Friday, February 15, 2013


( early January, post-festival)

that's what they're calling the festival now, like it's a town in it' s own right. Which it is, albeit a pop-up town. It’s a bustling city of canvas and plastic, a fantasy village where musicians and jugglers and dancers perform in dozens of venues every night of the week, and strange and magical folk - gremlins, giants, clowns -  can be seen in the streets around dusk, when the golden lanterns light up and the food stalls ( everything from Yum Cha to Jamaican) take on their evening glow. There are sideshows and art galleries; There are talks on pregnancy, preventative medicine, politics and permaculture; workshops on weaving, mask-making, poetry, pottery. It's really dozens of festivals all running simultaneously - an extraordinary cultural celebration.

This year's Woodford Festival experience was one of heat, dust, crowds and exhaustion. For me it is a bit like being in India and I spend half my  time hating it: I long for cool clean silence and my own bathroom. An hour later I'm moved to tears by the beauty/sacredness/humour of the experience. The good heartedness of so many people. The fun of dancing to Brazilian music at breakfast time with some friends you just ran into in a cafe, and that amazing little girl who gets up and sings with the musicians, while her Mum cooks our eggs.

Or the young man who plays fiddle like an angel, plays songs written by his father, his grandfather, six generations of fiddle players from a tiny snow-swept island. Which you enjoy in the company of an old friend who you haven't seen for ages who happens to be sitting next to you. 

Or the woman - you've never heard of her who sings 'Woodstock" at a late night venue, with such intensity, you feel you never heard the song before. We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden. 

Or the quiet moment on the Hilltop, above the pulsing night lights of the festival village, with three friends, watching the full moon over the Glass House Mountains

There is an overwhelming smorgasbord of stuff on offer, and many clashing program dilemmas: Will I go to the tango class, or to hear the talk on shamanism? To the ukulele workshop or to check out Malcolm Turnbull? John Butler Trio or Archie Roach? Fire Event Choir first thing in the morning, or to the indigenous culture-sharing? Or to yoga? Or just lay low back at the camp and sleep in because I'm exhausted, and there are still days of all this ahead. Not that sleep is possible what with the heat in the tent and all the dust blowing in. It's exhausting alright. 

And fabulous - no matter how much you miss, there is plenty you don't. Like Shane Howard - is he going to feel like a faded old rocker? Not at all. Solid Rock, Standing on Sacred Ground, Living on Borrowed Time - hundreds of us throw ourselves onto the dusty dance floor in the huge sweaty circus tent and sing along, nothing outdated about man  or song.  

He has several indigenous musicians on stage with him. He thanks the Jinibara people for welcoming us to the land, then goes on to name the tribes of the back-up singers, the didge player and others. I guess it's the simple power of naming and acknowledging identity that brings tears to so many eyes. we are reminded for a moment of what feels important to us. 

Then there is Archie Roach, presented at the ampitheatre to a huge audience, with a cast of thousands on stage supporting him, a tangible feeling of love and respect. I'm not even that crazy about Archie’s style of music, but I was in tears for most of the concert, as were half the audience. Just something about the utter authenticity of the man himself, who has suffered so much, yet emanates love, like a rock. 

Though I couldn't but feel a touch nostalgic for the good old days when it was just him and his guitar and his beloved Ruby Hunter, playing in the old Murri Tent of long ago Woodfords.

It has been a challenge for me to 'let go' of what Woodford, (and it's genesis, Maleny )Festival used to be. It was our local festival in South East Queensland. Smaller, more ‘folky’, not as commercial and mainstream, not as loud. More hay bales, fewer plastic chairs. More jamming in the campground, more nudity, less security personnel. And absolutely no chance of Julia Gillard turning up, as she did on a surprise visit this year(keeping up with Malcolm?). 

In those long ago pre-parenting days D and I worked on fire events, performed in street bands and local choirs. Now we love being carefree punters. And try to welcome the changes. There are a lot of young people here. Including F and his friends , for whom it is the euphoric  high point of the year because they are free to roam with their friends. 

It's a tribal gathering for us Woodford. We see scores of people we know, from the homebirth midwife to the guy who taught us percussion to F's old kindergarten teacher. The parents of F's school friends, and the occasional long lost acquaintance from a former life. People whose kids we've seen grow up, and the kids themselves, now waiting on tables or even performing. It's a warm feeling of belonging. 

And - once the rather harrowing land-grab for the best spots in the camp ground is over on day one - people are, well, just a lot more friendly than out in the real world. There are many nice casual exchanges, even a few deep conversations with complete strangers. 

One night we have a drink at Bills Bar -  such an artfully decorated marquee that I keep forgetting I'm not at some sophisticated hotel in the city. We chat with an old Maleny friend Anna, who has been with the QFF for years. As site manager she has a meeting each day with the police – we’ve seen quite a few strolling the dusty streets in their blue uniforms. 

They are just having a great time, Anna says. Because there is virtually nothing for them to do. We’ve had a couple of kids trying to get in over the fence and one person with an ounce of marijuana. That’s it.

It wasn’t till she mentioned this that I realized just quite how remarkable it is that such an enormous crowd could be so peaceful and harmonious. No drunkenness, no violence, no incidents. Amazingly I didn’t even see anyone being rude! A glimpse of how the World could be.  

Imagine, says D if the outside world disappeared and we had to live here forever. It wouldn’t be too bad. Though of course we’d have to produce food – Still there’s such a concentration of skilled people here – I reckon we’d put together a pretty good little society…

Yep, nice fantasy. Meantime, by day seven we are so tired, so dusty and dirty, we can’t wait to get home and sift through the memories at leisure. 

Waiting for sunrise on the hilltop - January 1, 2013

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