Folk had been arriving at the festival site since Christmas Day, so by Woodfordian standards we're late, landing the day after Boxing Day. Thanks to the well publicized Worst Flooding For Fifty Years in Queensland, we're swimming in delays all around and it's nightfall when we find a space that isn't swamped to make our home, sweet home.
Woodford has been running for twenty-five years and, through trial and error, has become the well-oiled but slippery machine that we climb upon for this ride. Sodden and wet, we trod to the "Happy Campers" info-desk led by volunteer hippies, who chortle at our dilemma while pointing us in the direction of the "New Territories", and the shuttle bus to take us there.
First rule of camping at Woodford - drive there. The expansive festival site is just that: Negotiating your way on foot, with camping gear, over hills and endless swamp is about as pleasant as wet socks in a gumboot.
The "New Territories", the temporary base of your authors is, essentially, a dumping ground from Woodford's past. However, at this point, we're just thankful that the downpour has subsided to a drizzle while we set up our tent by torchlight. Two hours of Positive Mental Attitude later and we've got some shelter from the storm and some smiles on our dials. The hard part is done, just in time for us to hitch a shuttle back to base for a date with Arrested Development.
They're on at the Amphitheatre, which, according to a friendly food stall attendant, can be found "a mile down that way... Walk forever, then turn left at a dark and dingy road. You can't miss it."
So we follow the droves, via a lantern-lit lake, with the unmistakable croons of Arrested Development's back up vocalists guiding us all to the main stage like the Pied Pipers of Woodford. Relief. We've made it. Thank the Woodford Gods.
From a time when you used to buy CD's and nineteen years since they first bombarded our radios with Tennessee and Mr. Wendal, AD's front man, Speech, still knows how to get a crowd going. the choreography and musicianship of his fellow band mates is the best start to a festival that one could dream of, even though there is the notable absence of group elder Baba O. However, this does not piss on the fire of the celebration of life that we are so wonderfully witness to.
Speech told us before the show: "You know, I think that different cultures have brought different things to this world, in an amazing way and, to me, I feel like African Americans have brought some of the best live performances ever to hit the stage. I think about... Sammy Davis Jr. or The Temptations and Marvin Gaye and Prince... I look at their shows and the performance level is so high and I think especially with African American performers you're expected to come with it, and that is a good thing. I think that's one of the traditions that our culture has brought to the world - You know, every culture has brought something but I think that's one of the things that we've brought to the world... I feel like, well, I didn't choose to be black, but seeing as I was born black, it's like "Ok. I'm in this really cool tradition, and let me, you know, do my part to bring somethin' to that tradition."
On this, their 6th visit to our shores, they play everything that you could hope for - all the classics, peppered amongst tracks from their new album Strong. The latter are met with a slightly lukewarm response from the Amphitheatre - but a smashing experience none the less. And they are just as happy to be at Woodford as we are. "Honestly, I really like you guys. I think that Australians have a little bit more sense, y'know, and are a little bit more aware... I definitely get that vibe that people are more hungry for stuff that makes sense to listen too, that's what I get from Australia. It's one of the places that we've went to that everyone in the band said "OK, I could live here. So, maybe one day we'll be residents!".
The next day we wake to grey skies but no rain, and make our way on foot to the festival grounds. What happens next all blends into one remarkable blur, as we're swept into all the wonderment that Woodford has to offer. Away from the real world, there is no time for watches or calendar days, just good times and general abandonment. So although we'd been studying the programme for days, deciding on what we would see, we found it much more enjoyable to stroll around the site, soaking in the ambience, whilst letting destiny guide us to our destinations.
That's thirty-nine possible destinations in total - inhabited by over six hundred professional performers, who are watched by a daily audience of 22,000 people that span at least three generations and it's all held together by the 3000 volunteers that make this dream a reality.
On offer for Woodfordians is a smorgasbord of culture, too exhaustive to satisfactorily list: Food stalls; selling the finest in international cuisine; Bars, catering to your weary traveller's needs; entertainment areas with lectures, films, demonstrations, performances, art classes , slam poetry, circuses and of course, live music. The beauty of Woodford, however is not this hefty variety of entertainment, but in the range of people who have come together to celebrate it. People of all demographics and every variation in-between. Everyone is here for the same reason - To let go of reality for a week, peep some culture and relax.
Stand out musical performances over the course of the festival would have to be Woodford's favourite son Mr Percival who played all 6 days and is impressive with his loop pedal and cover of Eddy Grant's Electric Avenue - a definite crowd pleaser. Another notable act is Sydney band, Sticky Fingers, who specialise in mind-altering music - fusing reggae and dub with a classic rock template. Paint yourself a picture that has Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys fame, singing with a young Pink Floyd. The bands Reggae cover of "Time" was one of the highlights of this entire affair.
Another rock act to keep an ear out for is The Chemist, who we caught at a late afternoon show. After a blazing set of old school rock n roll, they closed with a cover of John Lennon's thudding, bass-heavy diss track of Paul McCartney, How Do You Sleep?. Although a strange choice for a festival which celebrates peace and harmony, it was an awesome reminder of the rock-God's lasting influence on music, near to the 30th Anniversary of his death.
New Year's Eve saw an influx of day-trippers, whose clean shoes and shaved faces drew some wistful comments from some of the more permanent residents. By nightfall, however, all animosity was forgotten, and we were witness to why Woodford has lived to celebrate its 25th birthday this year.
A tradition since 1999/2000, a 3 minute silence is respected across the entire site at 11:30pm, wherein tens of thousands of patrons hold lit candles and stop to reflect on the year that was, and the one that will afford them. The bands cease to play, and the whole crowd is remarkably silent. A priceless moment and a beautiful way to get psyched up for the New Year's countdown.
Entertainment options for watching the clock strike twelve were copious, but we decided to have the most excellent Dubmarine be the soundtrack for the last half-hour of our year. Playing in the First Nations tent, the lead singer was donned in full Aboriginal body paint, dancing with the enthusiasm of a Corroboree. Their music could be described as a form of hyped-up dub, with influences of drum and bass, and they were the perfect way to welcome 2011 - everyone in the room let loose danced their arses off.
Adventures; we had plenty, but as Frank Zappa said, writing about music is like dancing about architecture and to explain the magic wrapped up in the spirit of Woodford in a meagre article, for an average website seems disrespectful to the work they put in to create the magic. So see our pictures, get inspired, then buy the ticket, take the ride and get amongst it in 2011.
Peace. Danny & Jessie.