by Isaac Gregor
We take exit 85 towards Kilcoy, heading north and finally fracturing off from the languid crawl of Boxing Day traffic – the mad rush to slow down begins with a traffic jam. It feels appropriate, knowing that over the next six days and nights we will join an estimated 132,000 people strolling through the same attentively planned roads and softly lit pathways to the Woodford Folk Festival.
Since the festival’s inception in the hills of Maleny, it’s now enjoyed an extended sojourn of 25 years at the Woodford site attended by a strong cohort of returnees. Despite the long tradition of the festival, it’s ever-evolving; new venues, new bitumen and the expressive crew of artists and volunteers means at face value, and deeper, the anatomy of the Woodfordian community shifts and contorts, much like the limbs of one of this year’s performing artists, Leo the Human Gumby.
The arteries to the heart of Woodfordia are by no means smooth – naturally uneven and carved over many moons of tender care, the vessels can lead you from the fierce red coals of the Paradijsvogelstraat (Bird of Paradise Street) forge to the labyrinth of stalls serving meals and cuisines from just about every corner of the world.
The true immersion into the festival fantasy world begins as hordes of patrons snake up the Low Road towards to the amphitheatre for the Opening Ceremony, a truly eclectic and engaging performance with perfect weather which Uncle Noel Blair and the Jinibara peoples cheekily took credit for in their welcome to country.
Thousands of faces flickered in the opening ceremony firelight as performance artists circled each other with tall lengths of sparkling bamboo poles, looking around at the blanket of faces gently layering the hills surrounding the Amphitheatre. This years’ theme of connectivity solidified and created a tangible atmosphere of expression and acceptance.
Bill Hauritz, founder of the WFF, acknowledges the “tremendous change” taking place in society.
You only need to amble around the festival for a short while to take stock of Uncle Noel’s confession that “every year just gets better and better.”
This year marks the first inclusion of Griffith University students in the well-established, high-energy media centre of Woodfordia. Under the watchful eye of Griffith University lecturer Nance Haxton, eight journalism students have made the pilgrimage to Australia’s largest gathering of speakers, musicians and artists.