Woodford Folk Festival again held audiences captive with an incredibly bold week of music, Indigenous culture, speakers, art, performance, food and community connectedness. Glenn Tozer gives us the low-down on the first three days.
Day one, 27 December
As you enter the dedicated children’s area of the Woodford Folk Festival you are met with five cylindrical bamboo towers of varying heights between two and five metres, surrounded by a sea of coloured balls. With almost ritual abandon, observers watch children launch the balls into the tops of the cylinders and squeal with delight as they balls fall down through the bamboo structure to the base, popping out the bottom. What is perhaps a little surprising, or unsurprising depending on what you know of your friends, is the fierce competition between dads to do the same, obviously “supervising their children” while they conduct their own adult skill tests .
The first day of the Woodford Folk Festival kicked off with these little shenanigans in a day filled with cultural, musical and culinary adventures for the family, and a little after hours excitement.
A quick scone with jam and cream at the Small Halls stage, to the background music of the melancholy but emotion-filled Liz Stringer, and then Bills Bar hosted Little Georgia, for whom one half the duo calls Banora Point home. An excellent set delivered a number of new fans. Pete and Jo, punters from the Gold Coast, who we chatted to later said they’d never heard of the band, loved the set and downloaded their music within minutes, again demonstrating the wonderful promotional capability this festival has to connect artists with new fans.
Later, after some delicious Greek feta balls, Caravana Sun lit up the Grande with a guest performance from a horn freak from Hot Potato Band. Another quick visit to Children’s Festival, after the boys napped in the super Rock’n’Roller Wagon we hired (definitely recommended for parents at Festivals!), and a Spaghetti Junction dinner before the evening festivities.
Canada’s The East Pointers followed a beautiful welcome ceremony, bringing their traditional Celtic Folk, and while my older sons (8yrs and 6yrs) did fall asleep on my lap in the amphitheatre singing the words and humming the tunes of the favourite songs, their fatigue belied the energy those Canadian gentlemen bring to the stage.
After putting my sons to bed, my partner in crime and I headed out for a politically charged John Butler set, seating his crowd for a statement about Manus Island. The surprise of the night was Vaudeville Smash at the Tropic whose flute-led retro dance tunes had the venue pumping. They played almost every night before midnight. Amazing set and incredible vibe, turning a half filled tent into a crowd of writhing rowers (yes there is apparently a new seated dance involving mimicking a rowing action. Yes, it is hard to imagine).
Day two, 28 December
The grownups of the family had high hopes for day two with a busy music schedule and we set out with optimism and energy, committing to a couple of hours at the children’s festival to start the day. With three kids in tow, however, the fun was almost all consumed in child sized serves.
We snuck in a repeat of The East Pointers by day, in part due to my eldest sons raving to his brothers about how great it was. Licking yummy ice blocks at the Grande stage, the music and deliciousness was enjoyed. The surprise followed at our return to the children’s festival area for lunch, when The East Pointers performed a set for the kids, followed by a little Q&A for the young ‘uns about their instruments and their music, to the delight of all including those adulting with the juniors.
The heat was intense and the order of the day was hydration, and with water refill stations at regular intervals throughout the festival, it made it easy for families to keep their clan well watered. The trek back to the Grande in the heat was a workout, but we arrived early for Sampa the Great, a Zambian-born hiphop performer now based in Melbourne. This year my sons had purchased gifts for loved ones from World Vision (a goat, chickens, and a micro financed business) and were aware of charitable work for Zambia, shipping containers with medical and education supplies delivered by Mudgeeraba based charity “To the Nations”. Their interest in the diminutive powerhouse Sampa was piqued and the beats and thumping rhythms got their bodies moving. It was a smashing set and Sampa took the time for photos after with a bunch of new fans, including one super-impressed eight year old Tozer boy.
The gigantic Elders puppets parading around at dusk were met with awestruck eyes of little people. It must be said that memories are made in the theatre of this Woodford Folk Festival. While the music is great, and activities lots of fun, the sense of place delivered through staged theatre and drama in the streets activates the imagination and wonder for children in a way that can only be considered spectacular. Of course, adults seems to love it too!
The heat was too much for us and after some delicious fish and chips from the “Catch and Kiss” truck, and a relaxed beverage at Bills Bar to the bluesy harmonica of Filisko & Noden, we turned in before the later night’s activities. As a parent at Woodford, pacing oneself in recommended and advisable given the heat and sheer exhaustion all the walking about creates. With a late night planned for Friday’s Holy Holy evening set, the clan all fell asleep to the sound of crickets.
Day three, 29 December
By the third day of any festival, you’ve found your feet, you know your way around, and the end is in site meaning a bucket list awaits with a sense of urgency, as you attempt to squeeze in more highlights before the inevitable end. As a festival dad with my sons and wife, we managed to squeeze in several of those organic doughnuts from Byron Bay, a few delicious natural ice blocks, and the Langos of Hungary which was an experience of some cultural importance given our new family-in-law has Hungarian heritage. The grownups even managed to stumble across an emerging act, Hollow Coves, in part from the Gold Coast who recently signed a Canadian manager and a deal with Ben Howard’s label. Great news for another GC outfit, but more about that later…
The day’s key objective was focussed on the evening performances. After a full day, one very tired but excited eight year old boy and I made the trek out to the amphitheatre for Holy Holy at around 8.00pm. Walking past the Songlines stage, the inevitable question “Daddy, what does songlines mean?” had me fumbling for some explanation of a incomprehensible time before books and phones, when a father passed knowledge to his son through word, often in song, so children could know about family and things mums and dads had to teach their children. These moments are the gold of Woodford as a dad; opportunities to teach about generational knowledge, the importance of family and community, and how critical communication is to quality of life.
As we arrived, Montaigne was finishing up her set, and the “writhing-on-the-stage-floor” approach to stagecraft was a little lost on his inexperienced eye and we managed a conversation about performances and music genres and “kids these days”. Swedish/Icelandic duo My Bubba (actually the duos Scandinavian surnames, rather than an intentional play on the English “baby”) delivered a compelling three song supporting set of European Folk music, complete with hand tapping acapella rhythms and a couple of acoustic love songs. Fascinating the crowd, if you have a chance to catch this act while they are here in Australia, they’d be well worth the adult ticket.
Holy Holy opened their set like they open their latest album, ‘Paint’, with That Message and delivered popular tracks from all their releases. Surprising the Woodford crowd later with a Beyoncé cover and a Neil Young cover (a very unexpected marriage), the crowd had surged at three songs in, as the notoriously casually timed Woodford crowd arrived. My son and I retreated from our standing position a few rows back, to a more scenic view on the hill. By then it was 10pm, and my son could not hold his eyes open any longer, collapsing in my lap for the remainder of the songs, both of which I very much enjoyed. On the walk back, we counselled on the disappointment of missing songs from a concert, in this case favourites A Heroine and House of Cards, and wrestled with the idea that songwriting is often an experience for the songwriter more than the listener, and even bands have their own favourites from the songs they have created.
If the mission was to explore music and a conversational tool between father and son, we accomplished that with flying colours on this wonderful festival day!
Woodford Folk Festival 2017 gallery by Jude Kalman