A perennial favourite in the Australian festival calendar for 36 years, the iconic Woodford Folk Festival returns with another massive program from 27 December 2023 to 1 January 2024.
The schedule is staggering in its diversity, quality and expression of the cultural zeitgeist. The Woodford Folk Festival is a week-long celebration of incredible creative depth and cultural diversity.
It’s a place where lawyer, academic and Indigenous policy advisor, Noel Pearson takes to the stage to address festival-goers while 50 metres away, DeJa Voodo hosts Juju Jungle, a mesmerising menagerie of marvels where cabaret meets mind-bending art.
It’s where multiple Walkley-Award winning journalist Tracey Spicer AM warns of the bigotry embedded in AI technology while Australia’s Queen of Burlesque, Imogen Kelly runs a talk and workshop on breast health and burlesque.
Listen to Federal Arts Minister Tony Burke discusses the magic of art while Austral teach Irish dance steps, and where Dr Karl lectures on great moments in science while artists like Regurgitator rev a crowd up to fever pitch.
It’s also where beloved Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiadis hops off stage at the biggest venue onsite to grab a snack before jumping up later that night with his party band, The More Please Orchestra.
“We see the end of the year – Woodford time – as a time for revelling and reckoning, for recreating ourselves and gathering hope and goodwill around us to bring into a new year,” says Festival Director, Woodfordia’s Managing Director and Co-Founder, Amanda Jackes.
“We do this, along with our community, by inviting intelligent debate, creating diverse opportunities for reflection, and fuelling brilliant celebration.”
The 2023 / 2024 program include household names include first time visitor, Ben Lee, who, alongside his regular stage show, is also dropping a DJ set as DJ DadBod. Locals will love the Brisbane-centric line up of Resin Dogs, Regurgitator and Custard, as well as the massive AFRO DIZZI ACT all-star show.
Voices you’ll recognise from television also have a strong presence – Karise Eden (The Voice) and Isaiah Firebrace (The X Factor Australia, Eurovision – Australia Decides) are well-known to fans, but both first time visitors to the festival.
A cavalcade of incredible musicians and returning artists are set for the festival’s biggest stages, including Kasey Chambers, Kate Miller-Heidke, ARIA nominee Mo’Ju, Yirrmal, FourPlay String Quartet, Leah Flanagan, and Wanderers.
They will be joined by quickly rising stars and Woodfordian first timers like Go-Jo, Odette, A.Girl, Haiku Hands, Bumpy, Aya Ives, Steph Strings, Loretta, Late November and Felicity Urquhart and Josh Cunningham (The Waifs).
International visitors The East Pointers (Canada) are returning to their Australian ‘home’ to Woodfordia after the immeasurable loss of their banjo player, Koady Chaisson, for three huge shows.
The traditions of Scotland are represented by wonderful singer/songwriter Dougie Maclean, multi-award winning contemporary traditional three-piece Assynt, incredible fiddler Ryan Young, award-wining vocalist Hannah Rarity, and Irish/Scottish outfit, Dallahan, who as well as playing their own shows, will gather together on New Years’ Eve for a Hogmanay celebration.
Formidable singer songwriter Lisa O’Neill and the legendary Andy Irvine are visiting from Ireland, and trekking out from the United States are psychedelic Panamanian Kansas City-based band Making Movies and sensational cabaret star, Rizo.
Bosnia’s intriguing, ground-breaking Sevdalinka interpreter and composer, Božo Vre?o visits for the first time, and from Tibet via India, Japan and Australia, the beloved Monks of Tibet, Tenzin Kunsang and Tenzin Choegyal present the rituals, song and dances of Tibet. In collaboration with What the French… Woodford also welcomes Colours in the Street (Alex Colours), Cécile Lacharme and Hugo Barriol for the first dates of their Australian tour.
Indigenous representation has always been a foundation of Woodfordia and this is evident with powerful speakers and presenters such as Noel Pearson, Linda Burney MP, Leeanne Enoch MP, Lyndon Murphy, Mary Graham and Morgan Brigg who are raising their voices in conversation and debate.
Rhoda Roberts AO presents her perennially popular series, Ancient Culture, New Conversations, in which she explores artist’s creative work and cultural experience – this year: Yirrmal; Charlie Needs Braces; Isaiah Firebrace and Dr Shellie Morris AO.
Sharing the experiences and culture of remote Australia, Dr Shellie Morris AO and the Borooloola Cultural Songwomen sing to maintain and revive Indigenous languages, and The Traditional Healing Women of North East Arnhemland visit to share important cultural traditions, a huge undertaking and important part of this year’s event.
Functioning art gallery and laundromat The Blak Laundry is activated by Libby Harward and Dominique Chen, and revolves around a simple concept: bring your dirty linen, pop it on a warm wash, and engage in critical conversation whilst it cleans.
Traditional Custodian and Jinibara delegate to the festival, Uncle Noel Blair releases his autobiography, Man on a Mission, after popping down to meet this year’s crop of Woodfordian kids at the eight venue Children’s Festival.
“While there are a lot of broadly recognisable names on the programme, as a community-based festival it’s really important to us that there are lots of opportunities for patrons to interact with artists, presenters and ideas that they can keep up with post-Woodford,” said Programme Manager, Courtney Wild. “We are a folk festival, after all.”
This is where curated events and series like the Music Camp, which is put together by Alan and Kristin Kelly from the award-winning Barleyshakes, and the Sunny Coast Feature, which is presented in collaboration with Andrea Kirwin and PeaceRun Records, come into play, alongside local artists, speakers and presenters and the extensive visual arts and crafts workshop programme in Artisan Alley. One such artist is Kris Martin, who’s been showing patrons how to weave baskets and other useful items from the invasive Cat’s Claw weed for many years.
There are opportunities to see new projects from beloved artists, such as Kooralbyn, an ensemble which includes Grammy nominated artist Tenzin Choegyal, Kacey Patrick (Stringmansassy), and Flamenco Fire’s Andrew Veivers, and Yirinda, a powerful and timely collaboration between Butchulla songman Fred Leone and well-known musical innovator Sam Pankhurst.
Singer songwriters telling the stories of contemporary Australia include Michael Waugh, Kelly Cork, Maggie Rigby (The Maes), Alana Wilkinson, and those making jokes about it include comedy programme curator Sandeep Totlani, Fiona Scott-Norman, Harley Breen, Urvi Majumdar, Ting Lim, Nicolette Minster, Dane Simpson, Michael Connell, Nick Capper, Mandy Nolan, and Daniel Muggleton.
The Spoken Word programme explores an enormous diversity of age, gender, sexuality and cultural experience, and includes poets Gabrielle Journey Jones, Sarah Lock, Lucy Wylie, Peter Mace, Oliver Roweth, Luke Robinson, Jason Roweth, CJ Shaw and one of Australia’s leading folklorists and performers, Keith McHenry.
On the night of the 1 January 2024, the festival community will gather for one of the festival’s most beloved ceremonies, now titled The Renewal. This year organisers have moved away from the burning of a spectacular fire structure to a ritual where the village expresses its dreams for the future.
Directors Linsey Pollak and Mark Bromilow along with Visual Projection Artist Craig Walsh will work with a large cast to bring the festival dreams to life with A Village Dreams – a ceremony marking the significance of the renewal of the new year and hopes for all our future.
If you’ve never been to the Woodford Folk Festival, you won’t understand how programmes like morning Hilltop and Village Green yoga and tai-chi sessions, and a full programme of cultural dance and movement classes can exist alongside sparkling circus and rambunctious cabaret explosions from the Cirque and Parlour venues.
This year’s program includes: Head First Acrobatics, Betty Grumble, the 3rd year of the Queer Ball, Imogen Kelly, The Birdmann and Egg, Dr Hubble’s Bubbles, Kaput, Backbone Young Creators, Rema: To Emit Light – the premiere of a collaboration between Rako Pasifika, Rindi Harradine and Chelsea McGuffin Productions – and more.
It won’t be 100% clear how the strings of fiddles, guitars and mandolins ring out constantly in sessions at The Craic while the beloved Pineapple Lounge hosts crams nine-piece band onto a stage made for three and dances the night away with hours of some of the best local DJs.
How can Woodfordia’s streets be constantly alive with giant puppets like The Elder and Emir, stilt-walkers, fantastical creatures and ambassadors from other lands (The Fae, created by Folly Games) while Robin Clayfield’s ceremony builders lovingly tend visitors walking The Sacred Union Labyrinth in quiet contemplation?
“Thanks to the support of our patrons, volunteers and our Federal and State governments, the Woodford Folk Festival is the size of a very large town,” says Amanda Jackes. “So you can expect to have the kind of experiences you might have in a town entirely dedicated to arts, the environment and cultural expression in a six day stay.
Plus, of course the additional benefits of long bush walks, swims in the beautiful freshwater Lake Gkula, and the comfort of your own home-away-from-home at your campsite. We love our festival. We hope that love is evident when you look through our programme to decide how you’ll take part at Woodfordia this year.”
The 2024 Woodford Folk Festival runs 27 December 2023 to 1 January 2024. For more information and full program, visit: www.woodfordfolkfestival.com for details.
Images: Welcome Ceremony 2022 | Ben Lee | The Blak Laundry | Head First Acrobats – all photos courtesy of Woodford Folk Festival