Harrietville To Become a Pick

by | 23 Nov, 2010 | 13 comments

The 20011 festival scene is about to get a make over, especially in the Alpine region of northern Victoria. Despite assurances from organisers last week that rumours of 2010 Harrietville Bluegrass and Old Time Music Convention being the last, were just rumours,  it now appears that, in the full light of day, we have indeed seen the last of the Harrietville gathering. Organisers Rod and Judy Jones announced over the weekend that they are now planning to stage the 2011 event in the neighbouring town of Beechworth.

The announcement brought mixed responses from a wide variety of folk, as news of the festival’s end spread throughout Harrietville faster than a bluegrass breakdown. Regardless of the reasons, rationale and justifications, there was a feeling of dismay which settled over the town like an cold alpine cloud. Some were keen to return to H’ville in 2011 to create their own pick-in regardless of the festival location. Others indicted that they’d refuse to engage any future festival that was not held in Harrietville, while others were quite accepting of the change. Local business owners too were also of mixed opinion with some keen to continue with an event in Harrietville.

News of the festival’s end spread faster than a bluegrass breakdown

As some degree of clarity is brought forth as to the future of the Harrietville festival, one thing remains uncertain. What impact will this impending move have on the existing Kelly Country Pick, which is also held in Beechworth in August of each year?

For those keen to meet in Harrietville on an annual basis, Jim Golding has announced the dates for the Great Alpine, Old Time and Bluegrass Pick in Harrietville on 20th to 22nd May 2011.


  1. Richard

    Away from the BG Convention which will go on from strength to strength I am sure and will survive the site move the same as it has many times before. I believe the important thing is we keep growing the scene not try and bring down or compete with each other. It seems a shame that the Jims new Harrietville Pick is around the same time as the fledgling Karuah Bluegrass festival that will be entering its 3rd year in 2011. There are not enough of us fans around to support two festivals at the same time and it will be a shame if this push into having a Guilford/Bluegrass convention like event in NSW is killed off. You Victorians are blessed to have so many practitioners down there that any festival you organise will always overwhelm we the poor northern brother hood. If anyone plans a festival they should always check what else is on around. Let’s work together people and spread the word! Yours in the pick. R.

  2. Harro Skapinskas

    Having helped, and also once been in charge, of a large festivale (Port Fairy) for over a decade, I can assure you that the price charged for such events is miniscule. No one on the organization committee makes a profit, personal loss is more the norm. People assume the the entrance fee multiplied by their estimate (often greatly exadurated) of the attendees is what is made by the organisers. Get real! A very significant group of the crowd are just plain “hangers on”, contribute nothing, but complain a lot. If you are really interested, get a quote for hiring a marquee, fence erection, hire of chairs, setting up the stage, hiring a PA system, overseas airfares and so on, then put in 6 to 9 months of unpaid time in organising the event and then, in the end, listen to all the pathetic winging about a ticket cost (generally after you have spent the equivalent or more in the pub) and see if you would be prepared to do that job once, let alone over 20 years. As is always the case, if you don’t like it, don’t come, if you feel that you can make a contribution, help out. People such as Ken McMaster, Nick, Janet and Lauchlan Dear and Rod and Judy Jones have done an amazing job over the decades, to foster, promote and keep Bluegrass and Old Timey music alive, what has been your contribution?

    • Dave Robertson

      I have been to Harrietville on a few occasions and was very impressed with the organisation and the quality of the acts and facilities. I don’t think that the price for entry has changed all that much over the years and yet the cost of the production must have risen or the organisers must be taking a personal hit or they are screwing their providers into the ground. Possibly a little of each. I have always thought that the price for the weekend of entertainment was not enough for what was on offer. I agree that there were a lot of hangers on and personally know people who refused to pay for a ticket and used the weekend to catch up with people for a picking session. No law against that if you don’t partake of the facilities and listen to what other people have paid for. However it’s not in the spirit of the weekend and in my humble opinion Bludging. Any single American act that I heard at Harrietville I would have paid $100.00 to see at a concert and yet I heard them sometimes 3 times and sat in on workshops with them. The Australian acts were equally entertaining and worthy of support. Thankyou to the organisers of the Harrietville festival but may I suggest you run the event a bit more as a business and charge a fair price because you certainly provide through hard work the right goods.

      Dave Robertson

  3. Mike kear

    The Harrietville site has become unworkable. We coudln’t get accomodation in Harrietville and had to go to Bright this year. The 22km trek back and forth was a pain, I can assure you. And because the bluegrass community is so fragmented at Harrietville now, it’s much MUCH harder to find a jam session.

    I checked out the new location on my way home on Monday and it’s simply gorgeous. There are expansive lawns, with tall, shady trees – locations all around the place for jamming. There are rooms in the buildings for jamming and other gatherings such as workshops and meetings, rather like the Old Priory building at Beechworth. There is a full scale theatre, but I understand Rod and Judy and NIck and Janet are planning to set up the marquee because it’s such a fantastic atmosphere in there. I hope when they add up the dollars and cents, that’s still the plan.

    There is ample room for the festival to expand in the future, and I think the new Latrobe venue at Beechworth is going to get us back to something more approximating the days so many say were the glory days of Harrietville – when it was hosted at Bon Accord.

    Those who cling to the past are doomed to live in the past, specially if they refuse to even LOOK at what is proposed. There are a few universal truths in the world, and one of them is that life is changing. You can accept it and move with it, or you can resist change and be left behind.

    The festival is going to be FANTASTIC in the new location, and there will be NO adverse affects on any other event. I am certain of that. The only people who are going to miss out are the business people in Harrietville who put their prices up to premium levels and figured they would exploit the bluegrass pickers.

  4. Harro Skapinskas

    As we all know by now, next year’s Convention will be held at Beechworth, not Harrietville. My partner and I decided to “check out” the new site on our way home. One word…..FANTASTIC. It reminded us very much of what it was like at the old, original site, the Bon Accord. There are boundless tree covered, well maintained grassy parkland areas where one can pick, historic buildings, and the cost of very good accommodation was from $140 down to $115 per night, which included Continental breakfast (we booked for next year on the spot). More than comparable to what was charged per night at the Snowline Hotel this year ($100 per night, no breakfast). Times and conditions change and we must move on. The decision by the organisers to relocate was not taken lightly, I am sure, but having made the decision, they have definitely found a new, refreshing and invigorating site at Beechworth. Here’s to another 22+ years of Bluegrass and Old Timey music at……Beechworth. By the way, I have attended 20 of the 22 wonderful Bluegrass and Old Timey Conventions.

    Harro Skapinskas.

  5. Ken McMaster

    John, it’s not the finale. And as for those in the crowd that booed, I was disgusted by their behavior, after all the totally unpaid work that goes into organising the convention for them.. The Convention has outgrown the town. Many had to stay iin Bright. My personal view is that the best festivals by far are those where everything is on one site – at the Latrobe venue at Beechworth this will happen – hotel rooms and cabin beds for 250, and camping at a nominal cost for 1000 or more. Lots of workshop and smaller concert venues, and the marquee for the main concert can be there too. The overseas bands will be staying on site, so will not have to go off to their beds elsewhere, and will tterefore be about for the late night sessions, just as it was before the change of manager forced us to move from Feathertop. It won’t compete with The Kelly Country Pick, as it will all be on one site a kilometer from the town centre. Google Beechworth Latrobe and see what a beautifull site it is, then book a room fast if you don’t want to camp on the gorgeous treed grassy site. I called in on my way home on Monday, and was knocked out. I cannot imagine a better site for the convention, and, shit, I run the Yarra Junction Fiddlers Convention, the one that started it all (and now Blackwood Fiddlers too) so I know what a good festival site needs to be. And I wll be at the Kelly Country Pick, and I am looking forward to Harrietville in May. The more opportunities we get for our extended family to get together to celebrate and enjoy each others’ company and the music we love, the better. Oh yes, and the bar looks good. I’ve booked for my family, and they had already had over 20 bookings.

    • John

      Ken, agree that the booing was extremely poor form. However, it’s the underlying message that’s important. ..the general pickin’ public weren’t happy. Change doesn’t have to be the worst thing that’s ever happened, and it could be the best opportunity for improvement ever, but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept. The general feeling around the campground and pubs of people I spoke to was sadness that an era was ending, most likley a result of not understanding WHY things are changing, or needed to change at all.

      As for the unpaid work, it’s worth including the (domestic) performers in that category. At $115 a pop for the weekend, you have to wonder where the money goes.

      As the Yarra & Blackwoods organiser, (events that are hugely popular with the pickin’ public), you would understand the value of keeping entry fees low and therefore encouraging folks to partipate as paid up attendees, rather than ‘fringe festival’ goers.

      I agree that more oppotunities for the family to get together, the better, but maybe the real reason for the move is because a fence couldn’t be erected around Harrietville itself?

      • Ken McMaster

        “You have to wonder where the money goes” eh? Try organising a festival yourself instead of snidely insulting those that do. And doing it as an anonymous “John” I see as cowardly. By all means express your opinions, but do it openly. I asked what the Convention needed to cover costs – over $50,000. Marquees etc don’t come cheap, neither do air fares and accomodation costs for overseas guests.insurance, and everything else, While there are a lot of people in town because of the Harrietville Convention, only about half actually buy a pass, and just enjoy themselves in the pubs etc.(like at many similar events) so the sales are not as high as you would think. There is no profit to anyone in running these events.It’s the reverse: lost income because you can’t run a festival and work at the same time. And if $115 is too much for you, offer to help a bit instead. I got sick of people like you suggesting I made money out of the Yarra Junction Fiddlers Convention, so let the Camp Eureka Collective take everything, and reimburse my expenses. This, over the years, was the main reason they could save and restore the site, until, ironically,the old communist camp gained Heritage listing and a grant from the Howard government. Ask the Reserve Committee at Blackwood about the $1800 they got and the money to the CFA and CERT groups. Nick and Lachlan Dear took a week of work to help with that, too. You may have heard of the ATO – they watch non-profit groups fairly closely- no-one gets away with anything,especially when you get as big as Harrietville.
        “Profit” from the Guildford Banjo Jamboree has all gone to local amenities inluding upgrading the local ambulance with new equipment. I talked about us as a big family. Every family has it’s problems.

        John, if you want to complain, fine. If you have helpful suggestions, fine. If you want to help out, even better. Why be afraid to identify yourself?

      • Ken McMaster

        Sorry John, my back is playing up so I’m a bit grumpier even than usual. I love you dearly.

        • John

          Ken, it’s John Werner from Gippsland…..no anonymity intended.

          Thankyou to yourself and Harro & Mike for the background info to an event that I am a relative new-comer to. It’s great to put this all ‘out there’ as I’m certain that there many readers who, like myself, are not aware of the facts. This debate can only be healthy amongst a scene that is relatively small & marginal in Australia.

          Harro, along with my bandmates in The Strzelecki Stringbusters, I’m active in our region spreading the old time / bluegrass word, and encouraging participation in the joy that is playing music. As you would know, once introduced to this scene, you are then responsible to pass on that infection, inspiring others to either change from their electric folly (haha) or take up an instrument for the 1st time, which we have done and will continue to do so.

          Many would be aware of our mission over the past 7 years to support our communities by providing music for numerous fundraisers, nursing homes etc. Via our monthly Yinnar shows, we are exposing hundreds of newcomers to the likes of David Long (US), The Whitetop Mountaineers (US) and Gerry Hale, Coolgrass, Bill Jackson, Fat Chance, and next year Andy Baylor & Mike Compton to name a few. This creation of a new BG/OT venue is wholly coordinated by The Stringbusters, and will provide future performance opportunities for many Australian and touring artists. Also, we actively provide performing opportunities for locals and beginners.

          We receive zero $’s with all takings going towards the guest artists…… as Ken mentioned above, we all pay to play too.

          Essentially, we are fostering grass roots participation, and contributing to our wonderful and vibrant BG&OT scene in Australia. Next year, we planning to run monthly beginners picking circles at the Pub to further build interest in music making, leading to more even more festival participants in future years.

          So I wholeheartedly understand the passionate responses above.

          Thanks for the words chaps…..the head has been pulled in, and we’re all off to join the BTCMS. Ken, no offence taken… I hope your back doesn’t affect your great ability to play that girly auto-harp (oh jeez, done it again!).

          Love to hear from anyone else out there who has an opinion on this subject…….hello?

          • Ken McMaster

            Dearest John, my autoharp is positively macho compared to my new semi-fretless darling of a banjo, with it’s shiney brass plate., which really brings out my own youthful girly-ness.

          • Harro Skapinskas

            Thank you for your response John, now that I know who you are I am aware of all that you and you great band have done, and are continuing to do. As you realise, this “promotion” of Bluegrass and Old Timey music is emotionally but rarely financially rewarding. Keep up the wonderful work that you and your bandmates are doing. I am looking forward to seeing the mighty Strzelecki Stringbusters in action again.

  6. John

    Very disappointed that the rumor (alive for several months) was confirmed on Sat night on the main stage. The crowd’s response said it all….Boooooo!

    Australia’s BG & OT scene will be the poorer as a result of this split, for the next few years at least.

    That said, it was a great weekend of picking in the pubs, parks and campgrounds, complimented by a huge array of fine bands on the two 2 stages. A fitting finale for sure!