Bill Hauritz is best known as the founder and Festival Director of Woodford Folk Festival, formerly the Maleny Folk Festival. He was working as a performing musician when he took on the role of Inaugural President of the Queensland Folk Federation in 1985 and in that thirty years grew the folk festival from a 900-person event in the Maleny Showgrounds to one which attracts more than 100,000 people in a purpose-made site.
Bill has won a Queensland Smithsonian Fellowship as well as being appointed a member of the Order of Australia. He’s received a Myer Award for his contribution to performing arts, has been appointed an Honorary Senior Fellow at Sunshine Coast University and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Queensland Music Industry.
None of that should come as a surprise when you consider the impact he’s had on Woodford Folk Festival, the Queensland Folk Federation and the Australian music industry.
Woodford Folk Festival is now a $10 million dollar business and is developing the 500 acre permanent site called Woodfordia, but Bill is both humble and proud. I asked him what he would have said if someone had told him 30 years ago he’d be the figurehead for a $10 million event.
“Well, I was and other people were very ambitious about what the festival could be,” he said. “I remember writing that we should establish a plan that would take us through generations and I talked about a folk centre – that was long before the festival.”
“We always imagined that we would be large and successful and I don’t think we’ve by any means reached our peak.”
“We tried to build from the beginning an empowering organisation so that everyone had a job to do. And then we could build ownership of people who feel that it’s their festival because essentially it was and is,” Bill said.
The Folk Federation was on a mission way back in the 80s to give the word folk and folklore more depth and Bill says folk wasn’t really considered to be important in any way. So what’s changed over the decades?
“I think people respect it more now,” he said. “They realise there’s a lot more depth to it than the simple hippie image. That image was always flawed.”
But he’s quick to point out that when he talks about folk he’s not necessarily talking about a music genre.
“Rather we build a folk movement,” he clarified. “Which is people that have common values underpinning their views of cultural expression.”
Bill says that while the festival has changed due to its growth the values that underpin it and the objectives themselves haven’t changed.
“But we’re always looking for new ways for cultural expression to emerge,” he said. “For the last few years we’ve got a lot of visual artists involved – and really reworked the décor of the festival.”
He gives examples of bamboo installations and sculptures as well as some of the visual aspects of the festival over recent years and he says technology has an impact too.
“The quality of sound nowadays is much better than it was in the early years. I’ve just come out of a meeting right now about the intro of more LED lighting technology – that’s a very exciting and dramatic step in technology because of it’s low power useage,” he said.
Bill is quick to credit his large team for the festival’s growth – both paid and unpaid staff. “It’s a very large voluntary organisation. We have 25 core full-time staff all year ‘round but then we cut up the tasks at the festival into 140 different departments, each with an officer in charge and most of them with a deputy and most of those positions are largely unpaid,” he said.
Woodford Folk Festival has a daily population larger than Nambour which means logistics include things like electricity, plumbing, water, parking, safety and sewage. Bill said the logistics are “massive.”
Add to that 420 acts with some 2,600 individual artists performing a total of 1,400 shows over the six-day event.
“The logistical exercise of putting it all together takes all year and there’s myriad tasks that literally have to be performed to get it right.”
“I think the key to a good festival is one million little decisions by volunteers rather than one big decision by a festival director or coordinator,” Bill said.
I’ve been to half a dozen Woodford Folk Festivals including one at the earlier Maleny Showgrounds site and I actually wasn’t aware of the tradition for three minutes silence at 11.30pm on new year’s eve.
Bill tells me how it began.
“It was on 31 December in 1999,” he explained. “There was a lot of paranoia about going into the Mellenium, the Y2K Bug and at least four major end-of-the-world conspiracies. We decided to call for three minutes of silence at 11.30pm across the whole festival and ask people to light a candle.”
“The idea was that we could give people three minutes of no music, no sound, no movement. Give them three minutes to mark the occasion for themselves. None of us thought it would work but that it was worth a go.”
“The uptake was 100%. It was an incredibly beautiful moment and for me a special time that sticks out.”
“And we still do that.”
Like most festival directors, Bill prefers not to recommend one act over another but he does admit his soft spot for traditional Celtic music when I ask. The East Pointers from Canada in particular.
“But look, there’s no one act. I always say to people – I dare you to walk into any tent at any time and find something that’s not outstanding.”
“It’s always delightful to walk around and see acts you haven’t seen before and be surprised,” he said.
You won’t be pressed for quality at Woodford Folk Festival 2015-16 with Michael Franti, San Cisco, The Paper Kites, Kim Churchill, The East Pointers, Courtney Barnett, Josh Pyke, Katie Noonan, Dubmarine, Starboard Cannons, Hanlon Brothers and Doch and hundreds of others on the bill.
Woodford Folk Festival runs 27 December – 1 January. Get more at woodfordfolkfestival.com.