. I’ve been doing sound for a long time and Harrietville has become my favourite event of the year. The US acts are the best players i’ve heard in any genre and the concerts bought out the best in them…..and didn’t they seem to enjoy it?

    Picking and jamming may be fun for those involved but without the larger-than-life presentation and US acts, any proposed replacement event would be unlikely to attract the loyal Harrietville paying customers, who come for the shows and hang off every note.

    All the other people would probably still be there…..

    Thanks to those who made it happen…you know who you are…and while i find it very sad i’m also grateful, especially to Nic Dear, for my 6 years at Harrietville.

    • Howard Miller

      Thanks Mark, for a comment that hits the nerve centre of any successful Bluegrass event, the sound system? I agree jamming and picking is fun but it not all there is to cement the event. My experience is, Australian Bluegrass musicians have been dragged kicking and screaming out of the not so friendly jam session mentality and shown by friendly American musicians that there are other things involved with the music, like performing on stage and entertaining. Performing with poor sound might have been alright in the 1950’s for the “GREATS” in our music, afterall it was all there was. But today the music business is highly competitive and to manage a multi instrumental acoustic band is almost a hidden art form.
      The locals at Harrietville have seen some of the best sound and music events held in Australia and have seen some of the World’s best performers on our soil and i am not certain they knew what was happening.
      The twenty four year history is going to be a hard act to follow, I hope the next team will have as much success. The next major event has to be of a standard that can be judged as the Australian National Bluegrass Music Convention and should involve the International Bluegrass Music Association, they are in America where the music came from, for those who may not have noticed.??

  7. Pipipickers

    There is clearly a huge demand for bluegrass festivals in Harrietville, I’ve been to a few November ones and every GAP – and will continue to attend as long as the Mountain Pickers will have us back.
    The GAP format is excellent, however it does restrict attendance numbers and is designed primarily for pickers. So lots of jamming with few concerts. To expand the program to cater for fans of the music means a larger venue that can seat a few hundred attendees, which requires a marquee and starts down the road of complexity that inevitably ends up looking a lot like the November one.
    The organisers of the November festival can rest knowing they have played a major role in fostering and growing the music, and for their efforts I am very grateful.
    If the good folk of Harrietville are keen to host the bluegrass community again in November they would be wise to study the GAP model and adapt it to what the town can comfortably manage, remembering always that complexity is your enemy.
    All the best in the endeavour and I’m sure any November event will be well supported.

  8. John Werner

    I guess the bigger picture here is the continued growth in the participation of pickers new & old, which we, as lovers of a marginal music form in this country must support. The HV festival has been a great ‘entry point’ for folks looking to connect with others…it certainly has been for me. To travel there for the 1st time as an experienced muso in other genres, and realise that I knew next to nothing about the scene and its traditions really fired me up and lead me down the path of discovery…and eventually to the US.

    What puzzled me though was the seemingly factional nature of the event, and that these feelings ran deep. An observation at the time that the relatively small Australian scene wasn’t well served by division.

    Thanks to the organiser’s, (who I have been critical of in the past) for the sterling effort of providing the platform for many others to experience the joy of Bluegrass & Oldtime. They can rightly claim to have ‘discovered’ & defined Harrietville as the spiritual home of the genre’s.

    The opportunity before all now is to create a truly united & transparent organisation that continues the HV tradition, but works towards a National approach, encompassing an integrated touring circuit for Australian & International performers.

    So, for my two bob’s worth…the GAP has got it right. That’s the template right there, which I defer to older heads who say it mirrors the ‘way it used to be’, albeit on a smaller scale. Workshops, demonstrations, luthier support, performances across number of venues and above all….picking. To allow up and coming players access to top pickers in jam situations and one-on-one sessions would help also. Every level of picker improves when playing with the next level up.

    I’m off to a jam…..

  9. Ken McMaster

    Some of the old timey gusta at Harrietville were subsidised by a benefactor, and some were not. All bluegrass guests and some old timey guests were funded by the Convention tickets.

    I don’t think the locals have the experience to run a successfull festival, but who knows? If it is based at the pubs like the GAP, then why not stick with that?

    • John Taylor

      Fair point in the first sentence Ken, but I think you would be surprised at the depth of business acumen and event experience and broad tourism experience in the town – and that is precisely the sort of experience that a town needs to host a successful event – in partnership with the old time and bluegrass fraternity.

  10. John Taylor

    It looks like the local community want to see something continue in November. This statement represents what the town would ideally like to see and from that there is the basis for very positive discussions on doing something to keep the event going in some form – and it is a very good thing that there is a an open forum so that ideas and feedback can be tossed around. I think John Ross has pretty much nailed the issues that need to be balanced. Howard makes some good points too although the April event run by the Mountain Pickers has been described to me as what it used to be like (so I am returning to Harrietville after a hiatus of a few years). My own conceptualization is that the event could be along the lines of the very successful small town folk events that are on around and about that are integrated into those places and, yes, where a band or two gets paid. There are plenty of ideas floating around out there and I would encourage folk to keep them coming.

  11. John Ross

    Festivals fall on a spectrum of scale and cost, with festivals like the National Folk Festival (Canberra) Woodford, Byron Bay and Port Fairy at the top end in terms of of costs and quantity of national and international drawcard acts, and low-key come-along-and-play festivals like Nariel Creek and Numeralla at the low end of costs, where virtually no-one is paid. Both models can work really well, and there are plenty of examples in between, like the Kelly Country Pick at Beechworth: just a few drawcard acts, and the rest of the festival based on jams and ‘chalkboard’ concerts. Please be aware that the US acts that have appeared at Harrietville in the past were heavily subsidised by a private benefactor.

    However, the principle of “he who pays the piper, calls the tune” applies. What you cannot do, is say, particularly to a professional band, “we want you to play at the pub, supply your own sound, set up by 7, play from 8-11, oh, and we would like to use your PA for the chalkboard on Sunday, but all you will get is free camping and a meal”.

    I am sure there is a niche in the spectrum for Harrietville, and I am delighted that the local business community is interested continuing the festival in some form, and I reckon it’s a goer. We all love coming to Harrietville, and we were watching that fire with baited breath.


  12. Howard Miller

    Sounds like a popular idea BUT what about a Main event? Guest artist ? even tuition events? somehow I think without a focus the event could falter. The former Harrietville was a National Bluegrass event and to simply let the town loose on a loose collection of musicians may not sustain the former level of interest. Another more structured event somewhere else could easily grab the valuable time slot and drag away the participants.
    Sounds fickle? “them’s the crowd you deal with in Bluegrass music ?”
    Personal experience.
    “It is much easier to loose a following than gain a following.”
    I would like to suggest, “Harrietville, the way we used to be” as a good place to start.
    Forget the BIG tent, forget the contract caterers, forget hiring gear, put on organised events at different venues, engage the locals as much as possible, avoid the “Pub crawl” mentality, focus on Bluegrass and Old Timey Music. isn’t that what we all came back for, 24 years is a damn good record, why change the reason.
    FREE sounds great
    BUT I do notice a dramatic increase in the number of structured and pricy events that have developed around the music in recent times.
    Just, Food for thought.

  13. wirilda

    We would still need a dedicated concert area with top notch bands and peerless sound reinforcement, not the usual local snoozer with a PA, as happens when when people try to do things on the cheap.