THE Boolarra Folk Festival starts this Friday.

This free event, which goes until Saturday, March 2, and will feature artists in various genres from rock to blues.

Many performing at the festival are local bands, such as Hip Pockets, Paul Buchman’s Voodoo Preachers, Strzelecki Stringbusters, Ally Row, Stephen McCulloch, Todd Cook and the Rufous Whistlers.

The festival will be held in Railway Park and Centennial Park, both within the township of Boolarra.

This year is the Boolarra Folk Festival’s 21st birthday, and they are ready for more to come.

Meet some of the local talent participating in the festival.


Ally Row – Headliner

‘ALLY Row’ is a relatively new folk/pop band whose name combines the two members, Yarram locals Allison and Rowan.

The duo said that their professional career began when the COVID state border closures trapped them inside Queensland.

Dynamic duo: Ally Row will headline the Boolarra Folk Festival. Photograph supplied

“We didn’t succeed in the beginning because the first lockdown happened two months after we met, so in that period, we were writing music, coming up with ideas and melodies,” Rowan said.

“Then, when that lockdown ended, we left (Victoria) and went to Queensland, but the border shut soon after, and for nine months, we were trapped in Queensland. But for us, that also meant that other acts couldn’t perform. I saw an ad for the (2021) Tablelands Folk Festival, and we messaged them and found that the border closures cancelled some of their acts, so we asked if we could perform, and they gave us this prime-time spot,” Allison continued.

“We were so nervous to be on a proper stage, but we got good responses, and looking back, it was then where I first thought that if we keep practising and working, we could be successful.”

Even after the borders opened again, the pair spent three years without a home, living what Allison described as “the van life but without a van.”

“At the start, we lived in a rooftop tent on the car and busked for petrol money, and then later, I found Facebook community house sitting groups where I’d just post saying, ‘hey, we’re musicians and here’s our dog would you be interested in having us park on your land’ we would offer services in exchange for the place, mostly gardening work,” she said.

“It was often older people who couldn’t garden anymore that responded, and in a way, we became their grandchildren, celebrating Christmas and birthdays with them. It was an exciting environment to be part of because we were travelling so much.

“I often forget how much we’ve done in the last three years, and then we get a message from someone we met at that period, ‘I don’t know if you remember me, but …’. Of course I remember them, I never forget because those people are the ones that kept us alive and able to have these experiences.”


Strzelecki Stringbusters

A BUNCH of blokes with guitars and things who have been playing in the Yinnar area for more than 20 years are coming to the Boolarra Folk Festival.

“They started in the corner of the Yinnar Pub, playing guitars and having a beer. It became popular and has grown and grown. We have a stable of 16 guys,” said Strzelecki Stringbuster, Marty Van Hoorn.

Marty told the Express that some of the guys in the group did not know how to play to start with, but had a passion for music.

The group also helps with community fundraisers and look after their own mental health.

“They are very community-focused because they know what it is like being on the receiving end and making music,” Marty said.

“It has also been described as a men’s self-help group with guitars, which is wonderful for it to be. It’s a bunch of brothers that get on well, a fraternity and beverages where you can play music.”

The Stringbusters have been at the Boolarra Folk Festival from the start.

“The Stringbusters have been there in some form. We do many music styles but organically started towards bluegrass and American root music,” Marty said.

“You can expect some more contemporary, modern pieces as well as some old and some new at the festival.”

The group plays for fun and aims for everyone listening to have fun as well.


Hip Pockets

MAKING an appearance once again at the Boolarra Folk Festival, the band Hip Pockets is ready to groove with their 10-piece band.

Originally called ‘The Steaming Manzas’, Hip Pockets looks forward to audiences grooving to some of their covers in a different ‘flavour’.

“Last year was so much fun. We just had everyone up and dancing. It was really good,” Hip Pocket’s front person, Pheobe Trinidad said.

“We always do some really fun arrangements of songs that people probably already listen to, but there is always a little bit of extra condiment to it. I think it has a little bit of flavour and spice.”

“That’s a key thing, really. We try to have a super large appeal by doing songs you would have heard, but we also really appeal to the musicians in the crowd because they are arrangements they have never heard. Having the horn section means we can do really different things rather than just strum and sing. It’s very upbeat, and last year, the crowd was just on their feet for the whole set. I think it is also great fun,” Hip Pocket’s guitarist, Danny Eddy, said.

When the band was The Steaming Manzas in the 90s, it was the first of its kind where a local band had a brass section. The band then went on a 10-year break and has resumed as Hip Pockets.

“Some of the original members just felt that they had done that; they had revisited, and that was it. The rest of us were like, ‘this needs to keep going.’ So, we recruited Pheobe as our new front-person,” Eddy said.

The Hip Pockets crew are excited to be at the Boolarra Folk Festival again and invite everyone of all ages to the festival.


Stephen McCulloch

STEPHEN McCulloch is a singer/songwriter who plays multiple instruments and enjoys playing various genres such as folk, country and rock.

McCulloch said he enjoys playing songs that speak to the everyday human and engaging in positive messaging.

His songs explore the joy and pain of being human with an honesty that is immediate, engaging, and often uplifting.

“One of the singles I released last year was called Grit, and I wrote it to thank everyone that helped the country get through COVID, such as the firefighters and healthcare workers,” he said.

“This song will also be performed at the (Boolarra) Folk Festival, and I’m excited to play.”

McCulloch got national exposure in 2015 when he performed on The Voice, and Delta Goodrem said he had a “beautiful voice.”

Since then has been performing at other music festivals across the country, including Woodford, The National and Maldon Folk festivals.

The Boolarra Folk Festival is part of his launch for his original song, Welcome the Healing.


Todd Cook and the Rufous Whistlers

COMING from East Gippsland is Todd Cook and the Rufous Whistlers, a band inspired by, you guessed it, the native Gippsland bird Rufous Whistlers.

“After the (2019/2020) fires, there was a bird in the backyard of our place, and everything was looking pretty grim, but that bird was there and was proudly singing out beautiful songs over the devastation,” Todd said.

In Boolarra, the band will play folk music about Australian people, landscapes, and even the country’s first cricket team (‘called Johnny Mullagh’).

“That song was a big project back in 2018 when it was the 150th anniversary of the cricket team; it was just a massive project that was very big and fun,” Todd said.

“We were in West Victoria about 10 years ago now, and after, we had a big celebration with some great musicians.

“We’re looking forward to playing it at a beautiful community event.”


Paul Buchman’s Voodoo Preachers

RIGHT around Stratford, Maffra and Moe, the Paul Buchman’s Voodoo Preachers are sharing the blues with Boolarra Festival for the first time.

The band formed in 2020 after years of each of the members being in different bands and thought that now was the time.

The band is strictly blues music only, but are sharing the idea of fast paced blues back into action.

“Many people have a misconception that blues is slow and miserable, which is not the case. I also write some slow blues, but my stuff mostly comes along quickly,” Paul said.

“Apart from our gigs, people like our more up-tempo stuff because they can dance to it. Like blues clubs, they appreciate the faster pace, but they also appreciate the slower and more contemporary blues. It’s a mixture.

Buchman draws his inspiration from the things that he has seen throughout the years, and the band has been popular on the blues charts across the world.