Woodford Folk Festival is one of those festivals that is shrouded in mystery – everyone has heard about it, and everyone has a vague idea of what it’s all about – but until you go and see it for yourself, you’ll never really understand it.
That is exactly the position I was in when I attended for the first time this year – everyone I know who goes to Woodford, does so religiously, year in and year out. I know people who go early every year to make sure that they score the optimal camping spot, and other people who have made it a family tradition to spend New Years’ Eve at Woodford Folk Festival.
My experience is that Woodford is something that you need to see with your own eyes to fully comprehend the scale of it – live music, circus acts, arts and crafts, meditation, comedy, burlesque, cultural displays, chill out zones, palm reading, poetry, workshops and discussions… these are just some of the few options you’ll be faced with when you visit Woodford.
What really sets Woodford Folk apart from other Aussie summer music festivals is the opportunity to participate – you aren’t just an innocent bystander watching the artists perform; rather you are actively encouraged to join in and help create the art or music as well.
My Favourite Woodford Folk Festival Experiences:
We were only there for one day and one night, so we didn’t get to see as many of the shows, installations and workshops as we would have liked (unfortunately we missed out on the highly anticipated Bush Turkey Workshop), but we did get to catch a few live shows. Dan Sultan and The Northern Folk were definite highlights.
We sat on a big grassy hill sipping spiked ice tea watching Sultan belt out some of his older, more ‘rock’ style songs as the sun dipped below the surrounding hills. Later, we stumbled upon The Northern Folk’s set by chance (it is very easy to get lost at Woodford!) – they are a lively band and definitely worth checking out for their happy-go-lucky-vibe. We saw in the new year with these kids and it was pretty awesome!
Some other highlights worth mentioning are the food and the people watching opportunities. I’m an unashamed avid people watcher – I love watching people just being themselves and living their best lives, and that is 100% what you’re going to see at Woodford Folk Fest. It is filled with interesting characters with interesting world views and they are all pretty happy to stop and have a chat.
Going into Woodford, I had a lot of incorrect misconceptions – more than one person has asked me if ‘everyone was off their heads’ or drugged up, but very few of the people who I saw and interacted with seemed to be on anything. I know this is cliché, but I genuinely think that most of the attendees are really just ‘high on life’. It is a really family-friendly event, with special kids areas and strict rules about drinking – in fact, there are only a few licensed areas of the festival where you can grab an alcoholic beverage and you aren’t permitted to take drinks outside of those areas, so the drinking is fairly contained.
All in all, it was a very wholesome experience.
My Least Favourite Festival Experience:
All of the shows and artists that we saw were great, the only gripes that I have are with the organisation of the festival as a whole. Woodford Folk Festival is very monetised – I know that festivals are a for-profit business, but charging people $1 to fill up their water bottles seems a bit excessive. The program is also really hard to follow on a small mobile screen but if you want a hard copy, it will cost you $10. And they don’t do single day programs, so even if you are only there for one day like we were, the only option is to purchase the full multi-day program.
It is a pretty similar deal with the maps – the sprawling grounds of Woodford Folk Festival are pretty confusing to navigate with little side passages and bridges cutting through to other areas. We got lost on more than one occasion, winding up in a completely different area than what we’d intended to be in. Fortunately there was an organic doughnut stand right near the correct entry/exit for our camping ground, so we would rely on our sense of smell to lead us toward the delicious scent of fresh doughnuts to guide us home at the end of the night.
The camp grounds were equally unorganised – there were no marked spaces for campers, it was just a big free for all. Getting there a bit late in the day, we had to ask three different camp sites if they could squish up a bit or move their vehicle slightly so that we could fit in before we found someone willing to oblige.
The Final Verdict:
My verdict for Woodford Folk Festival is that while I would definitely go again, I am probably not ready to leap into the full week long ticket. One day and one night was more than enough for this un-seasoned camper to get a feel for the event, catch a few live gigs and celebrate the arrival of the new year with thousands of free-spirited revelers.