“I always judge a festival by its program. If a festival can’t attract big name acts, it’s not much good and I’m not much interested.”
I listened to my host as they spelt out their assessment criteria of whether a festival is deserving of attention.
Without much in the way of any comment from me. Certainly no critique or counterpoint.
I’f I’m living temporarily under someone else’s roof, I listen and nod a lot. Even if I have strong opinions to the contrary, it usually takes a team of wild horses to extract them.
Here’s a case in point of initially ignoring the program before embarking: The 2014-15 Woodford Folk Festival.
I only decided to go less than a month before it started. A Christmas to mid-January commitment in inner West Sydney had been cancelled on me at very late notice, so I immediately started planning for a passage to Woodfordia.
I applied for a media pass, about a week too late, as it happened. But it’s always good to know people who know other people, and when we’re all doing musical and arty things in similar spaces, good things can happen.
A media and adult season camping pass materialised before my e-eyes (one day as I was shooting pool against a formidable opponent in a Liverpool pub), and it was soon wagons north then north-west.
Who’s on first?
But here’s the thing: I just don’t have a program focus.
As in a focus on programmed artists.
I skimmed a few headliners and others about three days before kick-off, and only really seriously started looking at the performer list on Christmas night, as I was kicking my heels back in Bankstown, waiting for a share ride to materialise from Melbourne via the Eurobodalla Nature Coast, and thence to Kariong, Mermaid Beach and Woodfordia.
Oh, look. The Violent Femmes are coming! And Cat Empire. And Big Erle!!!!
Less is more
And here’s the thing. The presence of Big Erle from Illawarra, champions of the Bulli Heritage Hotel, the much smaller Illawarra Folk Festival, and the Corrimal Blues Stomp — that made me deliriously more happy than half the big name acts appearing.
When I found out on 2 January that Big Erle were playing the Volunteer Party, I was in raptures.
Over the six full days of the festival proper (I had the wrong colour wrist-band for Boxing Day and was stopped at the frontier), I might have seen three brackets/sets/gigs from go to whoa.
The rest of the time was devoted to media: interviews, pictures, video and LOTS of post-production.
I mention this only to warn you: if you’ve come looking for an in-depth analysis of the performers at Woodford, you’ve like, totally so got the wrong guy, y’know!
It’s not Woodford per se; it’s you
Festivals for me are all about people.
The festival aficionados that you might only ever get to see once a year at that festival, or a number of specific festivals.
It’s the like-minded strangers who you make a connection with because you overhear them talking about Billy Bragg, or see them wearing the same eight-festivals-ago t-shirt that you had on yesterday, or there’s some other linking thing, tangible or ephemeral.
It’s the stallholders that you bond with over a beautifully-prepared Argentinian sausage combo, or stunning gemstone, or unusual item of dress.
Mostly, ze sausage, für better or wurst.
And for me, it’s definitely the random people you meet by pure accident and instantly click with.
I met one couple in the wonderful ornament to Woodford eateries that is Fine Earth Foods. And we engaged on the basis of he having heard me swear in Dutch as I put my gear down and slopped some tea. And that led to an in-depth chat about swearing around the world, language and accents, countries and culture.
Half an hour later as I walked off stage at The Poets’ Breakfast in The Duck, adrenaline coursing through my veins after a rather emotional reading, he was there at the next table to raise a hand and wordlessly high-five me into the middle of next week.
That’s a real festival vibe for me.
A fit young woman in workout gear and masses of dreadlocks, running laps around the volunteer and overnight camping at six am.
Woodford is generally not…
Emergency services sirens, so it was a surprise to hear some on the first day zooming along the road to Beerwah. It was a one-off.
Into every festival…
Let’s name, identify, then push this elephant out of the room: yeah, it rained.
Quite a lot, actually.
I took a short video from the volunteers’ camp on the morning after the Fire Event in which I talk specifically about this and how some media outlets chose to make that the main (or main-ish) game in their reportage, initially. Ultimately, I deleted it by mistake. Meh.
I won’t use the phrase I have for these media organs (lol), but let’s just say it rhymes with ‘truck bits’.
You see, after the volunteers, and organisers, and performers, and contractors, and stallholders, and visiting dignitaries — they gots to sell some tickets to some paying punters, and focussing on inclement weather is enough to put off some of the less resilient in the muggle community. And the choir we usually preach to as well who were maybe only coming for a day.
Though it did occur to me that Woofordians may have as many words for rain as Eskimos have for snow.
Have you got a dollar?
For me, the tone was set for my whole Woodford on the first full day of the program when I was stood at the counter of Fine Earth Foods, ruminating on what a pot of tea might cost.
Not seeing any signs and wondering if I needed to go back to my table to get extra, I turned to ask the woman stood next to me. She wasn’t sure, despite counting her own change having just bought a cup herself.
As I stood looking at my $3.15 and surmising I might need extra, there was suddenly a loud clink as an extra dollar dropped into my open palm of change.
Thank you, Anna of Bodypeace Bamboo Clothing. That simple exchange put me in a ridiculously good mood and set the tone for the next days, which I invariably started with a pot of tea at Phil and Michelle’s wonderful venue.
I sat there most days powerless, having run down my phones overnight. On the second last day, I saw the charging bay.
On the last day, I found out they ran 24hrs.
Overheard in the café
“Did you go to bed at all last night?”
“Over six days, typically not!”
Forging meaningful relationships
Woodford is a locality with a lot of love in the room. And most are in a laid back mood.
On the first day I ran into one of my Bankstown to Woodfordia travel companions in the company of a gorgeous young blonde.
Me: “Hi, I’m Bill.”
Her: “Hi Bill. I’m Dionysiaque.”
Him: “Thanks for that. Now I know her name!”
[He cops a whack for his comment.]
Him [winking]: “On no, it’s Diane!”
Which one it was, I may never know.
What time is it?
Having differentiated myself from 96.36% of musos for 9.36 years as a watch-wearer, it’s a lifelong habit that’s left the building.
Time is a take it or leave it concept at Woodford. Important if you need to be at a venue (to perform or punt). Important if you’re a worker or volunteer and have shifts to get too.
Pretty arbitrary for others.
“Is that the time?”
“No, time is an abstract concept. That’s a wrist-watch.”
Or as I was asked on one of those powerless morning tea times (of the soul):
“Do you have the time?”
“No, it’s one thing I don’t have.”
One morning, I had a lovely chat with Stuart and Sue, volunteer garbologists from Hervey Bay.
They’d been meaning to come for years, wanted to volunteer, and ‘wanted to do something useful but didn’t want to have to boss younger people around’.
Their son suggested a great idea: street cleaners. Two hours of dedicated cleaning in the morning with a roving commission to clear any rubbish they saw at other times.
And how clean are the crowds?
“Woodford people are generally pretty good. Plus when they see us keeping the place clean, they tend to follow suit.”
Stuart was easily distinguishable by his attractive neck tie of a display of what items go into which bin.
Serious about Woodford
Overheard in the bar.
“I’m taking it serious this year. I even brought glasses and a highlighter this year.”
Overheard in a Morrocan tent on Day One
“Gee, there are a lot of people here!”
Strap yourself in for New Year’s Eve, then.
Not all baristas are town criers
The new chai tent is Melbourne-based Holy Cow. Some pined for the old chai tent, now the Pineapple Lounge.
I quite like the new one.
But the barista didn’t quite have the pipes to cut through the crowd noise for coffee pick-ups.
“Amanda. Amanda. Amanda.”
“Mate, you need a bass-baritone,” observed one scruffy wag waiting for his coffee. Probably me.
“Yeah, I guess we do.”
Pigeons flew off the guy ropes, tent poles rattled, and coffee cups danced on their racks.
“Wow, thanks mate. You’re hired!”
Still no Amanda.
An elder woman passed, touched my elbow and winked as she said, “You realise she’s probably too embarrassed and has left now!”
Giving the wandering minstrels some love
I forget which band it was, but a travelling group playing in Bill’s Bar told of how they realised on the plane they’d not brought linen, a requirement of their accommodation.
They mentioned this to the cabin attendant who became very excited to hear of musos headed to Woodford.
They were told to go to the Hungarian Bakery where a family member would see them right, were provided with some airline linen, and two bottles of Shiraz for good measure.
This article does go on, and so do I.
With pages in my notebook to go, and with the Sunshine Coast mozzies and other insects taking chunks from my flesh, I’ll rule a thick line under Woodford Folk Festival 2014-15, unquestionably my favourite festival of any genre of of all time, and leave you with some greatest hits.
Favourite gig: Trouble in the Kitchen, Concert, New Year’s Day.
Favourite perfomer: See above.
Memorable moment: Seeing David Francey sing ‘The Lock-Keeper’ live.
Song for Woodford 2014-15: Little Bag by Lucy Wise Band.
Place I’d choose to be other than Woodford: yeah, right. No.
See you on: 27 December 2015.