The Woodford Files 2014-15: Volunteer Party

Image courtesy of Woodford Folk Festival
Image courtesy of Woodford Folk Festival

2014-15 is only my fourth trip to Woodfordia, so there are others who are 25 visits ahead of me.

The first three festivals I attended as a volunteer, and like my introduction into the world wide weird of folk merely two years previously, I could not have made a better choice than to join the ranks of vollys, as they/we are affectionately known.

Woodford Volly Camping
Woodford Volly Camping

I have very little if anything to compare with the frissons of excitement I had as a wide-eyed young 41 year old, reduced by an event to a gibbering little schoolboy.

(Except when on stage; always a professional behind the microphone, of course!)

I was in a trippy paradise of heaven. Everything was new, everything was bigger and more colourful, more musical, more stunning, than anything else I’d encountered in music and art to that date.

Sorry, Bayern State Opera, but Woodford takes the strudel!

(It even proved to be a sorting hat for me, because my partner at the time came with me (to her first Woodford). In stark contrast, she whinged and whined and moaned and griped and complained. It was too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too expensive, too cheap, too too too much. I put her at an arm’s distance, revelled in my then very patchy mobile phone reception, and on 31 December when she texted me to say she’d gone home to mother near Chermside, I punched the air, danced a jig, yodelled from the Hilltop, and dived right back into the festival. A week later we were over for good and she ended up marrying the sound guy. Good luck to them both!)

I left home several days before the festival started and made a savage hook turn trip from Canberra down to Bodalla then later from Moruya to north Brisbane in one Christmas Day non-stop haul. Google maps informs me that’s about 1450kms on the black-top. Another 74kms to the front gate of Woodfordia, in near carpark conditions on the Bruce Highway. Travel north from Brisbane to the festival on Boxing Day at your own peril.

The taste of service station sausage rolls still lingers to this day. Nothing on the highway of any higher gastronomic fare was on offer in 2007, apart from days old sandwiches in those hideous plastic containers that look like they’d been washed and glazed for display.

But as I left my then Canberra base, with one foot out the door, the phone rang and it was then MC Convenor, now Queensland Folk Federation president Rose Broe, telling me who I had on my rota to MC for.

Tripod, Sarah Blasko, Ernie Dingo, Eric Bogle (twice). And John Schumann (twice). I was going to walk out on stage and introduce my absolute god of music of 25 years plus standing.

Gulp.

“Rose?”

“Yes, Bill?”

“I’m a little bit excited now.”

“Yeah, thought you might be!”

Woodford Coopers Bar Session
Woodford Coopers Bar Session

It was wonderful. Pure magic. I was even asked to mentor the wonderfully talented, but new to MC-ing, Ange Takats. After watching one MC performance (Spooky Men’s Chorale), I told her simply this: “I have nothing to teach you. You’re a natural.”

And she is. Because (as I’ve written extensively elsewhere), she went on stage and was herself. Natural. No artifice.

Woodford volunteering is usually In tents
Woodford volunteering is usually In tents

Mixing with the vollys, gathering in the then (and still) just on the adequate side of adequate Volly Centre, where you got to recreate scenes from The Good Earth by traipsing through mud to get there!

Did we care? Not a jot. It was fun, it was wet, it was wild.

I came back the next two years running, and lapped up every second. Volunteering is THE best intro to a festival, especially for the slightly or very out-of-pocket, and definitely for the sole traveller.

At my second Woodford, I met the guys from the Tokyo Bar and made friends and compadres for life. After a five year break, it was a sheer delight to be co-located with them again, even though I went there on a media pass this year.

On the night of 2 January, when the punters have gone home, the musos have moved on to their sideshows and petrol money gigs, and the stalls are coming down, the last bar standing (this year, the Bazaar) pumps out slightly cheaper drinks, a couple of bands are roped in to get a little bit nutty and let everyone let their hair right down, and there’s something of a feeling of ‘get down and maybe not get up again’ in the air.

And there are speeches. Or really, just the one speech this time, with a miniscule intro.

You can hear my surprise on the tape, as I did not know that my former boss (of sorts) and mentor is Ms Prez now. You would only expect an MC wrangler to speak with credibility, authority and clarity.

Rose Broe knocked it out of the park. Even with a large furry animal half way down her ‘festival throat’.

If like me before Easter 2005, you’ve been sat back sucking the air in through your clenched teeth at festival ticket prices due to your current financial circumstances, have a good hard look at volunteering. We need our paying punters, but festivals would be nowhere without an army of volunteers, and they don’t come much better than at Woodfordia.

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