Folk and figs? It’s time for a festival!

The Pipi Pickers and Jon Sanders will be playing at the Aongatete Festival on February 24-25.

Last year I managed to offend the organisers of the Folk Under The Figs festival and I'd like to take this chance to offer an apology.

At the time, I was trying to use the word ‘amateur' as a compliment, much as one of my heroes, Orson Welles, did throughout his life when describing himself, preferring the original definition of the word – which is a person who does something out of love. I've always thought of that as an ideal to strive for: To be someone who pursues their art for the love of it, not in a chase for the all-corrupting dollar. I was reminded of that recently when watching a brilliant film by the brilliant documentarian Les Blank. ‘The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists' is about the wildly eccentric and quite lovely Californian artist Gerald Gaxiola. Among other things, he refuses to sell any of his artwork, following his belief that the moment an artist sells work his worth is judged not by artistic quality but purely by dollar value. Looking at how arts are reported in the media this would appear true, whether it's how high sales are for a particular album or the price of a painting auctioned at Sotherby's.

The value of art

The Maestro himself uses the example of Picasso and Van Gogh, two of the richest artists who ever lived, one who sold a single painting in his lifetime. Those were standards by which they were judged during their lifetimes, but who now would put a value on either measured by how much money they made? Yet that is what we continually do. So, going back to what I wrote last year about the Aongatete Festival…somewhere along the way my wording was changed from ‘amateur' to ‘amateurish', a term holding the more modern implication of a person who simply doesn't do something very well. I apologise if that put anyone off the festival, because as far as I'm concerned, their example shows how festivals really should be. It's small, friendly, intimate, inexpensive, in a beautiful setting, and features terrific music, both local and from people you don't often get the chance to hear in Tauranga. So, it happens on February 24-25, from the Friday night and all day Saturday. For both days it costs $30, or $40 if you want to stay and camp for two nights. For a single day it' $10 for the Friday night and $25 for the Saturday. Cheap as chips.

A feast of folk

Topping the bill is The Pipi Pickers, a four-piece bluegrass band that hail from Leigh and come with a bunch of great word of mouth. They've played festivals all over New Zealand and Australia and boast a particularly hot five-string banjo player and a commanding woman singer, who also plays upright bass. Then there's sweet-voiced English singer Kirsty Bromley, who I caught performing a capella at the Katikati Folk Club a couple of years back. She's returned for the Auckland folk festival and has an accompanying guitarist this time. She's equally good on historical folk songs as she is with contemporary material.  I'd also recommend a number of others: Jon Sanders is a wiz on bouzouki, ukulele and guitar and will dazzle you on each; there's Dave Shanhun, and Penni Feather, and bluegrass family band RhodeWorkz, which feature mum and dad and three kids who look unfeasibly small. How it works is that there's a blackboard concert on Friday night, then a mixture of different concerts throughout Saturday. If you're interested I'd suggest a trip to their very good website: And, after writing about it, I'm going to miss the festival. I'll be dancing like a demented dervish to the sounds of Bruce Springsteen in Auckland. But I'm looking forward to a very different festival the following weekend. Well, musically different; it's just as friendly. Live Music at the Lettuce Inn returns to 35 Sedgemoor Lane in Katikati on March 4, offering five-and-a-half hours of hip modern music, from grooving pop to contemporary folk. I'll write about it next week – if you want early information, check their Facebook page.


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