Woodford Folk Festival

By Amanda Jackes. Published in Music Forum magazine, Vol 18 Issue 3 (May 2012)

See also www.woodfordfolkfestival.com

The Woodford Folk Festival is a six day annual gathering that is the sum of all its people, past and present. For six days, the festival is a temporary community of people from diverse backgrounds who have made the pilgrimage for a myriad of reasons. From the music aficionado to the youth undergoing a rite of passage, from the avid music student to the spiritual explorer, from the circus-obsessed child to the environmental activist, the budding visual artist or the just plain curious, at Woodford people step out of their everyday world and become part of a shared experience.

Woodford Folk FestivalThe festival embraces the concept of marking time in our contemporary lives, and of developing ceremonial time and space that help to give a voice and expression for our thoughts and emotions within modern life. As exemplified by 20,000 people during the Three Minutes of Silence at 11:30pm on New Years Eve, ceremonial times are honoured by all, and unity is developed through common engagement and activity. It is a place that celebrates the individual as well as the collective. It is a place of welcome and engagement.

As a known platform for emerging artists to find new audiences, the festival is a playground for audiences to delight in. The festival strives to create the space for artists and audiences to connect, exchange energy and move together into another world. Woodford is a place where the role of the artist is honoured and explored.

To take part in the festival is to celebrate being part of something so much larger than ourselves. From organisers to performers, volunteers to patrons, people’s paths are interwoven in the festival through many layers. Whilst the formalised programme of events over 20 stages with 2,500 performers forms the architecture for the day’s activities, the informal and spontaneous events seem to truly captivate the heart of festival-goers.

Woodford is a folk festival, and as such embraces all expressions of ‘our folk’. From the Celtic instrumentalist to the Yolngu soul sister, Woodford strives to create a welcoming space where all arts and many genres are celebrated and art- form boundaries dissolved. Aside from the ten unique music venues, there are spaces dedicated solely to social and environmental activism, Indigenous peoples, vaudeville, circus, comedy, cultural performance, music workshops, health and wellbeing talks, dance, film, visual arts and five children’s performance spaces. At night, the festival comes alive with theatre and processions on the streets and lanterns and light installations illuminating the tree-lined fringes of the festival valley.

The festival started out life as a small gathering of 900 people over a weekend in 1987. The aim was to create a platform for folk musicians and the delivery was to be a festival of international standing. Over the years the festival has grown because those involved in its creation have loved it. It has evolved over the years from hundreds of people making small, beautifully crafted decisions across all aspects of holding a festival – from powerful and evocative closing ceremonies to clean and accessible toilets – done well and with love.

The festival developed a maturity when it acquired a permanent home in 1994 at Woodford, Queensland. It took on its responsibilities as custodians of the land and looked to the trees and plants to define the architecture of the site. Since moving to Woodford over 95,000 endemic trees and plants have been planted by hundreds of volunteers. Wildlife corridors have been reinstated and endangered species have now returned to their homeland.

Since the move to Woodford festival organisers have worked hard to develop the 500 acre site, called Woodfordia, into a parkland dedicated to the arts and humanities. Much has been achieved already with revolutionary environmental innovations, including an onsite wastewater treatment plant, and purpose built venues including an open-air amphitheatre that seats 25,000. During the festival, Woodfordia becomes a small city of venues, workshops, market stalls, bars, and restaurants all connected by lantern-lined streets and set in a picturesque valley backing onto national park. As a mostly residential event, Woodfordia has extensive camp grounds to cater for what becomes the 67th largest town in Australia during the week of the festival. Over the six days and night the Woodford Folk Festival receives an aggregate attendance of 120,000.

One of the foundations of the Woodford Folk Festival is the embracing of a 500 year plan. The plan is not a document of goals, objectives and milestones, rather an expression of an ideology of how we do, what we do. It guides us in our present to enable a future for others to revel in. Woodford is as much an idea, a dream and a movement as anything else, and the festival is an open invitation to revel in the pursuit of this future.

The Woodford Folk Festival is produced by the Queensland Folk Federation, a non-profit community organisation.

Amanda Jackes is the General Manager of the Woodford Folk Festival.

 Photo Sonja de Sterke


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