01.02.2008

Mud and Fun

Experience the iconic, intoxicating and life affirming Woodford Folk Festival with Lisette Kaleveld

Experiencethe iconic, intoxicating and life affirming WoodfordFolk Festival with Lisette Kaleveld

"Mud and puddles! Mud and puddles!" wasone four year old's gleeful review of the 2007Woodford Folk Festival. It's laconic but true,and the Woodford's not the first music festivalto make mythology out of mud.

At Woodford you can jump the chai coloured puddlesall the way from your season camping site to the festivalvillage. Of course it sounds easy, but my first festivalexperience made me realise how much hard work a goodtime can be. It didn't help that my initial "weatherprooffootwear" solution was rubber thongs. Yes, clearlyI'm a novice.

After the crunchy gravel walkways quickly disintegratedinto sludge, mud splattered all the way up my calvesand thighs, and even my hair. After being so thoroughlyspray painted with the tattoo of a rookie, I recognisedits mark on others at the beginning of their relationshipwith Woodford.

Maybe one day I'll be one of those who can partyin sensible footwear (or, for the best of both worlds,in rainbow gumboots). But for 2007-08, I'll leavethis honour to the more experienced. And there are thoughtto be many loyal festival goers who have been comingfor most of its 22 years.

Since its first days in Maleny, the festival has beengrowing continuously and spectacularly. According tofestival general manager Amanda Jackes, 128,000 peopleattended this year. "The first four days (beforethe weather got very bad) were well up," she says."It was a seven per cent increase on last year."

In 1994, the Queensland Folk Federation bought 500acres of farmland as a home for the festival. Now theevent can accommodate more people and host a greatervariety of activities. It began as a music festival,but today it's also an arts, poetry, circus, debate,comedy and children's festival.

For six days and six nights, Woodford's peacefulfields are painted tent top colours. Ad hoc campsitesseem to crawl up every slope and over every horizon,at times uncomfortably close together. Grey and blueare the primary colours, the colours of camping stores.Add to the palette the rise of a red tipi, and prayerflags, sarongs and streamers fluttering against therain like morale boosters for the festival foot soldiers.

The beat of an African pressure drum, a stray guitarchord and incense swirls rise from tents. A festivalbegins not in lightness, but in tension. Low cloudssilent over tightened tarps. All is still but for theringing of tent pegs being hammered into trenches.

Tomorrow the season campers will meet the fresh facesof the day visitors. But tonight, as rain beats on atent fly like fingers pattering drum skin, we all shareone thing: commitment.

The first morning begins early with a deep breath.There are tai chi, chi gung and yoga classes on offer.Bodies variously patterned with wrinkles, tattoos andsuntans spread out on the wet grass to welcome the daywith a collective inhale.

Facing sunrise, we brace for the day ahead. With morethan 2800 performers, 500 acts and up to 20 performancespaces, it's a daunting program for overachievers.On the first day I went into battle with the mind blowingprogram of activity, zigzagging from tent to tent tocatch the best of the talented artists like witty wordsmithMal Webb and the haunting Spanish dance ensemble ArteKanela.

No regrets, but I soon learnt the necessity of missingmost of the not-to-be-missed performances. Until youare completely comfortable with the fact that you won'tattend many breathtaking, top name performances –like Sarah Blasko, The Cat Empire, Babylon Circus orBlue King Brown – then you just can't relax.

So, on the second day, I joined my sister and fouryear old nephew and decided to just go see. My nephewhad finally tired of splashing through puddles. He preferredinstead to look skywards through a jigsaw of umbrellas,at stilt walkers and unicyclists somehow managing asafe passage through the crowds.

The delicious organic doughnuts were all the proofwe needed that everything here must be good for you.We explored the world of Dutch pancakes, Tibetan prayerwheels and Himalayan momos while navigating a site planwhere all paths lead back to the Chai Tent – acandlelit giant cubby house for adults. It's whereschoolies meet their wise elders. It's where timepasses too quickly, or you have the all night conversationyou'll never forget. At night, hundreds of youngpeople lie around on cushions, or tread the path betweenthe tent and the herbal high stall and back again.

For most of its history, the image of the WoodfordFolk Festival has been of hippy hedonism at large, andfor those people – if they really do exist - whostill somehow can't get over 1969. But despiteits leaning toward bohemian dress and the "peaceand music" ethos, the Woodford is very much abouthere and now.

These days a Woodford child seems less counter culturethan hyper culture. They're not angry or anti,just enthusiastically immersed in play. In this village,with its feel good spirit of harmony, young people havea safe place to party.

And the program itself keeps the festival fresh. Thisyear's highlights included French band BabylonCircus, a high energy, all action gypsy ska outfit.Taikoz, a group of Australo-Japanese drummers, had heartsbeating with electrifying taiko rhythms. Aussie bandsToothfaeries and Doch had festivalgoers leaping, whileThe Siberian Circus team put on astounding aerial shows.

By the fourth day the mud starts to smell faintlyrotten but the carnival atmosphere is even more vibrant.Mud gets gluggier and anyone still in thongs will findthey create a suction that can flick coin sized mudballs onto fellow folk. But fear not the rage of strangers,this is Woodford and mud can't hurt us now.

They say a culture is contagious. The Woodford cultureand atmosphere is truly infectious. Despite the densityof people and the challenging weather, there'san undeniable lack of agitation in the crowd. Maybeit's a credit to the entrance staff (the jovialarmy of volunteers) who set the tone with a warm greetingand a wide grin. Or perhaps, in the spirit of all festivalspast, people just know to arrive with a child'sunbreakable enthusiasm and a sturdy pair of gumboots.It's everything you need.

Photo courtesy: The Woodward Folk Festival

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