Why the Frances Folk Gathering is more than just a music festival

After the Frances Folk Gathering was successful in getting additional funding for its 20th anniversary, the Herald looked more into why this event is unique and so important to the Frances community.

One of the organisations which benefits from the Gathering is the Border Districts Football and Netball Club. Not only does the club receive funds from the Friends of Frances Folk Gathering organising committee, but actively contributes to the event. 

“In the last couple of years we have supported the community by preparing food in the footy club rooms,” Borders netball president Geraldine Walter said.

“And the youth of the club get to put their hand up, to do things they might not have been able to do in another small town. They get to work in the community.

“Events like that, they give the club other forms of financial support. In the grant for our new clubrooms, we put in that they would also support the community and the Gathering.”

The new clubrooms will be functioning as additional accommodation for guests.

“It’s a ripple effect,” Geraldine concluded.

Accommodation for guests can also be found at the Frances Hotel Motel, whose proprietors are Ken and Ann Montgomery.

But for Ken, the Gathering is less about his business benefiting and more about the town banding together for a cause.

“The football and netball club, the bowls club, the recreation club, the CFS, the Frances play group, and the Frances Primary School,” Ken counts on his hand over a cup of coffee.

“All of these local organisations make money from it (the Gathering).”

Ken explains that when the Gathering comes to town, everyone is assigned a role.

“Everyone comes together for a fantastic thing. It’s an event that’s acknowledged statewide, and nationally. It’s a major event on the folk calendar, and we get many people who are coming from Melbourne or Adelaide who have heard of Frances, just because of the Folk Gathering.”

Even after the festival, Ken has seen many tourists come to Frances just to see it – they’ve either visited before and enjoyed their stay, or they’ve heard of it. The Folk Gathering’s tourism appeal stretches beyond a weekend at the beginning of the year, which benefits the whole Naracoorte Lucindale Council district.

“The people that it brings in – around 800 people are camping here,” Ken said about the Gatherings’ audience.

“If they’ve got their campervans they usually stay a couple more days and have a look around, bringing in even more money to the area.”

A key part of the Frances’ Folk Gathering’s appeal is that it’s a free and family-friendly event.

“You’ve got a family with a couple of kids, it (the Gathering) doesn’t cost a fortune,” Ken said.

“You get to see nationally and internationally recognised performers for free – it doesn’t happen very often.”

Regarding the performers, something that the public doesn’t always get to see is the artists staying to teach workshops at Frances. Poetry, singing, and dancing are all taught to students across the region for a full Friday.

During the Gathering itself, it’s an annual tradition for performers to undertake an ‘impromptu group’ activity, where they involve locals in an act.

As well as roping in an adult, they need to also include a local that is under the age of 16. It’s an act that really engages all generations in the community, Ken said.

“It gives Frances a sense of pride,” he said about the Gathering.

“We make sure that the town is neat and tidy, especially at that time of year. It’s a nice little town, and we like to show it as being well-kept.”

The last interviewee is Colin Hembury, who runs the Frances General Store. When the Gathering is on, the store not only employs more people to help out on the weekend, but also sponsors the event. 

“It’s a lot of work for a small town – a hell of a lot of work – but everyone helps out at the Gathering,” Colin said proudly.