This blog post is going to be a big one because I have so much to say about the Woodford Folk Festival and because, well I’m a photographer and apparently, I take lots of photos. This was such a seriously magical adventure. From what I know of, there is no festival like this in Canada. The only thing that comes a little close to it is the Hillside Festival in Guelph. Last spring it was decided that I would be spending Christmas and a couple of weeks post in Australia, after photographing a wedding in New Zealand on December 22nd. I quickly made plans to spend the Christmas holidays with my great friend Katie and her beautiful family. Quickly she said that she wanted to go to the Woodford Folk Festival, something that she has always wanted to do. At first I was unsure, it seemed like a big commitment and also seemed like something out of my usual but then I thought, “What the heck?! When will you ever get this opportunity again?” So I bought my ticket and went in with no expectations.
The Woodford Folk Festival is held annually from December 27th until January 1st on a 500-acre property located near Woodford, Queensland Australia which is about an hour north of Brisbane. Every year about 150,000 people attend this festival, one that includes not only music but also comedy, workshops, lectures, dance, art – basically anything that you can imagine. You can experience Woodford in a couple of ways: you can buy day passes for any specific (or all!) day(s) or you can choose to camp for the entire six days. We chose the latter – go big or go home. If you want to really experience Woodford, this is the only way to do it. Tickets for Woodford go on sale in the spring and they offer a 25% discount if you buy yours at this time. I paid about $400 for my Seasons with camping ticket which included six days of camping plus entrance to the festival. To me, this was ridiculously inexpensive.
The drive from Brisbane to Woodford is a gorgeous one. You drive past the Glass House Mountains that are just incredible to see. I also saw kangaroos and I just new that this was going to be an amazing experience. The festival is located literally beside a field with cows.
As I said, camping is the only way to truly experience Woodford. There are no designated spots so it works on a first come basis. You can pay extra money to arrive on December 26th if you want to be sure to get a good spot. We arrived around midday on the 27th and were surprised by how many people had already arrived and set up camp.
The roads had cute little names and after the first day, we pretty much knew our way around the campground. Since we were traveling with kids, we opted for a site that was further from the action (crowds!) and also one that was on a hill. In past years, Woodford usually gets pounded with rain so we wanted to make sure that our site did not become a river. The walk from our campsite to the festival entrance was about fifteen to twenty minutes. Going there was fine but coming home at night was mostly uphill so we definitely got our exercise in. There is a shuttle that runs throughout the camping area and drops you off at the festival entrance every half hour which we did take a couple of times.
We traveled with a trailer where Katie and her family slept and I had my own tent. Camping here was different than what I am used to here in Canada. First off, there are no animals like bears or raccoons so you do not have to worry about any critters getting into your food and garbage. I slept in my tent on a cot – being off of the ground made me feel like I was camping in luxury. Katie and Rob’s trailer has solar power with a fridge and stove plus running water so we were able to have breakfast and chai in the morning here. We could also charge our iPhones. There are flush toilets and cold showers everywhere. If you go in the afternoon, there isn’t even a line-up. There were signs everywhere about conserving water and they asked to limit showers to one minute long.
While there were nothing like bears or raccoons to worry about here, there were definitely critters of other sorts. This beautiful spider made a web in the trailer. The one evening we were walking to the festival when Rob yelled, “Snake!” just as I was about to step on said snake. At first he thought that it was a Brown Snake but it turned out to “just be a python.” We don’t have things like deadly snakes and spiders in Ontario (well barely) so this was something new for me. When camping in Australia, watch out for the little guys. Keep your tent zippers done up and always check your shoes before putting them on. Another fun thing about Australia, is the Flying Foxes (basically they are really big bats). One night I saw about thirty of them all flying in the same direction, soaring at different levels. It was a pretty magical sight. Katie told me that when you see that many together, it’s a sign of a change about to happen. I liked this.
December and January is prime summertime in Australia and the weather at Woodford was hot, hot, hot. We stuck to the shade as best as we could because man, did that sun belt down at us. I was constantly applying my SPF 60 sunscreen. I often wore my scarf over my shoulders in the afternoon to avoid getting burnt and I had my hat on during the entire time that the sun was out. I am happy to say that I avoided getting sunburnt (although I definitely did get a few new freckles!). Constantly drinking water is definitely a necessity here.
Comfortable footwear was a key for Woodford because you sure put in the miles walking around here. I brought these yellow flats and wore them everyday knowing that they would be destroyed by the end of the festival. Since we basically did not get any rain, everything was a big dust pit. I am not sure that my feet were ever actually clean for the entire six days. I happily threw these shoes out the second I got back to Brisbane.
The musical line-up this year at Woodford was incredible. I was happily surprised that there was so much Canadian content. There was a ton of Canadian government sponsorship and I was pretty proud of this. There were about five stages throughout the festival that had music and the tunes were going from midday until midnight at all of them. If you didn’t find an act that you liked here, well, you just must not be a big music fan. I honestly found it a big overwhelming when trying to decide who we should go see play. Often times, we would just choose to wander around until we found something that we liked.
One of the bands that a lot of people were talking about at the festival was the Montreal band Half Moon Run. I had seen them play once in Toronto so was excited to see them play again. They played four times at Woodford and I caught three of those sets. They are such a great band and I highly recommend seeing them if you get the chance. I also caught Hawksley Workman who is always a delight to see play. There was a Canadian showcase called O’Canada with Hawksley, Andy Brown, Dave Gunning and Tim Chaisson which was great. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings played a couple of sets. I have seen them play many times in Toronto so it was fun to see them bring the same energy down under. We also saw the beautiful Julia Stone and Kate Miller-Heidke play one night at the amphitheatre I was blown away by both of them and totally bought their albums when I got home. Jon Butler Trio was also incredible. Jon seems like such a genuine and real person that you cannot help but be mesmerized when seeing him perform live.
Simply wandering around the festival and taking it all in was one of the best things at Woodford. Often Katie and I just wanted to stop and people watch. There were artists and actors all dressed up and performing everywhere which made the experience a lot of fun. There were a couple of ladies dressed in pink as “traffic ladies” who gave our little five year old Pearl a “ticket” for being a “cheeky pedestrian”. She thought it was hilarious.
Of course, I, the photographer, got asked to take photos for other people. 🙂
The food and drink choices were immense at Woodford and all of the prices were reasonable considering it was a festival. We never went hungry or thirsty here. Common Ground had great tofu burgers and the Mexican place had great quesadillas. Katie and I got addicted to this Green Drink that included silverbeet, kale & broccoli greens, grapefruit juice, orange juice, yerba mate green tea, apple juice, honey, apples and linseed. Seriously, it was delicious. There were also bars/pubs scattered throughout the festival where you could have a cold beer or cider. And I had to have a flat white every morning (the Aussie version of coffee with milk).
One of the biggest things talked about at this year’s festival was the Chai Tent. We heard from a number of people who attend Woodford every year about how there was big change with the Chai Tent. It was in a different location then normal and was apparently much smaller then in the past. We liked it all the same and went for a chai almost every afternoon. People would hang out there for hours. I found it very peaceful. Plus, they had amazing vegan, gluten-free cake. 🙂
The vendors at Woodford were great and I did a lot of shopping here. In fact, pretty much all of the gifts that I bought for my family on my trip were purchased here. I bought a great shirt for Josh that has a Llama wearing headphones from an organic clothing company called My Heart Beats Green.
I fell in love with a vendor called Wear Ya Bin and visited their booth many times before buying a necklace. There you could make your own custom necklace with typewriter letters, Scrabble tiles and different charms. With encouragement from the owner, I chose about seven charms to hang from my own necklace. The idea is to tell your own story with the ones you choose. My favourite is the Scrabble piece that reads, “She believe she could so she did.”
Another favourite booth that we discovered was Burlap Cottage. We were on our way to meet Rob one morning when we suddenly discovered this booth and we quickly got distracted by the pretty. We stopped, dug through everything and came out with bracelets, earrings and thoughts of when we could return (and we did!).
The workshops at Woodford were one of the best things there. You can choose to sign up in advance for them but we were not that organised so it was the first thing that we did on day one of the festival. The workshops cost extra money and are limited to a number of participants. Katie and I did three workshops and by far my favourite one was making a melon basket. I can be a pretty crafty girl when I put my mind (and time!) to it and this is definitely thanks to my very talented Mom but never have I ever woven a basket before. I had not idea how they were even made. Anaheke Metua taught the class and I was pretty proud of myself when I was done. Guys, I made a real life basket! Anaheke said that your first basket should be given away so I gave mine to Katie but at least I have some pretty photos to prove that I did make it. Anaheke is such a talented fibre artist and it was a real pleasure to learn from her.
The second workshop that we did was to make the above pendant. I basically laughed throughout the entire process because, well, all we did was bend some wire. But it was still fun to make and I am happy with the end-result.
The last workshop that Katie and I did was the woven spiral. Anaheke taught this workshop alongside some other talented weavers. They each taught a different weaving technique and we made sprials out of natural fibres that are native to Australia. Once you learn the basics of these, you can make basically anything from rugs to baskets to water bottle holders.
We also did a weaving workshop with an Auntie who showed us how to make fish and grasshoppers out of palm leaves. How cool is that?!
There were two very awesome events at Woodford. Since the festival runs over New Year’s Eve, they do a special ceremony to bring in the new year. At 11:30pm that night, there was three minutes of silence. How 100,000 people were suddenly quiet for three whole minutes was unbelievable but I expereienced it so I know that it happened. We sat around the Village Green and birthday candles were passed around. Everyone lit them and for three minutes the only sound was the cicadas. It was truly magical. Check out the video below to see for yourself** (Actually, for the life of me, I cannot get this video to embed. Is is just embedding the second video. To see the moment of silence video, please click here.)
On New Year’s Day, Woodford hosts the Closing Fire Event at the Amphitheatre. We settled on the hill in front of the amphitheatre early to get a good spot. Immediately two things happened: we saw a kangaroo bouncing around above us going a little wild and then a few minutes later a pram with a baby inside went bombing down the hill. Luckily the baby (and the man that the pram hit!) were fine. But we were definitely shaken up! At Woodford there was a big ship beside the amphitheatre stage throughout the entire festival and every night, there were “offerings” given to it. Throughout the festival, there were boxes where you could put pieces of paper that you wrote your wishes for the coming year on. These boxes were then delivered to the ship on January 1st. There was a lantern procession and a large choir that sang. They then set the ship on fire. It was a seriously beautiful thing to watch. Again, you can watch a video of it below.
Tips for Woodford Folk Festival
• Woodford wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the thousands of volunteers there. Be nice to them.
• There is great programming there for kids with everything from Pirate School to a flea circus. The kids area of the festival is fun and safe with ample amount of shade.
• You will get lost for the first couple of days. This place is big and everything looks the same!
• Drink lots of water – bring your own reusable bottle. There are stations where you can pay to refill your own bottle for very little money. Hydration is the key when you are sweating all day.
• Having a car here is useful but not necessary. If it rains a lot, I can imagine that you would want one, even just to use to hide out in. But, you don’t need one to go to Woodford whether camping or not. There are buses that run from everywhere, including the Brisbane airport, that will take you to the festival.
• Bring cash. I only saw one ATM, bank machine or as the Australians call it EFTPOS here. The fee to use it was about $3 which was not that much more than any other one that I had used in Australia. However, I recommend paying cash for everything here. A lot of the vendors do not accept credit cards or debit and when they do, they charge you extra to use it.
• Power. There is no electricity at the campsites but they do have an internet cafe and phone charging booth near the entrance. The cost was relatively cheap to use both. There was also a booth at Woodford selling solar phone chargers which I thought was brilliant – and apparently everyone else did as well because they were sold out on day one!
• Caboolture is a nearby town that sells everything. We drove up and down a strip of it a few times buying supplies and they had every store you could imagine. Say, for example, that the tent you were meant to sleep in turned out to be a wee bit to small for you, Caboolture is a perfect town to dip into to buy a larger one. 🙂 (Still one of the funniest times of my entire trip!)
P.S. Pretty much any photo that you see of me in this post is thanks to Katie! Thanks for sharing the photos! x