Woodford 2018: Old Souls Gather At The Granddaddy of Festivals

When I volunteered to cover Woodford Folk Festival 2018/2019, it’s fair to say I’d set my dial pretty firmly into the zone of Ultra Confidence. Little did I know how few things over the next four days would go the way I’d blithely expected or haphazardly planned.

Blissfully unaware of what was to come, I commenced the festival preparation ritual, dancing about my bedroom collecting all the important necessities.

Water bottle? Check. Two weeks worth of jubilant attire? Check. Toothbrush? Check. Bowls, scissors? Check. Nail polish, assorted jewellery? Yeah, boi, check. Notebook and pens? Bloody check. Sleeping bag from Dad’s place? Nah, it’s summertime, hey. This throw’ll be enough; Dad lives on the other side of town anyway. Shebbe right.

She was not right.

As you can see, excitement overrules practicality here, people. Who needs anything like common sense when you’re about to journey to one of your formative homelands after your first return of Saturn? Especially when you already know your way to Woodfordia off by heart (take Kilcoy exit, and  shove it, Google). When you know the lay of the land like the back of your hand, and the whisper of the wind brings the old familiar scrubby scent of eucalyptic, dusty, grassy air, the old olfactory medley to sting the reminiscent senses, who needs a blanket?

Within 55 minutes of my arrival, I had creeped and crawled my way through sprawling campgrounds, round the back of VIP camping area Cloudland, and snagged myself a primo nook in a small vale named UPATSUN RISE.


Every single road, track and path at Woodfordia is given a most entertaining name, usually composed of a terrific pun on traditional street title. Dontthrowita Way, Mohammad Alley, Myplaceoryour Place, and so on – a tantalising taste of the smorgasbord of creative delights waiting inside the festival proper.

Feeling footloose and fancy-free, and pleased immeasurably by my smooth journey and jolly outfit, off I skipped into the Festival Village.

Whereupon, wave upon wave of pink fluffy nostalgia buffeted me pleasantly in the face. Through neon lit market stalls and joyfully sizzling food vendors I wove, smiling brighter and brighter until I reached the big beautiful Amphitheatre, packed with fellow Woodfordians and the subsonic thrum of love and laughter.

A decent-sized crowd filled the grassy arena, looking so natural and beautiful. On the menu for me tonight was a big old dollop of sentimentality and trumpets in the form of The Cat Empire.

Felix Riebl, the lead singer of the old favourites, happily told the crowd how great it was to be playing – on the cusp of a long-time-between-drinks new album release later on this year – exactly the same stage they’d made their big break on two decades ago.

With a sparkle in his eye and a chuckle on his lips, he introduced the next song as “one most of you, if you do know it, heard all the time in the car on the way to school or something.” The ensuing musical revelry and carefree dancing of the crowd far outweighed the somewhat slipping vocals permeating the final quarter of the show, and a bloody good time was had by all.

A spendthrift’s delight.

The next day I set about perusing all the fantastical wares and artisanal crafts offered up by the market stalls.

Vendors had travelled far and wide to coalesce at this particular point on the Eastern Seaboard.

Egyptian drums, your very own hand-crafted yidaki, rubber moon cups, more crystals than you could ever carry – it was all there, guys.

Hooley dooley, I cannot overemphasise the plethora of hippie goodness all for sale from the friendliest folks you’ll ever have the pleasure to transact with, mates.

Yes, yes I do need one of those.

So then. Let me tell you another little something of my experience and a wee thing you too may want to account for.

If you, like me, spend money like a drunken kitten in a catnip hotel when happy: Don’t go to Woodford Folk Festival knocking on Destitution’s door.

Have yourself an end of year blowout budget, is what I’d say (with all my hard-won insight). Then, you may spend your hundos on glorious seed-beaded necklaces and indigo-dyed Peruvian cotton dresses, and not feel sorry for yourself even once.

There are, however, plenty of things to see and do for free. Especially if you’re the tree-hugging type.

And, on the topic of planning, I might mention the aforementioned water bottle: It’s only useful or good when it is on your person. If it is not, if it is left behind to boil on the dash, it can be neither useful nor good. Hydrate, my lovelies, hydrate. Pretty basic stuff, yeah? You’re telling me! But apparently these are all the fundamentals that I forgot to bring, along with sunscreen and my funky sunhat. You don’t want such rookie errors intruding on your bliss when you’re in the happiest place in Australia.

You may even want to fashion a “stick of preparedness”, complete with lighter, water, sunscreen, and other essentials.

I felt too big for my boots rocking on in to Woodford on that first day, and as funds and food ran low, by the third evening those boots had been swiftly shushed & humbled. A cracking attack of insomnia for the night of December 30 rendered me very much woebegone.

Don’t you love being inappropriately introspective when you’re supposed to be busy being extrovertedly awesome instead?

Isn’t it cool when your old crackhead mate Anxiety pops in for a visit, and old good fellow Sleep gets the hell outta dodge coz he can’t stand that guy?

Can I blame it on the waning of the moon?

Despite my glorious surroundings, I must admit I had never encountered such a particularly strident case of the gut-wrenching, heart-rending, life-(un)affirming phenomena of  New Year Fear as I did on my third day at Woodford.

I leave it to your imagination as to what such a thing entails – I’m sure you too have been ambushed like this at one meant-to-be-happy point in your life.

Shaky mental health aside, it must be said that I did see some pretty dang bloody great, high-calibre, flinging flanging flipping good artists, musicians and street performances.

Mentionables include the likes of:

  • Irish-Canadian (but was it American-Australian? 🙂 ) folk rock singer songwriter, Irish Mythen;
  • The lovely young cellist Rob Knaggs who served as his own accompaniment via films of the North American wintertime, replete with snow dogs on icy tundra scenery;
  • The beautiful Lucys, both Wise and Peach (do look both of them up – especially How to Period Like a Unicorn!);
  • Fabulous and vibrant Electric Fields, who always stoked up a terrific dance party;
  • Delightful Les Poules à Colin, a stringed five-piece hailing from French-Canada;
  • The Displaced by Time and Space Circus;
  • My absolutely dearest Emily Wurramara.  

Now, if you ask me what sentimentally heartfelt moments I witnessed or had the good fortune to partake in, I would say there was a rather high concentration of them in the Luna tent while Emily serenaded us on her ukulele.

I’d read how she’ll often teach language to her crowds and on this day I was not disappointed. As her newborn baby slept safe in the arms of family down along the row from me ♡, two little girls sat near to me on the middle of the D-Floor, eyes lit up like sparklers as they pointed and whispered into each others’ tangled manes of sun-bleached hair.

The greatest struggle was the FOMO you get when every stage is brimming with talent.

And that’s another one of my favourite things about Woodford: It really is an Old Soul Festival. Hippies, hippies everywhere. Bunch-loads of children, foreigners, city/country/doof kids and gypsy nomadic folk alike. Woodfordians truly are of all ages and creeds.

It still trips me to visit the Tibetan Buddhist Monks diligently dusting out their devotional mandalas and fantasise that their time at Woodford is perhaps their first or maybe even only interaction with Australia. Imagine…

Yet, after four days of running into happy smiling faces from home in our home away from home, and all you see above, I can say wholeheartedly that I was running out of steam.

In this I was not alone.

Too skittish to chance another sleepless festival night, my stupidly frizzled brain convinced me to skip back into town before the traditional three minutes of silence befell the whole gathering at 11:30pm.

Off I puttered to my very own bed back home, forgoing firy festivities for creature comforts and quietude.

And, as you, like me, reach the end of your last trip back to the car, you will likely reflect on just how much gadding about this Festival involves.

You may (accurately) reflect that you’ve just lapped a cross country marathon several times over, and as you turn your keys in the ignition, you may feel a wee bit astounded, dumbfounded, and perhaps a little proud of just how tired you are.

This is good.

Because, if there’s one place to so unabashedly wring out the very last drops of your energy for the year, it’s here with the dancing, bubbly, bursting crowd that is Woodford Folk Festival.

This article was written by Alice Chipperfield. She likes to befriend small wrens in other people’s backyards. Her favourite people are also books.

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