The largest gathering of artists and performers of its kind in Australia, one of country’s most iconic annual events, the Woodford Folk Festival, is back this December, with its most ambitious programme ever.
In its 34th year, Woodford Folk Festival showcases more than 2000 artists, musicians and presenters in over 400 acts, over 25 venues to an estimated audience of 132,000 people. The festival begins with the iconic Opening Ceremony and closes with the spectacular Fire Event on New Year’s Day.
“Festivals are as old as our species and vital to our evolutionary being. They are the birthplace of commerce; the genesis of innovation and they help contribute to a humane and progressive society. Woodford Folk Festival aspires to be one of those,” says Festival Director Bill Hauritz. “Written into the human psyche is the need to remove ourselves from the humdrum of everyday life, to express ourselves and together celebrate our very existence.”
The festival theme, Imagining a Beautiful Future, aims to encourage organisers, artists and patrons alike to explore the ways in which we might counteract some of the negative rhetoric surrounding the future of the world. Hauritz is, however, aware that optimism can be a dangerous thing, explaining that: “We don’t want to inspire false hope, but together, if we can imagine a brighter, more promising future, we’ll make one,” he said.
“Troubadours in medieval times carried the news, sang the stories and painted pictures of governments, places, wars and beauty. Musicians and artists were held in high regard. Woodford Folk Festival aims to create a platform where artists, speakers, comedians and scholars can profess their views in the ancient troubadour traditions.”
“It’s about the here and the now, where we come from and visualising a clearer path to our future. It’s through these artists, their spirit, their words and their passion that we can together, discover our beautiful future. We truly hope that this year’s programme inspires, excites and challenges all of our patrons the way it does us,” added Hauritz.
This year, Woodfordia will play host to the likes of modern-day troubadours, Kasey Chambers, playing the festival for the first time; Emma Louise playing from her Lilac Everything album; Amanda Palmer on her ground-breaking, There Will Be No Intermission tour; Lior playing his full Autumn Flow album with band and strings; and Horrorshow and The Herd heading up a 21st birthday bash for the Elefant Traks label.
Though 65% of the programme are completely new-to-the-festival artists and presenters, patrons will enjoy much-loved returnees including Kate Miller-Heidke, Harry Manx, Electric Fields and Archie Roach in his first shows with Paul Grabrowsky for his Tell Me Why memoir and accompanying album.
As always, the programme offers the equivalent of a full festival programme of speakers and panel discussions, which this year features, the incomparable Dr Karl; Leigh Sales interviewing Michael Gudinski; visiting US guest and author of Biology of Belief, Dr Bruce Lipton; journalist Kerry O’Brien with Noel Pearson; and Rhoda Roberts (AO) in her annual Ancient Culture, New Conversations series, amongst over 100 others.
For those patrons with a penchant for the wonderfully weird, Woodford Folk Festival presents a Circus & Cabaret programme full of delicious debauchery and dizzying theatrics. Amongst this glittering line-up is Australia’s favourite trash glamour disco circus, Briefs Factory; surreal showgirl, obscene beauty queen and sex clown, Betty Grumble; and Woodfordian regular, Mario Queen of the Circus.
Also on offer will be Australia’s premier Indigenous showgirl, Constantina Bush – who will take patrons on a humorous journey filled with songs that have shaped her life; and Amanda Palmer’s Weep Fest – where she invites the audience to join her in crying away the troubles of the old year, until they become tears of joy, gratitude and hope for the new.
The Children’s Festival for the first time hosts the ever engaging and inspirational, dirtgirl – playing her hit songs of hope and love for the planet, alongside workshops such as Wind Chimes from Waste and talks about reusing, recycling, natural building and sustainability.
In their ongoing exploration of the art of celebration, typified by the now-iconic Welcome Ceremony and Fire Event, Woodford Folk Festival seeks out performers from all corners of the globe. As well as a plentiful selection of homegrown talent – Harry James Angus of The Cat Empire, Lime Cordiale and Sydney hip-hop duo, Horrowshow to name a few – this year’s international acts includes a bevy of Canadian mates.
Snowbird writer Gene MacLellan’s daughter, the JUNO-winning Catherine Maclellan; adopted Woodfordians, The East Pointers; electrifying lyricist, Basia Bulat; and Jeremy Dutcher, the Polaris Music Prize winner, classically trained operatic tenor and composer who blends his Wolastoq First Nation roots into his music.
From our neighbours in the Pacific comes internationally renowned artist/activist, Mama Mihirangi (NZ) and her traditional female dancers, The Mareikura, in a powerful and fierce all-female Maori world-roots production.
The world tour doesn’t end there however, with 30+ international groups represented in this year’s programme including the Boban Markovic Orkestar (SERB), The Brother Brothers (USA), Brighde Chaimbeul (SCOT), Elephant Sessions (SCOT), Blair Dunlop (ENG), Lucy Farrell (ENG), The Kimono Band (JAP), Tio (VANUATU) and Monks of Tibet (NEPAL).
Zooming back in on home soil, four indigenous languages will be taught at the festival this year and in celebration of the UNESCO International Year of Indigenous Languages, Woodford Folk Festival will host the launch of the Mudburra/English Dictionary. This important publication is the result of a five-year collaboration between linguists at the University of Queensland and the Mudburra community of the Northern Territory.
The festival also welcomes its first visit from the Traditional Women Healers of North East Arnhem Land – important Elders and their daughters and granddaughters, who will wake up the Talking Circle each morning, telling stories for children and families and sharing their bush medicine, used as part of sacred knowledge for healing and smoking ceremonies.
A decade of Shampine and late-night dancefloor antics will be celebrated at the Pineapple Lounge this year, complete with strictly-vinyl sets from DJ DNO and a specially curated house band.
The Blues Breakfast BBQ will this year be hosted by The Kevin Borich Express, headed up by Australian Blues Hall of Fame inductee, the legendary Kevin Borich. Patrons can enjoy snags hot off the barbie along with tunes and tales from the best of the Blues programme.
High-energy duo and cherished Woodfordian regulars, Hat Fitz and Cara are back, joining the line-up alongside Jeff Lang, Karen Lee Andrews, This Way North, Buddy Knox and international guests, Mike Love and the Full Circle (USA) and Emily Barker (ENG).
On the first day of the new year, patrons will be lucky enough to watch the sun slip below the horizon whilst listening to a reading from Neil Gaiman, multi-award winning, #1 New York Times Bestselling author of over a dozen books beloved by adults and children alike including, American Gods, Coraline and Stardust.
Featured alongside Gaiman in the Word Comedy programme is witty wordsmith, 25-year-old Nina Oyama, stand-up comedian, co-creator and star of ABC’s The Angus Project; as well as the warm, lightning-paced comedic stylings of Nikki Britton.
As always, Woodford Folk Festival presents extraordinary female talent including Dyson Stringer Cloher, each incredible songwriters and powerful performers in their own right, join forces in an Aussie trio to be reckoned with.
Sydney-based Okenyo’s beautifully poised and deeply evocative storytelling enriches the waters of neo-soul, while Papua New Guinean born Ngaiire, explores the challenge of cultural adjustment. Other women to watch include, Handsome, Sahara Beck, Charlie Collins, SONiA disappear fear, Tia Gostelow, Laura Hyde and folk/pop sister duo, Oh Harlow.
Flicking through the 145 page programme quickly confirms what those who have attended the festival before will tell you – you won’t be able to see it all. Organisers strive to create a sense-tingling and immersive festival experience, liking it to exploring a new town – park up, settle into base camp and go for a wander.
The 34th Woodford Folk Festival runs 27 December 2019 – 1 January 2020. For more information, and complete program, visit: www.woodfordfolkfestival.com for details.
Image: Amanda Palmer – photo by Allan Amato