John O’Brien’s new groove

Narrandera Folk Festival president Warwick Smith is excited about the new-look event. Photo: Kim Woods.

The legacy of legendary poet Patrick Hartigan will live on as the John O’Brien Festival is set to take on a new lease of life in 2020 as the Narrandera Folk Festival.

Narrandera hosted its 25th anniversary of the John O’Brien Festival in March with the event beginning as a small gathering outside the Murrumbidgee Hotel in 1994 to pay homage to famed priest and poet Monsignor Patrick Hartigan.

Scheduled for March 20-22, the Folk Festival will include headline act, The Bottlers, a nine piece, acoustic funk punk band, and The Dead Maggies, Tasmanian convict folk punk band, along with the evergreen Tin Shed Rattlers.

Noel Stallad will lead the bush poets with his performances of Hartigan’s prose, while Geoffrey Graham will recite Henry Lawson’s work in character.

Saturday will be a family friendly event with market stalls, the Bidgee Beard competition, a poetry slam and jam sessions.

Sunday will kick off with a bush poetry breakfast at the Marie Bashir Park, followed by a high tea at John O’Brien Heritage House.

Festival spokesperson Suesann Vos said the aim was to establish a new brand and great program.

“Our committee’s expertise is all about regional events and building those to brand a destination,” Ms Vos said. “We are looking at the aspects of the town that have elements of authenticity and how to build an event around that, and brand the town.

“In order to set a benchmark for the event into the future, we aim to build sustainability so we are not dependent on local government and businesses to survive.”

Ms Vos said community feedback was positive.

“We realised if (the festival) was to survive into the future, we needed to rebrand and start a new event, the Narrandera Folk Festival,” she said. “The great thing about the Narrandera Folk Festival is it celebrates Australian bush culture, and part of that is poetry.

“We aim to keep the legacy of the John O’Brien Festival alive – the program’s elements particularly the bush poets’ breakfast on the Sunday morning and the John O’Brien poetry stage on the Saturday is the main event.

“It is a great opportunity to keep it alive but build the event into something that can bring some serious tourism to the region.”

Ms Vos said the Folk Festival would appeal to a younger demographic not necessarily familiar with the life and works of Monsignor Patrick Hartigan.

“It is difficult to sell a product no one knows anything about but selling an experience, and bringing people to an event is easy,” she said. “Once they are there, they can learn about John O’Brien, Narrandera and Narrandera folk – all the good things, it’s pretty exciting.

“It’s a great step and we have the support from Council in $10,000 in sponsorship funding.

“We like to think we are still honouring the legacy of John O’Brien to ensure he was a presence in this new folk festival.

“We will ensure the event is run professionally and well, and is not a financial burden on regional and remote communities.

“A great event provides a sense of amenity, liveability and social inclusion for people suffering this drought so it’s important this event goes ahead, and we make the most of it.”

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