It’s official – after my week in yellow gumboots Woodford Folk Festival can chalk up yet another raving fan. What an incredible, wonderful, magical place!
Woodford Folk Festival has been running for 28 years in one form or another, originally starting as the Malaney Folk Festival it moved to its current location in 1994. Now billed as the second biggest folk festival in the world behind Glastonbury (someone told me this, I’d love to know if it’s true) it attracts around 120,000 people and counts as the largest gathering of artists and musicians in Australia.
The festival is held over six days and six nights from Dec 27th through to January 1st, on a 500 acre property in a valley on the Sunshine Coast hinterland, attracting people from all walks of life – 70% are repeat visitors! The dedicated festival goer arrives on Christmas day to secure a primo camping spot (primo = flat, shaded, close to showers). 25,000 people camp for the week, turning empty fields into a massive tent village. You have to navigate your way around via the amusing roadsigns – it is impossible to imagine the size of the place!
Something for everyone
The festival offers something for everyone (500 acts performed across 28 venues), including a dedicated Children’s Festival to keep the young ones entertained. To give you a flavour of the things on offer – I saw a comedy show, a burlesque show, a Country and Western signer (Beccy Cole, very funny as well as a great singer, her Ipswich-ised version of Dolly Parton’s classic Jolene to Nolene was hilarious), NZ icon Tim Finn, Japanese drummers, and a sideshow of Freaks. I saw Tibetan monks chanting and making a beautiful sand mandela, and went on the Butterfly Walk to hear about a project to bring more of these wonderful creatures to the area. The Mystery Bus was incredibly popular, with punters lining up for ages in the hot sun to get on board a (stationary) bus for a seat at the smallest stage at the festival, taking pot luck on which performer they will see.
The vibe at the festival is amazing, people are super happy and super friendly. I was on my own for most of the week (my boyfriend joined me for a magical New Years Eve) but I felt completely at ease flying solo. My wonderful conversations with strangers were a real highlight. People would talk to you, and not just talk but really connect. It felt nice, you don’t get much of that in the ‘real’ world.
People were there to enjoy themselves, not to get drunk and stupid (well New Years Eve may be an exception but even then I didn’t see any out-of-hand drunkenness). I only saw two people angry the whole festival and they stood out for me because they were such an exception, and I had to chuckle when I heard one guy complaining about the wait for his coffee ‘they wouldn’t last in the city’ he muttered impatiently – his ridiculous comment seemed so out of place and reminded me exactly why the world of Woodford is so special – slow, thoughtful and soulful are in, and impersonal, fast and commercial are out. Foodie heaven
Of course one of the great joys for me was exploring the endless rows of food tents (50 cafes and restaurants and 16 bars on site). You could find anything you wanted, from vegan and vegetarian food to deep fried mars bars.
My fav food tent was Gourmet Goons – I loved their amazing breakfast bowls and delicious marinated pork ribs with quinoa salad and sweet potato chips. These guys stood out not only for the quality of their food (vegan, gluten free, dairy free, using native ingredients like kakadu plum and finger limes), but the super cool fitout of their food tent and their damn fine Moustaches – and somehow these guys always fronted up happy, friendly and calm even while working 16 hour days in crazy heat. AND they bought some of my bamboo straws to trial at their next festival – go you good things!!
My other favourite was the Loose Leaf Tea House where I went every day for a cuppa in the cool of the early morning. These guys created a charming little space to sit and people watch. Brewing only one type of tea (orange pekoe) in giant teapots covered in pineapple teacosies, $2.00 would get me a seat at the table and a cup of tea served in grandma’s finest china, complete with silver spoon. Tablecloths were made of old tea towels and the servers wore frilly paisley aprons – fabulous! Next door was a bakery that churned out dozens of sourdough loaves each morning, so with my cuppa I enjoyed a slice of still warm bread with rosella and feijoa jam. Inevitably I would strike up conversation with a fellow early-riser and we would sit and chat and swap recommendations about what to see that day. So much pleasure in the simple things.
The Fire Ceremony
One piece of advice – make sure you stay until the end of the festival! The last night is definitely worth sticking around for as this is when the closing ceremony takes place, aka the Fire Ceremony. But make sure you get there early! I made the mistake of ambling my way there thinking lots of people had gone home, but it was standing room only – I reckon there were around 80K people packed into that wonderful hillside amphitheatre and it blew me away! The show reminded me of something you might expect to see at the closing ceremony of the Olympics.
The theme this year was monsters and hearts. 1500 people created a magical story about the importance of getting rid of the monsters in our heart. Huge monsters battled and paraded, lit up against the night sky. The stage was crammed with hundreds of singers whose haunting voices provided the soundtrack for the evening. For the grand finale a huge bamboo heart was set alight, getting rid of the monsters so we could start the year with a clear heart. It was spectacular; unfortunately the pic from my phone doesn’t do it justice.
The spirit of Woodford
The Festival relies heavily on volunteers, with 2600 people pitching in to make sure everything runs smoothly, stocking up toilet rolls, picking up litter, directing traffic and a myriad other essential jobs. The volunteers have their own chillout lounge called Volleywood and I got a sense that some beautiful friendships would be made inside this program of volunteering.
Woodfordia (festival land) was originally a dairy farm and over the years has slowly been transformed into a unique parkland habitat. Sustainability is a driving principle behind the festival with all water collected and treated on site then used for irrigation. Composting and recycling also take place on site and over 100,000 trees have been planted to regenerate the land. All food stalls are required to use biodegradable serving containers and cutlery to minimise waste to landfill.
You never quite know what you will see at Woodford, monsters, dragons and butterflies are the norm, stilt walkers and magicians mingle with the crowds and people dress up in weird and wonderful costumes. People watching was one of my favourite pastimes, delighted children with painted faces ran around chasing giant bubbles, grown men in pink tutus walk by and no one bats an eyelid – you can be whoever you want to be, anything goes, everyone blends in. This conversation summed it up perfectly for me:
Adult to small child with painted face: Are you a monster?
According to the website Woodford is “a place you can escape from ‘reality’ and immerse yourself in cultures from near and far…. a place where artists inspire, community spirit engulfs and life memories are made” – I definitely agree, it was truly magical and an opportunity to get away from the madness of the real world. If you haven’t experienced the enchanted world of Woodford before then make 2014 your first year to visit – I guarantee it wont be your last!