Woodford Folk Festival, Queensland – Saturday December 28. 2013
By Brian Wise
The first thing that confronts you in the morning is the problem of sifting through the enormous festival program and deciding which of the 20 stages to visit.
Nestled into the hills, the festival site alone covers many acres. Add to that the camping and parking and up pops a ‘village’ every year that is larger than most rural towns in the State.
In the evening, and it gets dark here by 7.00pm and it is an awesome sight with its street lamps, colourful parades, vendors displays and milling crowds. In the daytime it is equally impressive but life tends to be slower as you duck for cover from the sun into one of the many large tented venues.
The highlight of the day for me was simple. Former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke smiled and waved to me in the evening as he walked past in the bar at the back of the Bazaar stage. I thought he had singled me out – and that is probably why he was one of our most popular leaders ever. Now he stands like a giant amongst political pygmies.
Earlier in the day I had watched him deliver a challenging speech about democracy. He was preceded by entertaining Canadian gospel group the Sojourners (introduced as the ‘sodgenners’) who delivered some classics (‘People Get Ready,’ ‘This Train’ and ‘Keep You Eyes on The Prize’) as well as some surprises (Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’).
Somehow, it seemed an entirely appropriate lead-in to a man renowned for his ‘hot gospelling’ on the election trail. It is Hawke’s sixth visit to Woodford and reminded me that President Jimmy Carter visited New Orleans Jazz Fest at least once when I was there. Hawke spoke about how he would like to see the states abolished when Australia becomes a republic and then mused on the world situation. ‘We are standing at the crossroads of history,’ added Hawke as he pointed out that we had never had such matrvellous technology available to improve the lot of mankind – or to entirely destroy it. When he bemoaned the fact that there were no great leaders around someone yelled out his name. ‘I am not in the game any more,’ he responded, not disagreeing with the implication that he was a great leader
Staying at the large Concert stage for the next few hours revealed some more treats. Sam Amidon gave what can only be described as a ‘quirky’ performance with his old-timey music. Playing banjo, guitar and violin (once) with a drummer in tow Amidon’s show was intriguing. At times he sounded like Nick Drake at other times he sounded like Drake had bumped into Ornette Coleman. A violin solo was totally off the wall. A lovely gospel song went completely awry half way through with Amidon screeching like an out of tune jazz saxophone. Inevitably, it became a memorable set – if you have seen him perform you will not soon forget.
Compared to Amidon, the singer-songwriters for the Festival of Small Halls showcase were almost too normal. The idea to tour musicians in rural areas was borrowed from Canada – and there are a lot of Canadians here. Apparently, someone convinced the Canadian government that it could get their music to the world by supporting musicians and helping them to tour. It works here because they are the largest contingent by far. Of course, they featured later in the day during a Joni Mitchell homage.
Rose Cousins, who has spent well over a month touring Australia headed the showcase with Jordie Lane, now an accomplished and very confident performer and fiddle and guitar duo Cole and Van Dijk
As a contrast, this was followed by blues trio The Backsliders – not on the dedicated blues stage. Guitarist Dom Turner is the leader and is assisted by ex-Midnight Oil drummer Rob Hirst and harmonica ace Ian Collard. As always they were impressive.
We arrived at the Bazaar stage early to see the Ladies of The Canyon show and caught the last half of the set by locals Castlecomer who owe a lot to Mumford & Sons (as seems apparent with many of the young groups here). Things were going well. They were enthusiastic, the young audience loved them and a bright future was about to predicted until they launched into a cover of the Four Season’s hit ‘What A Night.’ A few more original songs could be necessary.
We were told by the MC that the Ladies of The Canyon show, featuring four Canadians and two Australians, was not a Joni Mitchell tribute, which seemed strange because that is exactly what most of the six on stage called it most of the time. They also cited Mitchell’s album Blue as a major influence. A few of the performances were plagued by sound problems with the acoustic guitars feeding back and distracting the singers (you wonder how they got the previous band right but couldn’t manage a solo guitar).
It is apparent that Mitchell’s songs are a lot more complex than they first appear. Leah Flanagan tackled ‘River’ well. Mo Kenney said that she regretted choosing ‘A Case Of You’ and proved it but did a pretty good job despite her misgivings. Scot Rachel Sermanni’s ‘Little Green’ was nice and Rose Cousins ‘Blue’ was impressive. Kim Wempe’s ‘This Flight Tonight‘ was powerful. Stand out Mitchell interpretation, however, was Ange Takat’s readingof ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’ which will have me looking for the original as soon as I get home. The singers also got to do some original songs which, contrasted with Mitchell’s, were up against an unreachable standard.
Sunday is set to be a scorcher – in more ways than one. Beth Orton is on at the Ampitheatre this evening,
Four days to go!