For an annual event that’s been around since 1977, The Sydney Festival never misses a beat. It fills what would otherwise be a gaping cultural hole in our beach-bound city’s holiday season and does so with vigour, pertinence and an insistence that we are not really that far away from the rest of the world.

This year’s line-up of local and international acts is long and enticing. There are notable collaborations between well-known musicians and rising indie stars, reflections on contemporary Aboriginal art practices, reappearances of favourite choreographers and theatre directors, plus a whole heap of free events. We’ve put together a list of our five festival program highlights.

CANT is the solo project of Seattle-raised Brooklynite Chris Taylor, Grizzly Bear’s bass player and producer. We love Grizzly Bear and CANT has a kindred sound, with familiar overlaid rhythms, fragile vocal harmonies and unhurried sonic ascents.

For this appearance, Taylor is teaming up with Devonte Hynes (Blood Orange/Lightspeed Champion/Ex-Test Icicles), John Kirby (Sebastian Tellier’s band) and Guillermo Brown (who recently accompanied Jamie Lidell/Arto Lindsey/Saul Williams) to play tracks from his 2011 debut album Dreams Come True.

Expect this gig to be ethereal, eloquent and really pretty amazing. It’s on at The Famous Spiegeltent on January 14 and 15.

Theatre director Simon Stone is 27 and unflappable. In 2011 he told the Sydney Morning Herald that to make successful avant-garde theatre, “You have to take big steps in everything you do and be utterly rigorous about it. You have to be playful and follow your instincts. You can't be scared or making compromises. If you can't be a polemicist, you can't be a true artist."

Stone’s new work retells the Greco-Roman epic tragedy Thyestes – a tale of a deposed king whose sons were slaughtered and unwittingly served to him as a feast. It presents the myth as contemporary reality by re-imagining the work as a series of domestic scenes exploring the mundanity of violence. This R18 event is on at Carriageworks from January 18 until February 19.

As hard as it is to get our heads around this act without actually experiencing it, we’re intrigued by the idea of Mondo Cane. It’s Faith No More frontman Mike Patton’s side project in which he reinvents himself as a 1950s Italian pop crooner.

Backed by a 25-piece ensemble (an orchestra, band and choir) Patton is said to belt out convincingly moving renditions of Gino Paoli's Senza fine and Gianni Morandi's Ti offro da bere, as well as delivering classics by Ennio Morricone and Elmer Bernstein with gusto.

Mondo Cane will first appear on January 14 as the highlight of the free Summer Sounds in The Domain series, followed by two ticketed performances at the State Theatre on January 16 and 17.

This year is the final instalment of the three-year art project Edge of Elsewhere, which partners contemporary artists from Australia, the Pacific and Asia with local communities. Run by the Campbelltown Arts Centre, Edge of Elsewhere has delivered some impressive ideas and projects over the past two years and promises to continue doing so this summer.

One Edge of Elsewhere artist is attempting to run the diameter of the Earth, another has installed a flock of sheep and trained bulls in a government housing property and a third is on a Sydney-wide search for a man he heard a tale about from a taxi driver in Korea.

This event runs from January 15 to March 12 at the Campbelltown Arts Centre and 4A Centre for Contemporary Art.

Beware the cultural fatigue that is part and parcel of any truly great festival. Weeks of indulging in outstanding theatre, dance, art and music can leave a person yearning for a chance to just chill out and process it all. That’s when it’s time to pack a picnic and head down to one of the city’s foreshore reserves to watch Ferrython.

Ferrython is pure light-hearted fun. It sees four of Sydney’s humble Lady Class ferries race from Fort Dennison around Shark Island and back to the Harbour Bridge. It’s an event that’s been held every year since the first Sydney Festival in 1977 and one that has become a family favourite.

The day commences with gunfire from the Tribal Warrior – Australia’s oldest working sailboat – and ends with the ferries parading around the harbour for the afternoon vying for the Best Dressed Ferry title.

It takes place on Australia Day, January 26.