The sounds of cicadas, distant blues bands thumping out a rocking set and boys playing guitars while singing a bad version of Psycho Killer invade my ears. This is what it is like to go to sleep in a tent at the Woodford Folk Festival. Previously known as the Maleny Folk Festival it has evolved into a large scale event that runs for 5 days at the end of December. The Maleny version began in 1987 but grew so large that by 1993 it had outgrown it’s showground home and moved to Woodford. The festival features over 3000 performers
Woodford is about an hour drive from Brisbane but the festival isn’t in the town, it’s on a 320 acre parcel of land 4 minutes away filled with duck ponds and hills. As you drive towards the location a sea of tents appear like a refugee village in some third world country. Once through the gates you park your car to retrieve your tickets (quick if you have ordered and paid online). From the start you can tell that the festival has been well organised as they even provide water for those waiting (not that you have to wait long).
When we got our blue overnight bracelets strapped on we discovered that the overnight camping area was full so they were sending everyone over to the extra season camping paddock. This was fortuitous for us as a friend of mine (Kate) had a season pass and was already camping very near to the festival entry. She had a spare tent already up and room for another under the shady trees so within half an hour we were setup and ready to folk!
Navigating through the well established camp was a breeze as they had named all the roads. When we arrived we drove down “the long and winding road” then turned right at “Mohammed Alley” to get to our spot for the night. The accommodations ranged from large scale mansion tents, clapped out combies, four wheel drive campers and pieces of tarp tied to trees with rainbow and hippy flags flying high to use as navigational aids.
Walking to the entry to the festival we stopped at the toilet sheds that were clean, had toilet paper and no line. Unheard of at Livid or the Big Day out! At the entry there was a large general store that was open for about 18 hours of the day that stocked all manner of goods required by large swarms of people. Danielle’s friend Kim was supervising the store so we stopped in briefly to say hey. A quick check of Pauline’s bag by the security crew for BYO alchohol and we were in. No long lines, no cavity searches and no bad will. Perfect!
Once in you are immediately bombarded with art, music and smells. Some of the smells are the unique hippy smells that come from someone who doesn’t eat meat and doesn’t use deoderant. It isn’t a festering awful smell but it isn’t something I’d smother myself in. It is kind of a BO scent mixed with essential oils and patchouli. Other smells are more familiar like tofu burgers, spaghetti and indian.
Kate and her friend Tina were heading to the Chai Tent to meet their friend, but we had a different agenda – our stomachs. We wandered past the mask tent, the tie die workshops and prosthethic makeup tents in search of some new and exciting food. Pauline tried the tri-pies (potato and sweet corn in triangle shaped pita bread), Danielle and Maggie opted for corn on the cob while I settled for a margherita pizza that was excellent. The benefits of going to a hippy event is that organic food is standard – not an exception.
Filling our bellies we wandered the paths looking at the crystals, massage and tie die clothing in the numerous shops that define the path edges. I may toe the corporate line now and live the yuppie lifestyle, but for a while in my youth I wore sandles and joined amnesty international. I just found that my desire for all thing computers and my lack of humanity didn’t quite gel with the commune/hippy ideal so gave up that idea. I just wanted to make it clear that although I pay out on these things, I still respect the lifestyle and admire the fact that have such clear cut beliefs. Bloody hippies.
The excellent thing about Woodford is that everyone is so nice and thoughtful. If someone bumps in to you they say sorry, if someone stands in your way you can politely ask them to move and they will do so with a smile. You don’t see rubbish on the ground because everyone puts them in the right recycling bin and strangers will have conversations with you. It’s all so adult and peaceful.
Our first musical stop was at the Blues tent where they were setting up for a blues jam. It’s bizarre to be in a music tent that has white plastic chairs, but it is that kind of vibe. No moshing, you can just dance at the front or back or chill in your plastic chair while listening. The first band that jammed was alright but the second one was so horrible that we left. Something was very wrong with the guitar and when the singer started singing our ears began to bleed.
Since we didn’t know any of the bands performing except for the headlining acts, we just wandered and sat down at whatever took our fancy. We hung out in the Red Star tent for a while listening to the latin band Kafka (who ended up being everywhere that day). They were primarily instrumental with a big double bass and horns. At one point a cuban or brazilian guy got up to sing which I felt was the best moment of the performance. It looked like the band weren’t expecting it but it worked really well. They should have asked the guy to join them! We left halfway through as we wanted to go check out the hurdy gurdy girls.
The Folkloria tent seems to have national and historical type acts and when we arrived it was the Lord and Ladies of England dancing in the style you may know from the early 1900s. Lots of flirting, swapping partners and eye contact makes these dances a sexual feast but without any gyrating. You know the type – bow, dance in a line, turn in a circle – all the rage when Australia was first settled. These dances allow you to turn away from your husband and quitely chat up the handsome fellow holding your white gloved hand. This dance should be banned it’s so obscene! After they went offstage to go get personal the Morris dancers arrived with a yell.
The first thing you see is a jester type hat on top of a blue painted face with the most colourful rags you’ve ever seen. The jester guy tells us we are all too nice at the festival and that we should yell out to the morris dancers that they are rubbish and should get off. The accordian and flute players set up on the stage and then the rest of the colourful raggedy group appear. They have bells on their shins, sticks in their hands and are whacking them so hard that the sticks are breaking. The music is kind of irish which suits the drunken rogue type persona these characters employ. As they dance they whoop and yell and whack. Who’d have thought people from Canberra could be so animated?
Unexpectedly these dancers became my favourite part of the show and I felt an affinity with them. Am I a reincarnated english drunken rogue? The Canberra colourful team left the stage for the more somber Toowoomba versions of the dance. This group wear white shirts and vests but peform the same type of dance. They were just as enjoyable and the climax of the show was when both groups got together on the stage and peformed the finale. The crowd was probably the smallest group in all the performances I attended which was a shame as the dancers deserved more.
The mood swiftly changed as the Hurdy Gurdy girls took to the stage. They were actually two hurdy gurdy girls and two guys named John. Danielle and I were thinking it was going to buxom wenches singing drunken songs, but it was way more subdued. We were a little let down by that so didn’t stay very long. I was having trouble listening to them anyway as all I could hear in my head was Donovan singing
‘Twas then when the hurdy gurdy man
Came singing songs of love
Leaving the tent we wandered the festival peeking in on the Waifs at Blues Hill, drunk some Amazonian Mate Cooler and ate some Indonesian satays and Govindas vegetarian for dinner.
While watching Elixr (featuring Katie Noonan from George) in the Concert tent Danielle left for a loo break and came across Missy Higgins outside signing autographs. Springing in to action she utilised technology to rally the troops (i.e. she rang and told us the news so we went outside and lined up). They cut the queue just after Danielle so we made it just in time to my later regret. Fielding questions from strangers walking by about whether or not Missy was a lesbian (“I don’t know, I think she is bi”) we wait
ed behind the tweenage girls to get her name in ink. Missy is a very attractive little pixie who looked a bit out of it from the amount of signing she had just been doing. I added to her “not there” confusion by asking her to sign the program “To Amy, You’re Hot”. LOL!!!! I was just being cheeky but she did it!! I also told her I thought the scar video was excellent. Danielle was lucky last to get a signature and then Missy walked off blending in to the crowd to go to her soundcheck.
I hate meeting famous people as I always make a dick of myself and years later I end up regretting whatever it is that I said. Days later you think of cool things you could have said, like “what’s on your ipod?” or “Were you named after Missy Gold?” or “I think your album is good but there were a couple of songs there that were filler, so I can’t wait for your next one”. I guess I’ll console myself with the idea that it is an artificial situation and it’s not like she is going to remember anything I said anyway. If I’d said “Missy – you suck!” she’d probably remember me but just being nice never gets you anywhere. I guess you could say she “left me with a scar”. Har har.
It was time then to go to the Chai tent where we met up with Danielle’s friend Kim for about 10 minutes then we made our way past the dippin’ dots icecream to the ampitheatre. The dippin’ dots icecream was amazing! All the flavour of icecream without the melting messiness! In fact the flavour was more powerful. We got half cookies and cream and half mocha. You could even see the oreo biscuit brand in it. If you ever see this stall, stop immediately and buy some. Yum.
The walk to the ampitheatre took about 5-10 minutes through loose gravel. It was almost like you were doing a pilgrimage past the fire dancers and asian lanterns. Even the walk was an experience. The ampitheatre was huge and already full of people looking at the empty stage with two large screens either side. The screens were showing footage of festivals gone by set to the sounds of starsailor’s four to the floor remixed. We found a spot halfway up the steep hill to the left of the stage. Kate, Tina and Katherine turned up a while later with picnic blankets just in time for Missy to begin.
Missy took to the stage alone with just her piano and played one of her ballads. She has a powerful voice that belies her little body and as she sings her legs wobble all over the place in time to the music. Live she sounds just like she does on the record – no production masking here. She said she hadn’t peformed for a while and had the jitters, but I would have the jitters too if I had 15 000 people on a hill in front of me. After a couple of songs solo the rest of the band arrived. A guitarist, bass player and drummer was all she needed to bring joy and wonderment to our ears. There are some songs on the album that I feel are a bit weak but when she played them live I had a new appreciation for them. She was really good and deserves the attention she is getting, all at the age of 21.
Jeff Lang the aussie guitarist was next and a big change from Missy. His steel guitars vibrated across the crowd singing about trains and lost loves. By then it was getting past 10.30 and my whole body was shivering so hard my teeth were chattering. After all the warnings I hadn’t rugged up properly and paid for it by missing the Waifs perform on the big stage after Jeff. Danielle, Maggie, Pauline and I headed back to camp leaving Kate and the others to it.
On the way back through the festival everyone was still going strong and there was tonnes of stuff still happening. We ran in to some swaying human pods that doubled as performance art. It was quiet while they did it and strangely mesmorizing. A large crowd gathered for them. Continuing on, some masks were shoved in our hands and we were told that everyone should wear masks for the rest of the night. Pauline and I put ours on and were promptly laughed at by strangers pointing at us. Just because we looked like pigs doesn’t mean they have to be rude. 🙂
Back at camp I was revealed as a poor packer because I had forgotten to pack toothpaste. Since I haven’t camped for probably 10 years it took me a while to get comfortable in the sleeping bag on the fold up mattress but eventually I got to sleep and passed out till morning. Awake at 6am we began packing up around 7 as I had to go to work for half that day.
The Woodford Folk Festival has grown since I went to it back when it was at Maleny and I feel that unlike other events that get worse as they get bigger this has gotten better. Because it is so spread out you don’t feel like there are a lot of people. You don’t have to wait long in line for anything and everyone there are all about having a good time. The music is a big part of the festival but it is more than that – it is a wholistic experience and a way for everyone to dive in to the “peace man” living for at least a few days every year. I am now a major fan and will probably go again next year.
Driving out of camp the sign said it all…. back to reality.
P.s. I’ll be putting more photos up on my gallery, but for now you can check out the ones at flickr.