The 35 hour Woodford Experience

I have wanted to go to Woodford for a few years now and finally this past year I managed it, if only for 35 hours. After a brief festive season holiday in Far North NSW, Tuesday afternoon saw me driving to Woodfordia. Arriving in the dark some time after 7.30pm QLD time, I was greeted at the gate by some thoroughly excited volunteers and their big red sniffer dog… the kind you’d win on a carnival game. After warnings to avoid the grassy bits for fear being sucked in to a swamp like mess, I carefully navigated the incredibly wet and muddy streets and managed to find a relatively non-boggy looking spot. With gumboots at the ready, I was set.

Now, I’ve been to a few festivals in the last couple of years and had heard much about Woodford and how much I would like it. I went in search of Timber and Steel’s Milady Red and as I entered the festival site, I was struck with the enormity of it all, looked at the map and wondered how on earth I would find her. I wandered the night time streets of the festival, lit up by all manner of stalls, features, displays and Marquees full of performers and delighted crowds. In spite of the drizzle – this was magical.

I traipsed past the Sedge Pond, filled with illuminated ships, to The Grande  where Milady Red was soon located with a seat saved for me in the thick of things. Much to my delight, I’d managed to arrive in time to see Felix and the Phoenix, an act I’ve been dying to see for some time but their December Sydney shows had been cancelled. We surmised that a number of people would be there in the hopes of a mini Cat Empire show, but we had figured Felix’s solo project would be more laid back and we weren’t disappointed. Felix seemed incredibly comfortable behind the bongos (they probably have another name) as we have come to see in the Cat Empire live shows, but the music of Felix and the Phoenix has a different feel to it. Certainly the style you would put on and wash away your day’s worries while your foot taps and your fingers click all on their own. There was a special guest appearance by Cat Empire band mate Harry to play trumpet on one song, but it was still a different sound and vibe. I’m certainly looking forward to Into the Rain being released in February and the tour that will no doubt follow. While we wanted to stay up and see a number of other acts, the drive had caught up with me and bed called.

Wednesday was a bright, if not drizzley day. Although the rain continued, I had missed the worst of the week’s weather. We started the day with Mr Percival’s Vocalous Ensembleous, Spontaneous – A pavillion full of people making music together, exploring rhythm, harmonies and positive mantras for the day. Sounds hippy, I know, but it’s a blast of looping, beats and fun. After singing a bit of Stand By Me, Milady Red and I ventured forward into the Woodford landscape for some much needed breakfast! Milady Red also works at the Dive Bar, next to the Duck. So while I left her to her shift, I set to work deciding what acts I was going to try and cram in to my only day at Woodford. To say my schedule was ambitious would be an understatement – it was downright huge!

12pm @ Trailer Trash – The Good Ship
The Good Ship had been recommended to me by a good friend in Canberra, and happily they were first on my whirlwind Woodford experience. I do like a stage full of characters and these guys do not dissappoint! With a piratical theme and vigour abound, this 8 piece had the place pumping. Hugely upbeat with plenty of fiddle, it was a high energy, crowd pumping set. All kinds of instruments graced the stage, from acordians to canastas and even a ships’ bell by the looks of it. With nautical songs like “Sea Monster” and “Ghost Ship”, there was no shortage of toe-tapping, mud splashing good times. I particularly liked their way of weaving popular songs, like R.E.M’s “End of the World”, into their own renditions. It was quite obvious they were having a good time on stage, I’ll certainly track them down again.

1pm @ The Grande – The Gadflys
My interest in the Gadflys stemmed purely from their exposure years ago on the TV Show Good News Week where Paul McDermott regularly sang with them. I caught only a portion of their set, their sound was as I remembered but sans Paul. While they were jazzy and full with sound, I didn’t find their performance hugely engaging, which was a shame. I’m not 100% sure they’re a band for a big stage, they always had more impact with a more intimate setting, if you can call national television to millions of viewers intimate, but I found on stage they were either lost or perhaps only focussed with what was happening on stage.

3.20pm @ The Grande – Kim Churchill
Kim Churchill was recommended to me for a festival line up nearly 2 years ago but the stars didn’t align and I’ve been waiting ever since to actually see him live. To watch him on stage, you would never imagine he’s only 19. With bags of talent and a real presence to him on stage, he’s quite the captivating performance to see. Playing acoustic guitar and harmonica with a kick drum at his disposal, he manages to create some really rich pieces of music. For his second ever Woodford, Kim expressed great humility and gratefulness for both the crowds and the many people involved in producing the festival. As a treat for the crowd, Kim invited good friend Tom Richardson on stage to join him for a song. Tom’s guitar and sliding added a wholle new depth to the sound and there really was a party going on onstage in front of our very eyes. Kim presents rich, mature vocals and sounds like a seasoned performer – not surprising given how much travelling and gigging he’s done over the last couple of years. He manages to weave together moments of pause and stillness, together with wild harmonica howls and high energy breaks to have the entire crowd on edge. I’ll certainly make the effort to see Kim again some time soon.

4.10pm @ The Grande – Jeff Lang
Having not seen or heard much of Jeff Lang except for Milady Red’s enthusiastic endorsement, I quite enjoyed being up close to watch him perform. Being a Woodford veteran, he commented that he felt bad for not playing every day of this year’s festival in order to make it to another festival. He was so at home on the Woodford stage, it was clear to see why he is a favourite. His selection of guitars is impressive and makes every song different and a joy to watch him deliver. His interaction with both the crowd and this band made the performance feel very intimate.

5.15pm @ The Grande – Passenger
Another act I have been meaning to see for some time, and having had Steve Parkin of the Basement Birds tell me Passenger is not to be missed, I made sure I was there. Mike Rosenberg (aka Passenger) has a very comfortable presence on stage and really takes the entire audience along for the ride. I loved his sense of humour, given the inclement weather, he played “Rain”, a fun filled song lamenting the rain and had us all laughing. With the new album Flight of the Crow released last September, there was much anticipation to hear the new tracks, however, he pointed out it’s much harder to do those tracks on the road given the number of collaborating artists on the album. He performed a stripped back, solo version of “Golden Thread”, the track originally recorded with Matt Corby, which was a soft and beautiful rendition. He commented that he was impressed with an audicen that listens, it’s a rarity. To round out the set, he chose to play “Rivers”, and to perform it properly, he invited Lior to the stage (to much applause) to perform it as it was recorded. The two of them created magical and beautiful harmonies that had the audience transfixed.

6.20pm @ The Grande – Basement Birds
I had been waiting for this for some time and was eagerly anticipating their second last performance together. A crowd of all ages had gathered, the front of the stage was swamped with keen fans and as the foursome took to the stage, the masses cheered with delight. An energetic and jovial performance took the boys through all the favourites including “Waiting for You” and “Cinnamon and Smoke”. Mid set, Kav commented that normally the next song would not be played at your usual rock festival, but upon discussion with the Birds, they had decided that it might work for Woodford, and broke out into a heartfelt rendition of “Ghosts” which had the whole crowd swaying and singing along. On stage they boys were clearly having a fantastic time, joking with each other, switching happily between instruments and songs all the while keeping up the witty banter. Poor Josh Pyke had a moment mid song as a huge moth dive bombed him and took up residence on his guitar, it turns out he’s not so great with bugs and very cautiously blew it off before continuing with the song. As has become tradition, Julia Stone was not available to help out with their hit “Bus Stop” so two lucky girls were plucked from the audience to sing her part, which they both did very well, in fact I do believe at least one of them had done it before at a previous gig. To round out what what a hugely popular and enjoyable set, they finished on their Like a Version cover of “My People” which can also be viewed on their home page! It was sad to see their set end, but also incredibly satisfying to see them one last time before they head back to their own bands. An all round fantastic set and a wonderful farewell.

8.45pm @ Blues n Roots – Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band
The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band came together, reached the height of their success and disbanded all before I was born. However, I have seen and enjoyed both Mic Conway‘s National Junk Band and Jim Conway‘s Big Wheel over the last few years and enjoyed them immensely, so it is fair to say that the Whoopee Band would likely impress me too. The Blues n Roots Pavilion was full, people were on the dance floor and the stage was full of crazily dressed band members having a great old time. Mic Conway took centre stage complete with his bag of tricks and rack of silly noise-makers. Jim Conway directly to his right and read to treat us with his brilliant harmonica stylings. With a cast of both familiar and new faces, the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band was off to a great start. The music was upbeat and happy, on stage gags from the good old days were still present with witty thought and speech bubbles being held over band member’s heads and the infamous megaphone making an appearance. The performance was full of energy and delight while the crowds danced, sung, and clapped along to each song. Mic’s magic tricks featured along with solos from each band member. For a band that hasn’t performed together for some decades, the cohesion and frivolity from the band was brilliant, the reception was fantastic and the applause well worth it. Hopefully this is not the only reunion of the band. True it’s not in it’s original form, however, it is certainly an excellent meld of old faces and new talent to create some terrific nostalgia and a rollicking good time.

The rain and mud was just a part of the experience, everyone seemed to cope well with a mixture of gumboots, crocs, thongs and once recognisable shoes making the rounds along with umbrellas, parasols, raincoats and ponchos. Happily on Wednesday night the rain had eased for long enough and the ground firmed up to allow the roving performers take to the streets of the festival. With a huge cart being pulled through the site and stilt walking, storytelling delights entertaining the wandering crowds, the night time became a magical place of discovery. Milady Red and I sat in a cosy cafe for a short while taking in all that is the hustle and bustle of Woodford.Sadly, the long day and time had caught up with me, and I took my exhausted, muddy, damp, gum-booted self to bed. I stopped at the Festival Store and bought a huge stack of CDs of performers I had seen and will slowly get through them all. In my time at Woodford, it became clear that a person could turn up to festival with nothing but the clothes on their back and perhaps a sleeping bag and be set for the entire week – everything you need could be found on site and there was no end of delicious food to indulge in, you could eat from a different nation at almost every meal. Staying in Tent Hotel was absolutely brilliant, took all the hassle out of camping. They supply the tent already assembled, a bed, a chair and in spite of the sogginess underfoot, the stay was quite dry and pleasant. Bright and early Thursday morning the sun appeared from behind the clouds assuring all of Woodford they would have their first sunny day, and I hit the road bound for Sydney in time for New Years Eve celebrations. Perhaps my next Woodford experience will allow me more time and include the great Fire Event of New Year’s Eve.

But one thing is for sure – Woodford is one of the most intense and amazing festivals in Australia and every music lover should make an effort to experience it in their life time.

7 Comments

  1. January 10, 2011 at 16:36

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Good Ship, miladyred. miladyred said: The 35 hour Woodford Experience: http://t.co/18s535f […]

  2. Xanthe said,

    January 10, 2011 at 16:44

    Great write-up of your experience! Hope we see you on the mystery bus next time!

    • KTBell said,

      January 11, 2011 at 08:49

      I just missed that day’s midday mystery bus – it’s on the list for next time!

  3. January 23, 2011 at 12:29

    […] having caught a glimpse of them at the 2009 Peats Ridge Festival and completely missing them at the 2010 Woodford Folk Festival, it was about time I saw them at their recent gig at, iconic Sydney venue, The Annandale […]

  4. March 3, 2011 at 13:50

    […] Andrew Morris, Mardi Lunsden & The Rising Seas, The Good Ship (which we came across at the Woodford Folk Festival 2010), Charlie Mayfair, Rachael Brady and Matt Nelson to name just the folky types, it’s sure […]

  5. December 22, 2011 at 09:00

    […] Steel friendly acts to get excited about, namely Woodford Folk Festival in QLD (you may remember my 35 Hour Woodford experience from last year), Peats Ridge Festival in NSW and two VIC festivals on either side of Port Phillip […]

  6. October 14, 2013 at 14:22

    […] and tourism industries and remains one of my favourite festivals of all time, even if only for a 35 hour experience, I’d love to go back (but sadly, not this year). Based on their own site (Woodfordia, about […]


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