Woodford Folk Festival 2016/17
Reviewed Tuesday December 27 - Sunday January 1
And so ended my… (seventh? eighth?) Woodford Folk Festival. It’s hard to keep track when each Boxing Day rolls around and the strange cavalcade starts to build steam once again. It’s been long enough now to have witnessed the festival soldier on through scorching sun and mighty rains that flooded Brisbane itself and came close to washing the event away altogether. Through it all, Woodford has been able to summon a very unique kind of magic, and at the risk of sounding outrageously saccharine, there are precious few places out there that manage year after year to live up to the hype.
You make the hour sojourn north-west of Brisbane for the tone and spirit of the festival, of course – the people, the carnivalesque sights and sounds, the workshops and food – but even for a festival that tends to shun the idea of headliners, it’s hard not to get excited at a bill that promises the likes of Amanda Palmer, Tash Sultana, Paul Kelly (joining him and several thousand others in an amphitheatre singing ‘Let It Be’ is a memory that won’t be fading soon), Wallis Bird, Bob Hawke… indeed, the only big-draw name that didn’t quite manage to leave us reeling were Canadian rockers Half Moon Run, who brought an enthusiastic if unmemorable set.
When Palmer arrived – nursing both her one-year-old and a fever-struck Neil Gaiman – she did so in spectacular style. After wowing a media posse with a soaring cover of ‘Creep’ and the revelation she and Gaiman have been granted Australian work visas, she went on to a slew of seductive appearances including a set shared with Brendan Maclean and, particularly memorably, with the festival’s diminutive powder keg (and certain crowd favourite) Bird. The Irishwoman brought to life that ephemeral magic that sits at the heart of Woodford. From the raucous energy and passion for performance she brought to each appearance, to her endearing warmth and humour, and the fucking ferocity of her playing, this lady is something special. It was also lovely to see her connection with Tullara, an endearing performer whose prodigious talents (including some damned fine originals and a cover of John Butler’s ‘Ocean’ that deserves a review of its own) made sure she was one of the hottest names on everyone’s ears.
It was quite a festival for young Australian artists. Tullara, but also the blistering Sultana and the frighteningly splendid The Mae Trio. With a new album given an early Woodford release, The Mae Trio’s latest work – notably, eponymous track ‘Take Care, Take Cover’ and ‘Call Me Stranger’ – is full of the kind of songs you’d like to marry in some twilit garden overlooking a sky blue sea.
Enticed from further afield, Balkan ska-punk ensemble Dubioza Kolektiv were everybody’s favourite late-night bacchanal. Dressed like escapees from some neon-spattered anarchists’ prison, the Kolektiv were a consistent standout. From open invitations to the crowd to join them onstage, to their festival bromance with Steve Poltz, these Balkans sure know how to get people moving. Speaking of Poltz, it’s hard to think of another performer so effortlessly charming and full of such mad, generous life. His repertoire is fantastic (barring perhaps the uneven ‘Wombat Tacos’), but it is his hilarious banter that truly sets him apart.
With 438 events and a record attendance, Woodford 2016/17 ranked as one of the best iterations of the festival yet. From towering stilt-walkers to vaudevillian villains, butterfly guides (who knew dragonflies were such jerks?) tree houses and old mate Hawke himself, I’m counting the days until Woodford rolls around once more.