4 January 2024

Folk Festival headliner draws on life experiences and 'human weirdness' for song inspiration

| Nick Hartgerink
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Alana and son Rafferty playing in a sand pit.

Alana and Rafferty Wilkinson enjoy some fun in the sandpit. Alana is performing at the Illawarra Folk Festival at Bulli Showground in January. Photo: Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore.

Illawarra Folk Festival headliner Alana Wilkinson likes to write songs about life – and as her life in recent years has been anything but ordinary, that makes for some interesting songs.

Alana’s son Rafferty, now two, was born three months premature in 2021 and spent 92 days in a humidicrib in hospital in Brisbane and the next 12 months on oxygen administered at home.

But home at the time was Upper Main Arm in the NSW Northern Rivers, cut off by landslides in the devastating floods that hit the region in March 2022. Rafferty’s oxygen supplies ran dangerously low.

“Upper Main Arm was cut off for weeks and we were running low on oxygen for Raffy, and we had to be airlifted off the mountain,” Alana said.

“You could say it was an eventful few years. The whole situation was a pretty big initiation to parenthood, but it also inspired a whole bunch of songs.”

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Alana will be performing at the Illawarra Folk Festival, from 19-21 January, and songs about her experience with Rafferty are sure to feature in her shows. Songs like ‘Dream Big’, the first song she wrote about her son after he was born.

“I wrote a lot of songs while Raffy was in hospital, and I used to play Dream Big on a ukulele and sing it to him as he lay in the humidicrib,” Alana said.

Dream Big won the renowned Roddy Read Songwriting Award, and will be included on Alana’s debut album due for release in early 2024.

Other songs about Alana’s experiences with her son include ‘The Haemoglobin Song’, a ukulele tune penned to help Raffy avoid his third blood transfusion, and ‘With a Boob Out’ – a laugh-out-loud song about new motherhood and accidentally flashing her breast at the postman.

“My songs really are a celebration of human weirdness. They’re quirky, weird and wonderful – exploring the funny little back alleys of the human condition,” she said.

Alana has performed to enthusiastic audiences at some of Australia’s biggest folk festivals, including Woodford in Queensland and Port Fairy in Victoria, but this will be her first time on stage at the Illawarra Folk Festival.

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Her performances at Bulli will be part of a Festival of Small Halls tour that will take her from Woodford in late December to a sweep of towns in western and southern NSW, before hitting the coast for shows at Pambula (17 January) and Pyree (18 January), and then moving on to the Illawarra Folk Festival.

This is Alana’s first full Small Halls tour, after her first scheduled tour in 2020 was de-railed by the start of COVID-19 and the resulting state border closures.

“I started that tour at the Port Fairy Folk Festival and we’d gone one week into South Australia when COVID hit and everything stopped,” she said.

“So I’m really looking forward to doing a full tour this time, and travelling around in our van with my husband (musician Angus Robb) and our two-year-old. Raffy loves it. He’s a very musical little creature.”

Alana, who plays both guitar and ukulele, often invites Angus to join her on stage to sing harmonies.

The Illawarra Folk Festival takes place from Friday 19 January to Sunday 21 January 2024 across eight venues. To find out more and buy tickets, visit the festival website.

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