16 reasons why Woodford Folk Festival is Australia’s most magical event
Held once a year over six days and six nights, over 120,000 people gather from around the country and the world at one of Australia’s largest music festivals – but it’s not everything you expect, it’s so so much more – and all of it is pure magic.
The festival programme is of epic proportions with concerts, dances, street theatre, writers’ panels, a film festival, comedy acts, 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. Phew.
Here are 16 reasons why we think Woodford Folk Festival is Australia’s most magical event, and why it should be on every music, art and culture lover’s bucket list. Join us to dance a jig for one day, or all six from 27 December - 1 January.
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1. A Woodfordia welcome
Each year the rolling hills and grounds of the festival site – fondly known as Woodfordia – turns into a buzzing village with quirky street names, shops, restaurants, 35 stages and more. Come showtime, patrons, street performers and nightly parades bring it to life.
2. The number of performers is mind blowing
More than 2000 – that’s the number of performers on site to make the 438 scheduled events happen. From local artists to bigger international names, Woodford has the goods. Note that we said scheduled – there are plenty of magical moments that happen, well, in the moment too.
3. The atmosphere is both electric and peaceful
After a busy year working and playing in the world’s urban jungles, six days dancing in bushland north of Brisbane is the antidote to a 9-5 existence. Escape from reality and immerse yourself in cultures from near and far. The kindness shared is contagious, and something to take home as a souvenir.
4. It’s not about who’s playing, but who you discover
The first question – who’s headlining? – is irrelevant at Woodford. if you'd like to know, this year Xavier Rudd, The Cat Empire, Julia Jacklin, The Waifs, Kimbra & Stella Donnelly are on the line up and will be playing the mammoth natural amphitheatre (#winning). But, the joy of Woodford is discovering new or little-known artists on your own or with the help of other festival goers – chat to people, eavesdrop in bathroom queues and find out who is making waves this year. The length of the festival means most acts play more than one set across the six days.
5. Woodford has cult favourites
Speaking of bands making waves, folk rock band The Waifs are a firm Woodford favourite and they have returned over the past few years to play daily to demanding crowds – don't miss them. Byron Bay local Nattali Rize will be performing her most recent album Rebel Frequency, and do we even need to mention The Cat Empire? All three are prime for a boogie.
6. The fire events are spectacular
The event is olympic in size, so ceremonial opening and closing events are a given. Get excited about the six nights and days to come at the opening event, while at the end there’s something indescribably moving about watching a giant wooden structure burn to the ground while considering the year to come. You can participate in workshops during the festival to join the closing event.
7. It’s not their first rodeo
This year will be the 33rd Woodford Folk Festival – and the 26th held at Woodfordia. Yep, they’ve done it before and the event experience runs like clockwork. There are permanent flushing toilet blocks, well-stocked bars and more to do than you can poke a stick at. It’s the tiny micro-moments (built up over time) that make it so special too – like the Woodford Postal Service, where you can hand-write letters and send them to ‘the cute boy with the beard dancing in the sun’ or Woodford will text a friend letting them know they have mail to collect.
8. Three minutes’ silence to remember
Woodford is full of mindful moments, annual traditions and rituals to observe. On New Year’s Eve at 11.30pm the tolling of the bell signals three-minutes of silence. Everyone holds small candles and reflects on the year that was, remembers lost loved ones and looks to the future. Everything is silent, and everyone is present.
9. Sorry, Woodford Food Festival, was it?
You certainly won’t go hungry at this festival. Vegetarian, vegan or carnivore – the stalls have it all. Eating a soft, filled Byron Bay Doughnut is a must, as is trying the handmade empanadas from Pipi Cucu Empanada. Ethiopian, Greek, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian, Thai, Dutch – plan your meal line-up like you do the bands.
10. It’s not all music – there’s words, art, dance, circus, comedy and cabaret too
Tired of tapping your foot? Sit in on an hour of comedy with Steve Hughes, Naughty Girls, Tom Walker and Yianni Agisilaou. Follow that up with a debate about the Great Barrier Reef, and then learn Balkan dance moves or join a Brazilian dance party. There are tents programmed with just theatre or comedy shows, craft workshops and debates.
11. Children? There’s a whole extra festival for them
The little nuggets will stay entertained and out of your hair (if you wish). Woodford programs a Children’s Festival of events to keep them busy, which is housed in a separate area.
12. The land your standing on has a 500-year plan
To protect the gorgeous festival grounds everything is built with the ethos of the 500-year plan in mind. The future is always in mind for any new infrastructure being built, and over the years the property has been transformed back into a lush forest with the help of festival-goers.
13. It's Brisbane's best alternative New Year's Eve
Tired of spending New Year's Eve making the most of an expensive bar package and watching 10-minutes of a same-same fireworks display? Do something different this year and give Woodford a "taste-test". You can purchase just a single day + night (with or without camping) and spend the 31st running around the festival, dancing the night away, observing the silence and taking in the sunrise...
14. Start the new year at sunrise to monks chanting
The earth has completed its annual journey around the sun – so consider the fresh start that is 2019 at the Hilltop Sunrise Ceremony on New Year’s Day. After dancing all night under the stars, festival-goers drag pillows and blankets to the hilltop and snooze until chants from the Monks of Tibet signal the day break. Magic.
15. Reconnect with the community
In a digital world, it’s all too easy to keep your device at arm’s length and ignore the world around you. Woodford attracts a lot of regulars who return year-after-year for the week-long festival – spreading the culture of kindness, openness and being nice to your neighbour. Go one better and join Mr Percival's singing circle where he works with groups of punters learning songs together – warning, it gets beautifully emotional. Do take your phone, you need something to take photo memories with.
16. Real bars with real drinks
If you’ve been to any big festival or music venue, more often than not it’s harder than milking a cat to get your preferred drink. Forget pre-mix, the bars at Woodford have mixers AND ice. Hot tip for a hot day (December in Queensland, you bet it will be warm) – ask nicely and they may have spare ice cubes. Wrap them in a scarf and place on your neck for outdoor aircon.
Want to see a little more of what the festival is like?
Woodford Folk Festival is on 27 December to 1 January every single year. Season passes or one-day tickets can be purchase via its website.