A few months ago, we decided it would be fun to volunteer at a music festival, so we applied for Woodford Folk Festival, in Queensland. Now, here we are, working behind a bar for five hours a day and enjoying lots of music the rest of the time with a free festival/camping pass.
They say it rains a lot here and, following its reputation, the skies unleashed all that they had on the first evening. We huddled under our waterproof jackets and watched the opening ceremony, with its fireworks, mist and music, before escaping to shelter and drinking beers and ciders in one of the many bars. Despite the rainy first evening, it was surprisingly sunny and dry for the remainder of the festival.
Some of the highlights have included the amazing Michael Franti, who had the whole crowd jumping to his beat. In his last song, he leapt off the stage, continued singing and made it half way up the amphitheatre hill before performing his way back through the crowd and onto the stage. His energy was contagious and inspiring. I was also thrilled to see Tin Pan Orange, who had the audience entranced with haunting melodies. Josh Pyke was a crowd-pleaser and it was nice to chill out to his familiar tunes.
I was similarly impressed by San Cisco, who had a large fan club of teenage girls shouting out ‘I love you’ at the top of their lungs whenever the lead singer said a word! Other great acts included Courtney Barnett, All Our Exes Live in Texas, The Formidable Vegetable Sound System and Tijuana Cartel. The music was brilliant!
Woodford Folk Festival is not like your normal music festival. It is more like a small community, tucked into the mountains and living a relaxed, creative lifestyle for a week, where you can be whoever you want and do whatever you please (mostly)! There are hundreds of craft workshops, from making your own didgeridoo or drum, to learning how to do body painting, pottery or bookbinding. There are also lots of stalls, selling delicious festival food and arts and crafts.
Key politicians and activists speak about current environmental and social issues in various tents. You can watch the circus performing their tricks every day, or if you want to get more involved, you can pick up some juggling balls or learn how to spin the diablo yourself.
We camped our van in The Prairies, complete with tarp verandah and mandala sarong to mark our spot. From here, we would take the long trek up Lois Lane each day in the hot sun to make it into the festival.
Most of our shifts at the Garland Bar were during the day, so we had the night to do as we pleased. However, I really enjoyed working in our beautiful bar. The entire ceiling was covered in flowers of reds and pinks and the Garland Stage was right in front of us, so that in our down time, we could watch all the live acts. I had never worked in a bar before, so it was really fun learning something new. By the end of our first shift, I had mastered the art of pouring a beer and was enjoying making our signature cocktail, the cucumber mint gin fizz, topped with colourful, edible flowers!
Because Woodford Folk Festival is a non-for-profit festival run off thousands of volunteers who come back year after year, everyone is very relaxed and friendly and the festival has been running for 30 years. Whilst it is estimated to bring in 100,000 people this year, it doesn’t feel too crowded spread out over the entire week. There are a lot of day visitors, as well as those with the weekly pass, so the festival caters for everyone. If you have children, there is a whole alternative program for them!
The thing I love most about this festival is the attitude of the people. Everyone is very welcoming, inclusive and supportive. The crowds are lively and always ready for a dance. People are patient and understanding, even if things go wrong! During a circus performance, the hoop lady accidentally dropped her hoop and it went flying into the little girl in the front row. She didn’t shed a tear and the show went on as usual. It’s nice to know there are still a lot of people who realise that mistakes are only human and that you don’t need to enforce rules every time something goes wrong.
Another thing I love about Woodford is the generosity of the people. One day, we brought a ukulele into the festival to keep ourselves occupied during down time. When we went to buy our coffee, the man behind the stall said we could have it for free if we played him a song. Of course, I took him up on the offer at once and, after playing a rendition of Vance Joy’s Riptide, we walked away beaming, with a cappuccino and a long black in our hands, and our wallets still full!
The food here is wonderful! We tried to do a lot of our own cooking to save on costs, but ended up finding some cheaper deals, which made eating out affordable. Volunteers had access to some great deals, like the delicious half price gozleme, filled with melted cheese, spinach and mushroom. We also enjoyed the all-vegetarian wood-fired pizzas, served on butchers paper. Govindas was another highlight. This store served $5 bowls of dahl and rice, curries, kofta balls and other vegetarian treats.
You can get food from all over the world, from Thai, Malaysian and Indian, though to Mexican burritos, Italian pizzas, beer-battered sweet potato chips and aioli, organic donuts from Byron Bay, cheap burgers and Turkish cuisine. The list goes on! We would often accompany our meals with a beer at one of the several bars around the festival, or take our feast to the circus and watch some juggling and acrobats!
The festival started on the 27th December and ran for six days, so the lead up to the new year was exciting. Of course, I had to make some resolutions for 2016. I know some people don’t believe in them and, yes, I agree that resolutions can be made any time throughout the year. But still, I always like to reflect on the past year and set new goals for the next.
Resolutions for 2016
- continue weekly blog posts and try to gain at least 100 followers.
- work/travel overseas
- Write at least 4 new songs.
- Perform at least 4 open mic nights.
- Learn at least 10 songs on the ukulele.
- become proficient in speaking beginner German.
- Learn how to use digital SLR camera.
- experiment with watercolour painting and develop a portfolio of art.
- become a better surfer.
On New Year’s Eve, we made our way up to the amphitheatre and settled on the hill for some live music. At 11.30pm, following in the tradition of Woodford, everybody lit candles and had a three minute silence to reflect on the past, present and future. It was a magical moment, with thousands of people sitting in silent candlelight. The Paul McKenna Band helped count down to the new year, before seeing 2016 in with the traditional folk tune of Auld Lang Syne. The night continued with great dancing at some of the other stages, until we trundled back up and over the hill to our van.
Happy New Year everybody!!!
The next day, we had our final shift at the Garland Bar, before heading up with all the crew to the amphitheatre once again for the closing ceremony. It was an impressive show, about regeneration and growth. It began with a lantern parade, where all those people who had made lanterns throughout the festival walked slowly in, to the songs of the choir.
There were eagles, leaves, bees and flowers, along with lots of tiny lanterns. Later, an Aboriginal man created a ring of fire and the impressive, humble giant, Old Man Viktor and his faithful companion entered the arena, becoming part of the magical story that was to take place, complete with dance, song and fire displays.
The highlight of the spectacle was when the Woodford tree was lit up with fireworks, to display fresh green leaves and pink flowers. Then, as the tree burst into flames, its ash covered the sky like gold stardust and people in the audience blew bubbles that floated magically away into the darkness.
Woodford Folk Festival has certainly been a wonderful way to begin 2016. I’m looking forward to sharing many more adventures with you all this year, as we make our way up the coast of Queensland, into the tropics.