2020 Festival Blog No.3 – Illawarra Folk Festival 19 January, 2020


By Nick Hartgerink

Among the many impressive things about the Illawarra Folk Festival is the way it nurtures new talent, and gives local Illawarra acts a chance to perform in front of new audiences.

And more often than not, its loyalty to local acts is repaid in spades.

Take The Water Runners for example. Four years ago this Kiama band debuted at the Illawarra Folk Festival, playing the festival’s smaller stages to audiences made up mostly of family and friends, with a few interested onlookers.

The band has played the festival each year since then – and each year their performances have grown in quality, stature and audience size. The band has had a few changes of personnel but its nucleus of front man John Littrich (guitar and vocals) and Neil McCann (banjo and mandolin) has remained firm. John’s son Dominic is on percussion, while the addition of superb fiddle player Danita Harris has really added another dimension to their sound.

This year The Water Runners really came of age, packing out the Slacky Flat stage with an audience in the hundreds and standing room only at their Saturday lunchtime show. They blew everyone away with their set of mostly originals, with the occasional cover (like their bluegrass re-imagining of U2’s standard “Still Haven’t Found What I Am Looking For”).

John’s haunting new song for the recent South Coast bushfire victims, “The End Of The Year”, brought the house down, and brought tears to many eyes.

Unfortunately this was The Water Runners’ only performance at the Illawarra Folk Festival this year, as they are packing up and heading for the Tamworth Country Music Festival in the coming week where one of Neil’s songs is nominated in the Best Bluegrass Song category of the Tamworth Songwriting Awards.

They will be doing five shows at Tamworth, so clearly their growing reputation has preceded them.

No doubt they’ll be back at Bulli in future years. Loyalty works both ways.