Saturday, 8 January 2011

Solidarity Forever

I'm perched on the edge of a single mattress in a two man tent which is pitched in the tray back of a ute, beneath a flapping tarp stretched over the entire car and it's pissing down. Just audible above the roar of the downpour I can hear the bass doof from three nearby stages. It's Woodford, it's wet, and nobody gives a shit. Whole families are here, from toddlers through teens to the long in the tooth, like me. The original Woodfordians would, I imagine, be in their 60s now. Their children are now bringing their own children to the festival. The buzz of excitement crackles like static around the site because it's the first day of the festival and though our socks are soggy and our campsites are sodden - there isn't any dry land, anywhere - the crowd is determined to ignore the discomfort and will the rain away.

Woodford is half my age. When it began I was well past my 'hippy' stage and in the midst of full-on motherhood, commuting between capital cities and well on the way towards the alcoholic binge of a twenty year career in Sydney. Besides - I thought of myself then as a punk rock chick, not a floaty hippy - I'd been here and done that in the mid-seventies. I'd stomped and sashayed at bush dances at the Red Brick hotel, knew by heart all the words to the half a dozen or so albums in my possession - Leonard Cohen, Dylan, Neil Young et al. I'd grown out of being a lonely girl out on the weekend and left it all behind, filed in the back of my brain as 'juvenalia'. I'd swapped cheesecloth and sandals for silk, stilhettos and champaign. Hey, it was the eighties - what more could a poor girl do? The idea of going to a folk festival then was ridiculous. Sheesh, between the races, gallery openings and long boozy lunches, hanging out in a tent listening to people with beards strangle fiddles was not way up there on my agenda. But, as they do, things have changed.

Last year I found myself at a conference at Woodford. AUSFOLK; as G-Man put it, a festival for festival directors about directing festivals. I was to host a conversation with Blanche D'Alpuget who was there with hubby Bob and talking about her recent book about his PMship. Both are big fans and supporters of Woodford.  There was no appearance fee, but I was curious about what had by now become a thing of legend - Woodfordia, the festival site, so I did the gig.

To my surprise and delight, just before xmas, an email popped up in the inbox with tickets attached. Two six-day passes, with camping and, access all areas! I pulled up the website and three hours later my head was spinning with the sheer scale and size of the program. I couldn't actually attend the full 6 days - the farm and it's responsibilities don't allow much time for staying out over night, but man, what a fantastic thing they have made. Thousands of volunteers rally their collective force of will, love and imagination to build a village that caters for around 25-30,000 festivillians each of the 6 days. Everything is brought in and erected by their willing hands in exchange for the pleasure and privilege of being part of it and earning their right to a ticket. This is the genius of the festival director, Bill Hauritz - his capacity to inspire and motivate a swarm of talented locals and by giving them the tools and the confidence to be creative thinkers, gets 200% out of everyone. He makes Cecil B. DeMille look like a rank amateur.

For 25 years Woodford has sustained not only its original conception, but has built around itself an ethos which magnifies the original germ of hippy utopianism that gave us all a sliver of hope for a better world during the bad old days of Joh. It's not just about music, but all the folk arts. For example, the lost art of political rhetoric was revived by one of its most impressive masters. Sure, the music was amazing, production values impeccable and the quality of the artists extraordinary but I think that was the highlight of the festival for me.

Rain, again. Last day of the festival. It had eased off for the previous three days when I wasn't able to be here, but now it's roaring down on the bigtop above. About 2000 of us are crammed under its shelter waiting to hear the former PM Bob Hawke tell us why 'every single one of us owes the union movement a debt of gratitude'. He comes on stage, a little stooped with age, but he hasn't changed a bit - that silver quiff, the scowl masking a disarming,  flashing grin.

He's amazing - fire in the belly, still, after all these years, all marbles firmly in place. He's stabbing at the  air to bring home his assertion and regardless of whether or not we agree, we're hanging on his every word. I know, I'm kind of tragic when it comes to left wing politics - a dewey eyed Whitlamite to the marrow, but then when he's convinced all but a few of his point, he does the damnedest thing; launches into the union anthem Solidarity Forever, and by the end of the first chorus I'm tearing up, by the end of the song I don't care that I'm crying because I'm not the only one - what more can a poor girl do? My hands shake with the emotion of it all and I'm that grateful - to the organisers, to the gifted artists, to Choe who sent me the ticket, but mostly for the fellow feeling in the crowd, and so grateful that I had the great good fortune to be born here, in this time and place and to find myself at one with my fellow common folk.

Here's G-Man's rundown of the music. Go check it out. Brilliant.

It took Old Man Leudeke 3 days to get there. I'm guessing the blizzards in North America slowed him down, then by the time he got to Brisbane airport it was closed due to heavy rain. He explained the world can be a mysterious & wonderful place if you just remain stupid enough. Beautiful songs played against an understated solo banjo.

Two all-girl Scandinavian bands showed the boys how to do it. Recently I'd been trying to get an old eko 6 string banjo sounding good with not much success. 
After seeing Baskery I can see what my problem was.

Katzenjammer swapped an unusual array of instruments effortlessly then hung great 4 part harmonies off the resultant sound. 
Both these had great stage presence and boundless energy.

Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band (Show as they are now called) 30 years, deaths & one brother in a wheelchair have not wearied them.  
A great performance from some old troupers. I'd not fully realised just how black their humour was.

The McMenamins; from Cairns, very cool duo, great originals & do a good cover of Gillian Welsh's Red Clay Halo. Caused me to consider that crowd sizes were sometimes inversely proportional to talent at Woodford.

1 comment:

  1. Hope you two are okay. Puts my other gumboot quip in stark relief. Mr Samurai Trash's gigs in March are on like King Kong. I'll book and after the fact gloat amidst the missing out losers and let them drool at my awesomeness for being there.