Woodford Folk Festival #2
Saturday December 30 – Monday January 1, 2017
Day 4 – Saturday December 30
Make haste very slowly is today’s motto. Actually, it is probably the motto of the whole Queensland population in the summer. It is in the mid-30s and so humid that all the performers from Melbourne are making comments about it. Author Tom Piazza once said that summer in New Orleans was like was liking through a warm shower. I am reminded of that several times today. The trick is to pick your gigs and move as little as possible. Sometimes at the Grande there is a cool zephyr that occasionally wafts through if you sit near the back left corner. (This is just one of the little tricks you learn).
Tracy Spicer is the person of the moment given the #MeToo campaign and she is almost ubiquitous in the first few days. Her talk on The Future is Women in the Greenhouse was part autobiography and part inspiration to those following in her footsteps.
The recording of the ABC Podcast The Real Thing was one of those ideas that is good in theory but lacked something in actual practice. Ira Glass might be able to get away with this sort of thing for This American Life but it is not al that much fun to sit and watch presenters play interviews off iPads. The second part involving some audience engagement worked better. Maybe it would have worked well if the Festival was the podcast subject and the audience members were more involved.
Jean-Paul Bell interviewed 103-year old dancer Eileen Kramer about ageing and creativity. Eileen has led an extraordinary life. It is staggering to think you are listening to someone who was born before the start of the First World War!
Jed Rowe’s solo set in Bill’s Bar was a nice showcase for songs from his latest album. Rowe has an engaging presence and the highlight is his strongest song, ‘Tailem Bend.’
It seems that this year we are enjoying a lot of the talks and the comedy. Not that the music is not great it is just that it seems like a whole lot of different little festivals rolled into one. (To balance this out, I can report that I have not attended any of the many yoga classes or mindfulness workshops!).
The topic for this year’s Great Comedy Debate in The Garland tent was ‘There is no time like the present.’ Rod Quantock, Jan Van de Stool and John Thompson were pitted against Fiona Scott-Norman, Harley Breen and Dave Thornton. The entertainment was mostly in listening to the different approaches of each speaker. The former team won but not by much.
Andrew Clermont’s Supper Club combines numerous musicians and is good in theory but not tonight when there are problems with the sound. It is difficult to set up for a changing cast that has up to 7 musos on stage at the same time. i hope it got better.
Arnhem Land rapper Baker Boy draws the biggest crowd to date at the Songlines stage and it looks like he is a huge hit with the younger crowd, rapping in his native language.
Jude Perl is a little like listening to Carole King writing songs with Randy Newman as she pierces the conventions of life. There are dozens of pithy lines like, ‘the bed feels so much bigger now without you, probably because I bought a new bed.’ If Tim Minchin can be a huge international success then you get the feeling that Perl is destined for something similar given the right vehicle.
I have become quite taken with Randy the purple puppet. His story about his uncle at Christmas time is both hilarious and horrifying. Tonight he also tells a long story about buying a bookcase on Gumtree. It is sheer genius. Even when I later hear the stories again they are still funny.
I have come to view the fact that we have a tent on the flat as a little touch of luxury. The first time I was here nearly 20 years ago my tent was pitched on the side of a hill and each morning I would wake up in the bottom left hand corner as if I was the only thing preventing the tent from sliding the entire way down the hill. Of course, as soon as a ray of sunshine even touches the tent it is immediately turned into a sauna.
Day 5 – Sunday December 31
Rod Quantock’s last day with Fiona Scott-Norman. Their panel has quickly become an essential. One of today’s guests Dr Dan talks about medical myths and we decide to see him later.
Cloud cover starts the day though they are predicting thunderstorms later. In fact, by the time we are at Dr Dan in the Blue Lotus we all receive a text message that suggests the weather will be so bad we should take shelter in a toilet block! Is it the geography of Woodfordia that means the storm swings around the hills and leaves us with just a few showers as it heads for the coast? Whatever the reason we are spared. Is it a sign?
Yirrimal follows in the footsteps of Yothu Yindi, No Fixed Address and other great indigenous bands and his stage presence is compelling. Not only that, playing to a packed house at the Grande with his band he reminded me somewhat of Gary Clark Jr in being more than a handy guitarist. I wonder if he could be our version of Clark/ I certainly think Yirrimal would be a hit at overseas festivals.
Dr Dan is cramming facts in to the audience about medical myths for an hour. It is almost as if he fears the predicted catastrophic storm will wipe us all out before he has a chance to finish. He has probably bitten off more than he can chew because there is no time for questions and it seems more like a lecture (which is what he normally does). He is no Dr Karl (yet).
Brisbane’s Robbie Miller has received plenty of acclaim on Triple J and he showed why in a compelling set in The Tropic. Miller has a great voice and his songs are reminiscent of Ryley Walker so maybe they have been listening to the same influences such as Nick Drake etc. Mark him down for big things.
Everything stops at 11.30pm for three minutes of silence. Later, at midnight a loud roar erupts from the amphitheatre as a new year begins.
I am reminded of what Randy said as he closed his show tonight and talked about ‘two thousand and gentle’ as one of the audience members dubbed it. “We should all try to get along, whether we are left or right and if we don’t agree then just accept that people can have another opinion.’ Sound advice from a puppet!
This is the first time we have been camping since the last time we were here! My son says that you should never stay in a tent unless it has the word Hilton on it. We might just have a camp bed but this is the best I have slept for years. Could it be that no TV or using any electronic devices is beneficial? Could it be that by the time I go to bed I have put in an 18-hour day?
Day 6 – Monday January 1
The final day of what sometimes seems like an endurance test. The sun is shining. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are clouds emerging over the hilltops.
Rod Quantock has scarpered back to Melbourne leaving Fiona Scott-Norman as the only Leggy Redhead to preview the day so she has enlisted help. This morning’s highlight is the great Mic Conway performing.
We decide to go to a talk by American academic Brian Von Herzen from the Climate Foundation about restoring natural carbon cycles and how this will help save The Barrier Reef. It all sounds good in theory but to me seems like it might take about 200 years to have any effect by which time it will be too late. It doesn’t help that the current US President cites the cold snap in the eastern US as evidence that there is no such thing as ‘global warming.’
The ABC Podcast Off Track finds 50 of us sitting and listening to Anne Jones present the sounds of sea creatures for an hour. You would think this could be the most incredibly boring way you could ever spend 60 valuable minutes until you hear a sea anemone chewing on a rock. If you told me a month ago I would be doing this I would have told you that was an insane idea. The sounds of the Antarctic Blue Whale arrive at the end like the finale of Beethoven’s 1812 Overture.
Allison Ferrier has a new album coming out and she highlighted some of its songs at Bluestown with her partner (musical and in life) Jeff Lang. Ferrier’s understated presence belies the power of some of the songs.
If Director Bill Hauritz is worried about finances then maybe he can sell tickets to his mid-afternoon report. The Tropic was overflowing for his one-hour summation of the year. This year overall numbers were deliberately reduced after concerns about overcrowding last year. Still, 110,00 over 6 days is healthy by any standards. The local council and State government have donated $3 million for infrastructure. Things are looking good, though Hauritz refuses to overhype the future. The number of young people here seems to suggest that the festival will still be here in 20 years time.
As Hauritz answers questions and mainly accepts compliments light rain falls. Brilliant. I have decided that ideal conditions would be about 25C with cloud cover and occasional light rain to settle the dust. We wander up to the Songlines tent to check out Leah Flanagan and are suitably impressed by her songwriting skills.
Woodford always closes with the Fire Ceremony in the Amphitheatre which starts as soon as it gets pitch dark (which here is by 7.45pm) or when Bob Hawke arrives. Bob is now like the Yoda of Woodford, an overarching presence. Basically, this is a large bonfire masquerading as a performance piece. It is a little like Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Strange creatures, eerie music, a massed choir, characters who look like they are from an adaptation of Orwell’s 1984 and a lot of fire, all combine to make a spectacular end to the festival. Nothing like a good bonfire to start a new year!
Maybe we should have finished there but we decided to end with the Comedy Club back in The Tropic. By the end of 90 minutes you could be forgiven for thinking that the performers were being paid by the number of times they could say the word ‘fuck’ or its derivative. Also, there are likely to be a lot of parents trying to answer questions like, ‘Why did the man ask if men liked licking cats?’ No language or content warning here.
Okay, call me old fashioned but I really like my comedy to be funny. I lost count of the number of ‘poo’ jokes I have heard this week. I could relate funnier stories from my experiences at the toilet blocks here! (One bright spark amongst the newer contingent was Demi Lardner who has some great original material).
At least I got to hear the heckle of the festival when some bloke yelled out to mime artist Jean-Paul Bell, ‘A little louder mate!’ upstaging most of the performers.
Still, real talent always shows out. Dave Thornton and Harley Breen were right on target, while in his very brief stint to end the show, Randy the puppet gave us some real hilarity to take home. That was a nice way to finish the festival.
Summing up the Woodford Folk Festival is not easy. There is so much happening, so much to see and hear, so much to do. The main thing is the fact that the event offers an ‘experience’ that is unique. I am sure we could have done it easier, maybe stayed at a motel for a few nights and caught the bus in, but once you get into the rhythm it is irresistible.
Most people mention the good ‘vibe’ here and that is true. This morning the bus driver said, ‘Back to reality,’ as he loaded the cases on board. Yes, but the question is, ‘Which reality would you prefer?’
The Sacred Cowboys sang ‘Nothing grows in Texas.’ It could be reworked here as ‘nothing dries in Woodford.’ No use doing any laundry and hanging it out here. The humidity ensures that whatever gets damp stays damp. The decision to bring a light shirt and a t-shirt for every day turns out to be correct.
The garbage trucks roll in sometime around 5.00am, a loud, rumbling early morning alarm. I am up and at the showers at 6.15am. Usually I get straight in, this morning I had to wait. Why would it take someone 15 minutes to shower? I am feeling like the character in one of Randy’s skits where he talked about waiting in the supermarket queue.
Tuesday January 2, 2017
Tuesday morning and it is time to get ready to leave. For the sixth morning in a row the cafe gets part of my breakfast order wrong. This morning they gave me a medium flat white instead of a large. Yesterday they gave me a roll instead of a sandwich. And so it went. As I said to someone, if this is my biggest problem each day I have nothing really to worry about!
As we leave we get a sense of the incredible organisation that it takes to keep this festival going. It is not the usual festival site but looks like it is spread over hundreds of hectares. There have been nearly 15,000 people camping here and there are tent cities everywhere. The dismantling of the village is underway and it will likely take weeks before everything is clear.
It has been quite an experience and we are already planning our next trip here in less than a year’s time!