Woodfordia, Australia

1 Jan

Imagine building a place in green fields and forest where creative people come together to perform, inspire and awaken us to new sounds, sights and rhythms in music, dance, circus, poetry, comedy and visual arts. A place of mutual respect where thoughtful citizens contribute to informed discussion about matters of importance to our planet. A town where you can eat your way through more types of national and regional cuisines than I have space to name here. An environment where sixty-year-old women dress as fairies and walk the streets proudly without judgement. This place exists. Its name is Woodfordia.

For 27 years, first in Maleny and now near Woodford, an hour north of Brisbane, the annual Woodford Folk Festival staff and hundreds of volunteers build in one week a town for thousands of people to camp for the six-day event, or like us visit for days of fun that start at 8am and finish after midnight. This year 113,000 people were at Woodford, making it the 17th largest town in Australia after Toowoomba with 125,265.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed headline international and Australian acts, attended dance workshops, received glorious massages and done my share of people watching, but the most special experiences have been in the discovery of emerging and alternative talents.

Among many Jeff Lang was a revelation, L’il Fi was affirmation and I saw my first main stage performance of Flamenco Fire at Woodford – bliss!

Watching Kate Miller-Heidke has become a tradition. She played Laurey to our son Cameron’s Curly in the year 12 joint school production of ‘Oklahoma’ and I’ve followed her career with keen interest since. She has now performed at twelve Woodfords and moved from the emerging artists’ bar to a fully filled main concert tent. Stuart and I were in the crowded mosh pit with a mix of teenagers and mature-aged folk like us for her Sunday show and I was blown away by how accomplished she is. New songs, engaging patter, strong backing and sublime harmonies, Kate is in her prime and an established international artist.

Over the past two days we’ve seen dozens of musicians, some more than once. Top favourite was Sharon Shannon and her band. The diminutive blonde Irish woman looks like a leprechaun in her red top hat and red high-heeled ankle boots and plays piano accordion like the devil.

Flamenco Fire were spectacular on the three occasions I saw them. We unwittingly sat behind former Australian Prime Minister Bob and Blanche Hawke at the Concert show. Bob and Blanche gave the performers a standing ovation and we could hear Bob whooping when he got excited. Flamenco Fire were sizzling hot at the Amphitheatre as part of the Big Bang lineup New Year’s Eve. Francesca Grima ‘La Chica’ and Simone Pope danced in tight jeans so you could see every move hip and foot movement. The crowd went crazy.

The Indian Kathakali dance workshop was a surprise. In addition to teaching us a simple dance Arjun Raina explained his philosophy of Kathakali, which can be applied universally. According to Arjun to be contented individuals we must be literally grounded. We need to connect to solid earth with our feet or our bellies and emotions will always be swirling about. I can see how centreing oneself, consciously connecting to the ground that supports us to still the mind would be helpful, especially to me in my current gypsy mode. Perhaps that is what Flamenco dance does for me and I wasn’t consciously aware of it.

An innovation at the 2012 Festival is Bill’s Bar named after longtime Festival Director, Bill Hauritz. With intricate white canopies and chandeliers fashioned from curling dry branches lit with white lights it has a small stage and lots of casual seating at tables and bars. Our perfect chillout spot with a beer when the music was mellow.

I must mention the surprise special guest this year. Prime Minister Julia Gillard accompanied by Bob Hawke spoke in Q and A with the Festival Director at the Concert venue on Sunday and officially opened the Julia Creek bridge afterwards. There was nothing surprising in what was said, politicians in public mode spring few surprises, but what impressed me was that hecklers were allowed to voice their anger without derailing the conversation. Everyone present was able to hear the prime minister respond intelligently to questions about the Government’s actions in relation to climate change and the fiscal crisis in the US. After so much incivility in politics this year observing respectful, civil discourse was a blessing.

Thank you Woodfordians and artists for bringing us such joy and hope after a year that was an especially challenging year for the planet and our family and friends. The candlelit three minutes of silence at 11:30pm new year’s eve gave us the perfect opportunity to reflect, give thanks and close the book on the year.

Photo note: the IOS6 upgrade on my iphone wiped out the zoom function on my phone camera. Sigh…

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PM Julia Gillard oprning the Julia Creek Bridge

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Belly Dance Workshop

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Kathakali Dance Workshop

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Mia Wray

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Kate Miller-Heidke

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Asa Broomhall

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Flamenco Fire opening scene of ‘Gypsy Pathways’

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Flamenco Fire

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Simone Pope

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La Chica

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Sharon Shannon and Band with guest Mal Webb

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Bob and Blanche Hawke give Flamenco Fire a standing ovation

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Flamenco Fire Big Bang

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