The 2021 Cairns Festival is just around the corner, and it’s paving the way for engaging diverse local lineups amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite having faced an uphill battle against challenges like border closures and snap lockdowns, this year’s festival is set to involve one of the most inclusive lineups of any major arts event.

Featuring a wide range of talent headlined by Aussie music industry mainstay Jaguar Jonze and local singer-songwriter Amber Farnan, a whopping 85 per cent of the lineup consists of regional artists.

On top of that, 66 per cent of this year’s acts include at least one female-identifying member and another 66 per cent identify as culturally diverse.

It’s an impressive and celebrated feat given many other festivals are unable to go ahead at all due to fast-changing mandates, restrictions, and a slow vaccine roll-out amid the global pandemic.

Cairns Festival 2021

This year, only four of the artists originally included on the bill have been affected by interstate border closures and travel restrictions. Although gigs by Tim Rogers and Barry Morgan have been cancelled, performances involving Missy Higgins and RocKwiz Live remain postponed for now.

Now more than ever, festival organisers including programmer Roz Pappalardo are aiming to both celebrate and bolster the local live music scene in Cairns, while also providing safe events that adhere to state restrictions.

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Roz Pappalardo told TIO it is important to continue to find ways to host events wherever possible amid COVID-19.

“It’s imperative for our local and broader QLD artists and performing arts organisations to continue to work in these uncertain times wherever possible – and in continuing to work and receive payment for that work, they are in real life time working on innovative and out of the box solutions to remain sustainable in an ever changing world,” she said.

“Another layer of presenting what may be the only QLD festival in the back half of 2021 (apart from BrisFest) is we are inviting our audiences to continue on the journey with us; discovering new artists they may not be familiar with because with the postponement and cancellation of some Festival ‘headliners’ local acts become the headliners… thus these acts are developing their audiences and accessing opportunities that would not ordinarily come their way so early on in their career.”

Roz Pappalardo
Cairns Festival programmer Roz Pappalardo

Pappalardo said Cairns Festival is proud to present a program of diverse and simultaneously well-loved work.

“[We are] drawing on diverse artists across our beautiful region and State, celebrating those very important moments of coming together as a community, taking our audiences on a journey that perhaps we wouldn’t have done without the uncertainty that our world today is presenting us with,” Pappalardo said.

“Then there is the economic flow-on from these events through our wages to techs, hiring of equipment and the marketing spend. Along with people dining out, booking rooms etc.”

With over 85 per cent of the festival program consisting of artists from Queensland, it seems there is no better time to recognise the extensive array of local talent the state has to offer. It’s likely other major festivals will do the same if they want to host events this year and in early 2022.

Cairns Festival 2021 runs from Friday, August 27th to Sunday, September 5th, with a variety of free and ticketed events at a range of locations across the Cairns region.

For more information, head over to the Cairns Festival official website.