Woodford Folk Festival is somewhat of an oddity in the overall festival scene. Held about an hour's north-east of Brisbane at its own dedicated site on the same six days each year, it truly is in every sense different to just about any festival out there.
Owning its own land which the organisers maintain year round solely for Woodford (and The Dreaming, a significantly smaller indigenous festival in the middle of winter), the festival more or less exists to support investing in the land's infrastructure, which is in turn created so as to better the festival each year.
From a musical perspective, it's truly an eclectic blend. It's got the folk music — both traditional music from all corners of the globe, as well as the more 20th century acoustic singer-songwriter style. But it also plays host each year to an incredible array of other genres and rarely a year goes by where there aren't a large chunk of top Australian bands.
This year was no different, with a lineup covering all aspects of traditional and popular music, including a hefty number plucked straight from Triple J's playlists. Slide guitar virtuoso, Australian blues & roots legend, and Woodford regular Jeff Lang was back once again. For the first time in a number of years he was in attendance for the entire week, which allowed him to explore his impressive back catalogue. His sets teetered from solo-heavy fan driven shows to more encompassing sets focusing on his most known material, but there's no question he delivered consistently throughout the week.
Last year's standout, Mr Percival was back once again, and in addition to performing at concert venues throughout the week, for early risers (or late partiers, or those who choose not to partake in sleep at all — Woodford does not discriminate) he also put on daily singing workshops. His unique use of loops is something that mesmorised anyone who stumbled upon him over the course of the week.
Each night Woodford Folk Festival opens up its colossal amphitheatre venue. Since the first Woodford Folk Festival back in 1994 when Midnight Oil and a young Powderfinger graced the stage here, this has always been home to the each night's most popular bands. This year Ash Grunwald was back for the first time since 2006, as well as Woodford regulars The Herd and for his forth Woodford in a row That 1 Guy and his pipe contraption, plus a whole host of newcomers including Josh Pyke, Bob Evans, Augie March and a host of others.
True Live, Endorphin, Hermitude, Jackson Jackson, Lior, The Black Seeds, The Bird were just a few of the acts that were there to appeal to a younger crowd. For a purported folk festival, it's not hard for one to go the entire week without seeing any folk music. Indeed, it's this that makes it such a special festival. With something for everyone it's ideal for families, couples, youths and pretty much anyone else out there. If you're willing to brave the heat or rain then you'll find something at Woodford. And if you can't brave the heat or rain then there's always the 12 bars on site, or the cosy carpeted chai tent that make it a little easier.
Whether it's a sign of a weak economy, or just the strength of Australia's music talent, 2008 was somewhat absent of many notable international acts. After missing 2007's festival due to weather in Canada, Hawksley Workman finally graced the stages of Woodford. The somewhat eccentric but thoroughly talented singer songwriter is not a new thing to Australian shores but with his presence at a festival like Woodford, his growing profile in Australia is sure to get a boost that should see him thankfully grace our shores more often in future. Meanwhile folk favourites Dougie Maclean from Scotland and Kristina Olsen from California were there to appeal to some of the older audiences, with Olsen also hosting a slide guitar workshop, and Maclean participating in Woodford's famous Closing Ceremony.
Mamadou Diabate will be familiar to anyone who saw his performances at WOMADelaide or Bluesfest in 2008. Evidently Woodford's organisers did because the Malian made his debut at Woodford this year wielding his Kora, a unique harp-like instrument from his native Mali. Collaborations with Jeff Lang and Bobby Singh were to be expected, given that the three had recorded an album together.
In light of two years of rain, Woodford Folk Festival saw a noticeable decline in ticket sales over 2008. As such the event was somewhat scaled back, with alternative structures for some venues such as the Bazaar stage and the Grande taking on the form of big tops rather than the normal marquees. Woodford lives on however, budgeting for a 10% decline in attendance, the festival, through considerable grassroots efforts, only saw a 7% decline. Pretty impressive results to anyone who saw the unfortunate effects the rain had on campers in particular.
Despite this, Woodford Folk Festival, with pressing long-term issues such as waste management — $200,000 is spent each year trucking waste off-site for treatment — and other infrastructural concerns like electricity, plumbing, Woodford Folk Festival ended with the commencement of an ambitious fundraising campaign, with the goal of raising $1,000,000 by year's end to be put into a perpetual fund to fund the festival's long-term growth.
With the 15th Woodford Folk Festival now been and gone, it becomes even more apparent that this festival is an institution unto itself, perhaps more so than any other annual gathering in Australia. Woodford is somehow more than just a culmination of the music, arts, workshops, education and even people that gather over its six days each year.