Our Story


The Nannup Music Festival came from humble but passionate beginnings, born in the hearts of a group of Folk Music Lovers in the region, to share and celebrate their love of music and good company. The story of the Nannup Music Festival is truly a colourful evolution of not just music - in its ever growing and changing forms and genres - but of community contribution and participation, involving the generosity, input, spirit and dedication of a long list of people. It speaks to the heart of the people and the town of Nannup itself, with its welcoming sense of place in a unique and beautiful landscape, that this much-loved festival continues to grow and share its colour, character and charm, not to mention the music itself, over 35 years of challenges and change.

The first 10 years (by Bernie Wilborn)

The Nannup Music Festival, which occurs on the long weekend for Labour day in Western Australia – usually the first Monday in March – has its origins in the South West Folk Festival (SWFF). The SWFF was held on alternate years in Albany and Busselton on the Australia Day long weekend, until it went the way of many community organised events, due to burnout of the small number of volunteers who organised it year after year. The last SWFF occurred in Albany in 1987 (I think). In that same year, I moved from Perth to Nannup, and in 1988, with my wife, Rubela, began a Bed & Breakfast guest house, which was busy on the October long weekend – the weekend that the WA Folk Festival occurred in Toodyay – due to there being a boat race on the Blackwood River. This meant that I couldn’t get to Toodyay, and having lost the SWFF, I was missing out on Folk Festivals altogether.

In 1988, I had started the Nannup Music Club (NMC) in the front room of our house “Dry Brook”, and this grew to be an incorporated body with monthly performances at the newly renovated RSL Hall.

The NMC was popular with folkies from Perth, and one of the benefits (probably the only benefit!) for performers was a free night at “Dry Brook” B&B. Occasionally, performers were paid a “petrol allowance”, but usually they came and performed at their own expense. I had considered the idea of a festival in Nannup for a couple of years before I decided it might be possible, with the support the NMC was getting, to start a small festival along the lines of the SWFF. The NMC had been called a “Music” club rather than a “Folk” club with the aim of attracting locals, who would be more interested in Country, Blues, Jazz and Rock music than “finger in the ear” folk music. This didn’t really work as the content of the monthly performances hardly ever contained any of the other genres of music, so when the festival was named, it became the “South West Folk Festival”. The aim here was to have a festival which was not necessarily tied to Nannup, then if another town in the South West wanted to host it on alternating years, or take it over altogether, it would still have continuity. This didn’t happen, either, and later, the festival committee decided to change the name to the Nannup Music Festival.

The first festival was timed to coincide with the centenary celebrations commemorating the establishment of Nannup as a town in 1890, and so at Easter 1990, it all happened. The organisers up to the event were myself and Yvonne Harris in Nannup, with Barbara Stephenson and my sister Rosemary Robertson in Perth coordinating adult performers and children’s performers respectively. Approximately 700 people came to Nannup for the first festival, which was held in the existing venues – the Town Hall, the Lesser Hall, the RSL Hall and the Recreation Centre. As well, there were tourists who were here for the centenary celebrations, so the town was really busy. There were street stalls and street entertainment, and the whole thing was laid back and destined to be a success because every single person was determined to have a good time.

Another secret of success was that the festival has had the support of the whole town from the beginning, unlike Toodyay which took 10 years to get involved with and support the WA Folk Festival in their town. The whole festival cost me $700 up front, with a few hundred dollars in bills to pay, and at the end of it all, after I’d got my money back, there was around $300 left over for seed money for the next festival.

There wasn’t enough to pay most of the artists, however, although we had agreed to pay the Bunbury Band “The Caddam Wood Bush Band” with the P.A. supplied and operated by Terry Salom, the Bands Caller and Largerphone player, assisted by Peter Stanicic, the bands Bass player, doing all the stage set up.They were providing one of the 2 PA systems, as well as operating the sound desk and being the dance band for the bush dance they really earned their money – it must have worked out at 10 cents an hour! Likewise, John Belton had provided a PA and operated the sound desk for the weekend, so he was paid. Happily, ever since the first festival, all scheduled performers have been paid something towards expenses, and in recent times, at least minimum union rates.

Image credit: Alison Cassanet


Fortunately, plenty of volunteers were co-opted on the weekend, so most events ran smoothly, but it was obvious to Yvonne & myself that we could not continue like this, so we formed a SWFF committee for the following year. The festival has gone from strength to stength, and has now achieved its 10th anniversary without ever having made a loss – quite an achievement where folk festivals (particularly in WA) are concerned. No thanks to me as I dived for cover when the budget started to get into four figures!

The 10th Anniversary festival almost didn’t happen as the committee fell apart in the winter of 1998, so after non-participation for 6 festivals (I was living a long way away for most of those years), I re-joined the committee. Having missed out on the deadline for two important grants, it required frenetic activity to raise sufficient money to run the festival. Most of the credit for the success of this fund-raising activity must go to Ken Rawlings, who took over the chair at very short notice, and whipped the rest of us into shape. The end result was a festival which most people enjoyed, although some commented on the absence of a “big name”. Part of the problem was the need to “re-invent the wheel” as most of the committee were new at the job, and for myself, I had lost contact with the process.

Added to the usual cost of the festival was the need for reliable power for the street stalls, and $3,000 was spent providing 2 power distribution boards in the main street. Western Power let us down by not replacing an inadequate transformer until it had had a melt down, then it was replaced with a similar one which also melted down. Finally, at 3 pm on the Sunday, it was replaced with one which could handle the load. The net result, in financial terms, was a loss which was easily covered by the “safety net” of funds from the nine previous successful festivals, and we commenced planning for the 2000 festival with sufficient resources to ensure that the 11th Nannup Music Festival will be a great success.

So the festival that was set up with $700 and a great deal of volunteer help, so that I wouldn’t have to travel to Toodyay, has become one of the major events in the South West, and the biggest event of the year for Nannup Town.

30th Anniversary

"Congratulations to the committee members past and present for bringing this festival to this amazing milestone of 30 years. From its humble beginnings in 1990 (a massive budget of $700!) to the 2019’s million dollar show, the Nannup Music Festival (AKA South West Folk Festival for the first few years) has to rank as one of Australia’s most successful music festivals with very few of the major problems faced by every other festival over the years. Every year, the Nannup Music Festival gets better in almost every direction - better facilities, smarter T- shirts, better venues and sound systems, interesting and eclectic performers and lots of free entertainment options for those who are unable or unwilling to spend the money on a ticket. People often ask me: “Are you proud of how the Nannup Music Festival is going since you first started it?” My answer is that I’m glad I started it, but I can’t take any credit for what it has become - I planted the seed and handed it (as a 2 year old seedling) to people with real ‘green fingers’ who nurtured it and made it grow. What the Festival has become is down to the people - past and current committee members - who had the courage and imagination to employ the right people, get the right financial support and stretch the boundaries to make this Festival the best it can be!"
Bernie Wilborn
Founder & Life Member
"Bernie and Rubela’s Music Club nights in the front room of Dry Brook in 1988 were the start of our addiction and we were hooked from there on. Following the influx of talent and the excitement of the inaugural South West Folk Festival in 1990, Michael and I joined the organising committee and became part of the festival family. It was sometimes totally exhausting but ultimately exhilarating, something of a roller coaster ride. Once we managed to attract sufficient grant funding, becoming a talent scout was the best part for me, discovering Desert Child (Guy Ghouse and Damien Watkiss) while we were in Broome; the Brookhampton Bellringers near Donnybrook; John McCutcheon from the US; Andy Irvine from the UK...the list was long. I found well known Australian household names were suddenly eager to come to this small country town called Nannup – Neil Murray, Ted Egan, Eric Bogle, Judy Small...so many over the years. What a buzz! It was also great to bring an increasing audience of festival goers into the town to discover what makes it such a special place. The community largely came together for the festival which proved to be a game changer for Nannup in the nineties. Bernie you didn’t realise at the time the catalyst for change it would become. There is so much to celebrate after 30 years of the Nannup Music Festival and we hope that it continues to prosper and grow well into the future."
Alison Cassanet
Past Committee Member
Image credit: Heather Walford
"I became the Chairperson in 2005 when the Festival moved its evening venue to the grounds of Holberry House. By this time the crowds were such that the large marquee no longer accommodated patrons. We stuck with Holberry House for three years and during this time we decided that an open-air evening concert made the Festival very special. Nannup Shire began to do lots of work at the open-air venue at the end of Brockman Street ready for the Festival to move there. I was part of the team which planted grass runners so if you're enjoying the luxuriant grass as you watch this year's Festival, send a small thank you to those who laboured for your comfort."
Carol Pinkerton
Life Member
"Everywhere the tents, campervans and trailers were parked haphazardly, squashed in beneath the tall trees, and the visitors were soaking up the energy of the town and the music. Nobody seemed angry or stressed. Everyone was accepted and accepting. Everyone belonged. It felt like one big community of those who loved music, creativity and nature."
First-time festival attendee, 2013
"I am not a musician or really that interested in music, but I know I can organise things and I thoroughly enjoyed all the challenges that were presented over the years, the wonderful people I met and worked with and I treasure some of the memories such as: The moment when the rain started when Gurrumul came on stage to a sell out crowd and we crossed our fingers that it would stop and stay calm. Or the time a security guard said you better go back stage Jimmy Barnes has just turned up and sure enough he had, and later got on stage to a very thrilled audience. The wonderful Nannup Tiger Girls, the Beatles Sing a longs or my last year when they got me a golf cart to travel around the venues. I am extremely thrilled to see the Music Club move to its own premises on Brockman Street, especially for Phaedra who always had the dream of it being a home for the Club."
Maggie Longmore
Life Member
"Many congratulations to the past and present Nannup Music Festival Management Committees and volunteers for their unstinting work on running such a successful and noteworthy annual event which brings so much recognition to Nannup. Well done!"
Dr Bob Longmore
Life Member
"My best memory of Nannup is sitting by the river and singing there. I just love the sound and life of the river and also feeling the life in the past when the Aboriginal people were there. I also loved meeting all sorts of people and the human village feel and the general all round positivity and creativity and wish we could live like this always!"
Kavisha Paola Mazzella
Performing Artist
"In 2000 a local team got together to take the festival back from a Perth based organiser and everyone was worried we couldn't do it. We were all volunteers and worked our butts off and it paid off a very satisfying feeling. As an organiser for me the Magical Moments were when the festival team all worked together and everyone went over and above to make sure the event worked. The moment you hear that the artist you wanted can definately come (Joe Camilliri and Ben Lee), seeing a new innovation working (moving to the Foreshore Park) and leaving a legacy (the sculpture of the tiger)."
Heather Walford
Life Member
Image credit: Heather Walford
"Favourite memories: ..."the camaraderie, support and the dedication of the people behind the scenes who make the festival work. These people become family and there have been enduring friendships made from time working on the festival"..."watching the emerging artists start in Nannup and then perform on the world stage. Artists like Gurrumul, Kate Hiedke Miller, Passenger, Loren Kate have performed in Nannup before they were picked up by labels or won awards."
Louise Stokes
Past Committee Member
"I first attended a Nannup Music Festival in 2003. The beautiful bush environment and heritage town site won me over immediately. It has expanded in genre over the years showcasing mainly artists from Australia but some from OS as well. I love its community feel and strong natural inclusion on Aboriginal music. I have performed at the festival twice in Warangka and once in a rock band (Persian Love, now Broken Gnomes). My many festival visits then helped inspire me to live and work in Nannup and become involved in volunteering as a committee member."
Felicity Dear
Committee Member
"Such a precious 13 years, so much growth, so many changes... So many people, so many moments, so many memories. Mostly it’s the Love and Joy that is etched into my psyche and just like a season or a migration, every year it returns."
Phaedra Watts
Festival Director
Image credit: Giselle Natassia - Photographer
"The Totally Sound team love working at the Nannup Music Festival. It is an absolute highlight in our year. You ask if we recall a special moment.....there have been so many. So many magic, make your skin tingle and your heart feel full moments. Joyous bands from remote Australia, polished performances in beautiful surroundings, the delight that comes with the unexpected, the spontaneous. But there is one moment that really stands out. It was early Sunday morning in the main street. A lone busker was playing guitar as the sleepy campers were just starting to make there way to the coffee vans. A tiny child walked up to the busker and stood very close, staring up at him with beautiful, inquisitive big eyes. The busker crouched low near the child and sang the child a nursery rhyme. A precious moment indeed." - Totally Sound
Totally Sound
Audiovisual Company