SESSIONFEST still going strong!
by Brent Rogers
TN155 Apr 23
What a great way to spend a long-weekend.
Sessioning with friends and strangers, taking part in a blackboard or themed concert or just chilling out.
And, then there is the camping out but with the benefit of hot showers, clean loos, kitchen facilities, sheltered areas and warm fires/heaters.
Non camping day visitors are welcome of course.
Can’t get much better than that!
Sessionfest was created when, after many years of holding great Folk Festivals, the old hands of the Newcastle NSW Folk Club began to run out of steam and there were fewer hands on deck to run such large events.
After a few years in the doldrums, some folk were missing the event so a few attempts were made to revive it.
Smaller festivals were held in Morpeth and then Wollombi, until insurance costs killed the will.
Down the track a bit, with folks again looking for something to fill in the festival gap locally, the idea of a low cost event held by the people, for the people, was raised.
With no paid performers it was possible to create an event that could (almost) break even, cost wise.
Hence, SessionFest hosted by the Newcastle & Hunter Valley Folk Club was born.
The event was originally held at the Walka Water Works near Maitland, moving on after three years to what was then, Bargoed House (electrical workers) camping reserve at Swansea, where we stayed for about 8 years.
Since then, SessionFest has been held at the Morisset Showground, a handy location with fairly good amenities, always on the June long weekend, this year bring from 9-12 June.
The site is also handy to shopping, pub, restaurants, railway etc.
This small, ‘no paid performers, no festival fee event began in 2004 and has been held every year since, except once when floods made it impossible to get to the site at Walka Water Works and in 2020 when COVID forced us to cancel the event.
However, a small admin charge is now levied to help pay for the venue hire and camping must be pre-booked and paid directly to the provider.
This is quite an achievement considering the weather has not always been kind to us but it hasn’t deterred the majority of our sessioners who come year after year, some from interstate, to enjoy our special event.
Yes, it’s true we’ve have had a few very wet weekends over the years but for most we have had glorious weather, albeit a bit chilly at night sometimes, though nothing that good campfires and gas heaters couldn’t fix.
The up-side of this is that there have been some great stories to tell.
Like the folk who went to sleep in their tents one night and woke up with 180 degree water front views, i.e. on little islands surrounded by water.
But that is what ‘wellies’ are for, hey!
There have also been some great songs that have come out of such events.
One that springs to mind is about a storm that gave us some exciting moments at our SessionFest site and managed to ground the ship Pasha Bulker at Newcastle.
That song was the winning entry in the Chorus Cup at St.Albans Folk Festival the following year.
But never fear, the weather is usually good and the amenities are generally much better now-a-days.
Over the years I have meet some wonderful people at this event and made some great friends, as well as having been able to sing along with and learn from some fantastic performers.
This is a relaxing event with just the right mix of organised activities, sometimes including free workshops, and time to spend with others or just relaxing.
I love it!