Here is something you may or may not know about me: at age 13, with a few stage productions and paid extra work under my belt, I would have told you I was destined to have a star on the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard. It was a long shot and as the years passed, so too did my desire for the limelight.
Prior to leaving the U.S. last year I was on a career path heavily rooted in event coordination and peppered with some media production, so if you would have told me that I’d spend the week between Christmas and New Year as a crew member of a spectacle theater team performing in front of 30,000 people at a folk festival, I’m not sure what my response would have been. Mixed at best.
Be that as it may the opportunity presented itself as our farm work was coming to an end, so we decided to go for it.
Long story short, when we arrived in Australia our friend Millie (who I’ve mentioned in previous posts High Times in Central America and Attitude of Gratitude) was working for the Woodford Folk Festival as the department head for a project featuring a 15 foot tall puppet Tilda. She was in need of volunteers for the team and let us know about the positions.
The festival is world renowned and held every year between December 27th and January 1st. The program includes approximately 2000 performers and more than 1,536 shows featuring local, national and international artists. Volunteers receive free tickets to the festival as well as free camping, so there was no way we could pass it up despite what our volunteer positions might entail.
LOGISTICS: GETTING THERE AND CAMPING
We worked at the farm until December 22 and had to be out at Woodford by the 26th, so we had a limited amount of time to prepare for 8 nights of camping. Up until the 20th our only material belongings were still limited to the contents of our backpacks. Fortunately we caught a ride into Brisbane the weekend of the 20th and found ourselves an early Christmas present – a 1999, two-door, manual Mitsubishi Mirage for $2200! It wasn’t the caravan we were originally planning to buy, but I’ll go into the reasons behind that in another post.
For our camping gear we relied on the generous donations of our Aussie friends, and even their friends and families, which resulted in a legit setup. We had a 10 to 12 person tent (fully waterproof- thank God), two sleeping cots to keep us off the ground, a sleeping bag, sheets, an Esky (cooler), pots/pans/dishes – all of which made camping in the torrential downpours in the first two days and oppressive humidity of the next six days a pretty comfortable experience.
VOLUNTEERS: WHAT WE ACTUALLY DID
It is difficult to describe, but one of the ways Woodford sets itself apart from other festivals is that it is inclusive of so much more than just music. I ripped this description right off of the website, and there’s no sense in wordsmithing:
The festival programme features concerts, dances, street theatre, writers’ panels, film festival, comedy sessions, acoustic jams, social dialogue and debate, folk medicine, an entire children’s festival, an environmental programme featuring talks, debates and films, art and craft workshops, circus performances and workshops, late night cabarets, parades and special events including a spectacular fire event.
Tilda was the protagonist of the story that was the theme for 2014/15 and was part of the opening and closing ceremonies in the amphitheater, nightly street performances in the festival and the fire event also in the amphitheater. Depending on the night, Jordan and I took turns on the team of people pushing the chariot that holds Tilda up, or I would carry a fire torch, or Jordan would carry Tilda’s mask. He was upfront and center during the big performances which was awesome!
Between rehearsals and performances we were committed to the Tilda project for between 5-7 hours per day. It was a truly unique perspective to be first timers at Woodford and be working on a project that was such a key component of the festival. Words cannot describe what it was like to be in front of so many people in the amphitheater and I actually really enjoyed the street performances because of the reactions from the onlookers.
Imagine walking through the festival and coming upon a 15 foot animated puppet accompanied by fire torches, live bands, actors/performers and hundreds of lanterns of all kinds – animals, musical instruments, stars, you name it. It sounds so cliché, but the street performances were magical.
As I mentioned, it has been a long time since I’ve been on the performance side of any production, so it was interesting and humbling for me to be on the other side again.
Here are some of more photos of the Tilda experience…
With over 500 acts across 28 venues in 6 days and spending a large portion of time volunteering, we didn’t have the chance to experience all that Woodford had to offer, but we did see a lot!
The festival sight is a well thought-out onslaught on the senses, particularly visually – a person with ADHD’s dream. Day and night there were always incredible sights to take in and below are some of my favorites. I didn’t have time to snap all of these photos myself, so thanks to all the Instagramers out there for doing some of the work for me.
WOODFORD BY DAY
WOODFORD BY NIGHT
My number one Woodford highlight, among so many, was New Year’s Eve. The night was incredibly special for two reasons.
#1- It is the festival tradition to take three minutes at 11:30 p.m. to send the year out conscientiously and with gratitude. The entire 40,000 or so people on sight stand/sit in silence and candlelight. I have never been a part of anything like it.
#2- We got to send 2014 out and ring 2015 in with Nahko and Medicine for the People, an absolutely amazing band with uplifting music that was perfect for the night. It was our second time watching them at the festival and they rocked our worlds both times. Surprisingly, they put on a much more rocking show than their recorded albums would have you think, but I love it all. I even got to meet Nahko one night on the way back from our street performance and he was a genuinely nice guy which I was stoked about since I am a big fan of the music.
I’ll be writing a separate post about all of the great music we got to see as part of the overall Woodford experience, so stay tuned!