Heading through the gates in the pitch black of night and then pitching the tent up in those conditions wasn’t the most ideal start, but it’s kind of the way with these things. I guess I should be used to it by now, considering I’ve been to Meredith, Splendour and many other camping festivals ever since I could hold a bourbon and coke. Woodford Folk Festival in itself was a first for me. It’s the most remote festival I have been to, and the most diverse in musical talent that I’ve seen on a line up, despite not having those ‘it’ acts that other New Years festivals like Peats Ridge and Falls seem to be intent on getting. In saying that though there are talents on the line up that could sell out in a theatre, but I suppose they simply want a more homely vibe. There is a sense of losing your urbanity when you arrive at the site. It’s all very casual when you get here, but volunteers and staff are also helpful. There’s no sense of up tightness at all.
After a wander around in amongst the light of the markets on Boxing Day, I got a good night’s sleep and woke up unexpectedly at 5 AM on the 27th. After more rummaging around and lying by the pond, I found myself at the ‘Thought Of The Day’ session in the Bazaar performance which today was by Anthony Ackroyd doing his Kevin Rudd impersonation. As luck would have it Bob Hawke was in the audience and provided the tent with a joke laden with a little bit of profanity. Perfect start to the week! I can now say I have seen a former prime minister swear live in the flesh. The sweet and personable Amelia Curren from Canada warmed the hearts of the crowd with songs about love and break up straight after on the same stage.
Walking around aimlessly finally ended with me admiring the storytelling shanties of Sue Ray and laughing about the odd things music can do to a person at Fiona Scott Norman’s comedy show ‘Disco – The Vinyl Solution’. Don’t ask about The Mystery Bus either – unless you want to know about how to save the world through interpretive dance. After those random discoveries, I decided to stick to my planned timetables best I could (although that was pretty hard to do). The first of those planned bands for the day was to check out Eagle & The Worm, who provided the first dance-off of the day. Dancing continued in the Dancehall (funnily enough) where I sweated an eighth of my weight learning Latin Bachata.
‘The Unexpected Variety Show’ of Jen Wynter was amazing. Cabaret is normally not my kind of thing, but Jen amazed with her wide ranging voice and remarkable impersonations. I thought I had become a bit used to the element of surprise at this early part of Woodford, but this was bringing it to another level. The wall of sound that Charlie Mayfair produced from The Grande stage was astounding and provided for an even larger dance off than Eagle & The Worm’s effort.
The Welcome Ceremony was an astounding in the way that it was a casual affair tainted with a good-to-honest homely welcome. Straight after, Cloud Control played a nice gentle set of tunes that were half dreamy and half ruckus, giving a combination of both old and new stuff. After a much needed rest I sat crossed legged and enjoyed Tripod who also was trying out new material on the Woodford audience. They were more blasé about, even dedicating a song to failing in front of Australian audiences before going to make it big in the USA. It was a good chortling start to the evening which then moved into ecstatic insanity with Hanggai. The last 25 minutes of the Mongolian troupe were just phenomenal, and I made a note on the back of my hand to go see them again whenever throughout the festival.
If the theme for Tuesday ended up with me wandering around finding surprising discoveries, Wednesday proved to be a little more organised. I did this by meticulously circling all the acts that I wanted to see on the program the night before – yes I am one of those anal festival goers, although I think I am getting a bit more carefree as I get older. It all started with a good ol’ stretch and mouth exercises with Mr Percival. Singing “meee meee meee” at 8 AM in the morning is really good for you, I highly recommend it yourself, and if you can do it with Mr. Percival, well you’ve reached singing heaven. The physical exercises continued with me running along to the boutique Duck tent to see The Lurkers. That proved to be an interesting lesson in playing enjoyable music with a message. The quartet’s subversive political folk was counterpointed with some jokery while a baby piggybacked on the banjo players back. All good spirited fun while making strong political statements via song towards businesses like Santos. The mining giant had given the festival funding to stage its Dreaming Festival which runs as part of Woodford. It was a little awkward to witness a performer be critical of the festival they are performing at, but you can tell The Lurkers were not fazed in delivering their message.
Andy Bull’s pop laden songs about getting drunk in pubs and love messing with a twisted mind seemed a little jovial compared to that. I jived along like everyone else did and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in the festival After an organic donut (this was my second in two days – they’re addictive!) I headed off to The Concert Stage to see the music of Newfoundland through many different acts bring a lively traditional folk mix to the festival. As part of an initiative working with the Canadian Government, a bunch of guests from the Far East land of Canada including The Once, Ron Hynes, Duane Andrews & Dwayne Cote and Ennis gave wonderful songs full of harmonies, all tasters for sets later on in the festival. It was simply awesome to witness this undiscovered music from a far off land, and to think they were performing while fueled by a copious amount of coffee after a long flight. Imagine these performances after being rested! Another set of bands to nerdily circle on the program.
Mother Nature decided to unleash herself onto the Woodford grounds as the high North hills of the site got drenched in a downpour during Skipping Girl Vinegar’s set. I tried to find shelter, but once I realised my shirt could be used as a raft on one of the lakes, I resigned to just getting hit by huge sheets of water while the five piece from Melbourne played along in their happy go lucky way. A lot of sunshine-y songs with grey clouds pissing down sheets of water had been an interesting paradox to be in.
A tasting of a pineapple beverage or two then ensued (which may or may not have had alcohol in it, I don’t know – it tasted too good for me to recognise) while I stuck around the aptly named Pineapple Lounge to see a ABC ‘Live’ Broadcast (I put ‘live’ in quotation marks because it really was a pre-recorded show to be broadcast on New Years Day) with the friendly host of ABC’s Coast FM’s Drive host, Mary-Lou Stephens. Much like the Newfoundland showcase, we heard tasters from Tuba Skinny, Elixir, Andrea Solar, Jesca Hoop and many more interspersed with some interesting discussion about issues and elements that surrounded the festival with various participators and other players in making the whole thing happening. It was an interesting interlude for these sore wandering legs.
With replenished legs and beverages in my bladder, I witnessed another stellar performance of Katie Noonan’s voice as part of Elixir (and of course the Tulipwood String Quartet, but really Katie was the star of the show) performing to a packed out Grande tent. I then ventured upwards and onwards to the hilly Amphitheatre which shone with sound with Gotye’s set. Wally De Backer was simply brilliant. It was an extraordinary display of music which saw the crowd convulse into simultaneous rapture, the whole band were purely feeding off the audience as well, enjoying their bleeps and sounds. One astral moment was when a whole heap of pitch shifting on Wally’s vocals generated a near-thunderous motion in my stomach. It was convulsing and amazing at the same time. That song about somebody he used to know, was segued into sampling Luiz Bonfá’s track ‘Seville’ which Gotye initially sampled for the track.
The highs of that set needed me to just lie beside one of the festival’s ponds for a while again, subliminally falling asleep until a reveller dropped leaves on my face. A cosmic set of aural glitches and samples finished the night with Faux Pas drifting the hard ragers into a near entrapped state of dance. He walked off into the night with something that sounded like an alternative soundtrack to ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. The scattering of people into the night went into all directions. I headed straight towards the welcome gate, where a familiar security guard simply nodded her head at me. I nodded back at her in some sort of festival-goers code that said “this was just the beginning”.