Woodford Folk Festival
Woodford, Queensland – Wednesday December 27 – Monday January 1, 2017
Unless you have actually been to the Woodford Folk Festival it would be difficult to quite comprehend what it is like. I cannot think of any other festival that I have attended that comes anywhere near the uniqueness of the Woodford experience.
Imagine a medieval village set in the hills with winding dirt and gravel lanes that meander through twenty stages via dozens of cafes, food stalls and craft tents. The laneways sport quaint and humorous names such as In A Way, Getting Close, Short Circuit (you get the picture!) and the site is so large that you can easily get lost. There are many bars near the performance stages but unlike some other festivals they do not dominate the landscape but blend in nicely.
Add 20,000 like-minded people of all ages each day and you have – for at least 6 days – one of the largest small towns in the State. The good vibes are palpable as people from all walks of life – from high profile politicians such as Bob Hawke to the youngest of citizens – mingle to explore an eclectic mix of music and talk.
You can also add to that mix, weather that can be brutally hot (for we Southerners) or equally wet. So far it has been perfect. And isn’t part of the fabric of some great music festivals the contribution of the elements? I recall just two years ago walking out of the New Orleans’ Jazz Fest knee deep in water. Then there was the searing ACL Fest that saw three consecutive days over 38C and the one solitary cloud that entered the frame received a standing ovation! (Organisers then thankfully changed the date for subsequent festivals).
Some people tell me that the closest they have come to anything like Woodford is Glastonbury in the UK and there are indeed a few punters here walking around in t-shirts from that event.
Three nights into our first camping experience (since the last time we were here a few years ago) and we are still happy and dry. Our tent easily repelled a brief overnight downpour on the second night but I expect in a few days someone will jump out and say, ‘That wasn’t a storm, this is a storm!’ as the heavens open. Still, with ponchos, boots and waterproof jackets we are prepared.
At the far end of the huge site is an amphitheatre, funded years ago partly by the generosity of Midnight Oil. The opening ceremony with 10,000 people in this beautiful venue almost epitomises what Woodford is all about. The welcome to country, the fire lighting and the fireworks, the large puppets lumbering in and the children holding lanterns, all create an atmosphere of fantasy as if to say that, for the next five days at least, Woodfordia is its own domain. The speeches are about the only thing that drag us back to reality but then you have much-loved former PM Bob Hawke singing ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and the sense of the surreal is restored.
The music in the Amphitheatre began with the East Pointers heading a large Canadian contingent (apparently heavily funded by their government). The trio immediately got the audience dancing – something that seems to be the main activity here. They paved the way for John Butler, whose band seems a lot more muscular these days but no less popular.
We meandered down to see Buddy Knox and Roger Knox in the Songlines tent. They call Roger the ‘Black Elvis’ but Elvis never wrote any songs as good as this – songs that reflect the love of country.
Thursday began at Bill’s Bar with Rod Quantock & Fiona Scott-Norman as Two Leggy Redheads reviewing the previous day and previewing the day ahead.
This was followed by media personality and author Tracy Spicer in a provocative and timely Q&A titled The Future Is Female. Spicer’s insights into the media from the female perspective are fascinating.
Across at Bluestown the legendary Mic Conway fronted his quirky National Junk Band for a mix of music and magic tricks, with a bit of the old Captain Matchbox thrown in.
Much of the rest of our day was then spent at the Bluestown venue. Liz Stringer and her band were really impressive and you cannot escape the impression that really big things – either here or in the USA – are not far off. Jeff Lang displayed his usual stunning guitar virtuosity and as soon as he had concluded his set his partner Allison Ferrier then played at the small buskers stage opposite.
Natalie Gillespie’s blend of soul and R&B managed to get everyone on their feet again and her version of Wilson Picket’s ‘Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You’ was a beauty.
Dom Turner’s collaboration with singer/steel guitarist Nikki D Brown and her family band from Toledo, Ohio, has turned into somewhat of a triumph. The Turner Brown Band bring an energising touch of the sacred steel similar to Robert Randolph’s Family Band. There were wonderful versions of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ and Leo ‘Bud’ Welch’s ‘I Don’t Know’; but there were some great originals too, including a song about gun control, ‘Nice Shirt.’
Friday morning kicked off with Bob Hawke at the large Garland marquee being interviewed by Ian Lowe and doing an extensive Q&A before leading yet another chorus of ‘Waltzing Matilda.’ Mr Hawke appears to think that people have warmed to his idea of raising money for indigenous health and education by taking the world’s nuclear waste. I am not so sure people are that keen on Bob’s proposed method of raising the funds.
Kristina Olson amused with her witty topical songs at Bluestown and later the Canadian showcase, Canada – Songs For Happiness, was on at the Grande, the largest marquee at the festival. Headed by favourites The East Pointers, the showcase also featured Digging Roots, Alysha Brilla, The Small Glories and Teresa Doyle.
The John John Festival trio is probably Japan’s best Celtic group ever. Are there any others? This charming trio won over the audience immediately but their excellent playing was soon evident.
On the Tropic stage, William Crighton was intense, with a powerful stage presence that backed up the rave reviews he has been getting. He was one of the most impressive acts so far.
ABC science personality Dr Karl was at The Garland for an entertaining lecture that was part comedy loaded with a lot of facts. The Q&A section had him stumped only once when someone asked about the differences between wasps and bees – but wouldn’t you know it, there was an entomologist in the audience to fill in the details!
The evening finished with the comedy gala hosted exuberantly by Harley Breen. Dave Thornton was very funny with some great original lines and Randy, the nation’s favourite puppet, was absolutely brilliant. The combination of irreverence, sharp-eyed observation and biting one-liners had everyone in hysterics.
One of the great aspects of the festival is that you get multiple opportunities to see acts, so if you miss someone you can usually catch them later. Word of mouth also means that an act can start with a small crowd and by their fifth show absolutely pack out a venue.
Three days down and three to go!