Woodfordia 2017/2018

One of my highlights for this year—Linsey Pollak and Lizzie O’Keefe’s work Dangerous Song I missed last year but saw this year

I’m not a fan of New Year’s Eve in Sydney. The city gets super crowded, too many travelers ticking off their bucket lists and way too much FOMO.

This year I did the sessions again (see my last post). This time, our camping spot was amazing so I got to sleep a lot more. No Tai-Chi for me! I wanted to see mainly trad and world and got to see nice gigs, but this year the trad line-up wasn’t as strong. Well, apart from Martin Hayes, but I saw him recently in Orkney, and fiddle players seem to get a lot more out of his gigs than I do.

One of my favourites ended up being the Brisbane Tabla school. They did a special gig where they explained the tabla dialect (vowels and consonants to describe rhythms). The teacher would then voice a sequence and students would repeat it. Nice improvisation, a great flute player accompanying. It stood out, at least for me.

The sessions felt much weaker this year, with some of the great players from the area not coming along this year. I also went to a few Scottish sessions, which is great fun. My favourite session ended up being an impromptu gathering after the session bar had closed, led by the members of Sásta. Amazing energy and relentless playing. One of the best thigs for me was having Scottish cello players at an Irish session. It gave it such a great depth.

My main highlight was a repeat show from last year by Linsey Pollak and Lizzie O’Keefe, Dangerous Song. The show is a dark box with a video projector, with the artists lit inside this box, making them appear as ghostly figures behind the projection. The projection itself was a collection of amazing footage of reef animals. Linsey was playing an electronic sax and modulating real animal sounds, which makes this piece even more haunting. Some times funny, some times sad. This was part of a general protest sub-theme at Woodford this year against the Adani megamine which will make yet another massive wound on this amazing part of the world. This show was, at least for me, beyond comparison at the festival. The work is incredible and worth the listen / purchase / support.

I enjoyed this year’s ceremony a lot more, since it was mainly about over exploitation of natural resources, industrial labour life and worker insurrection. The whole theme seemed a bit revolutionary in theme, with workers smelting their tools in the end and making peace with the ‘creatures’ that I imagine represent natural beings and resources.

The rest of the festival was a combination of resting, playing music and complaining about the weather, which was humid and stormy this year, so more like a steam and less like last year’s bake.

Woodford is still a favourite for me and can’t wait for the next one. This year I also got a nice surprise: dried out cow skulls. But more on that later. For now a photo is enough.

Woodfordia 2016/2017

In honour of this year’s Woodford, I’m posting a Journal entry originally written on Jan 2nd 2017, anonymised.

I told A I wasn’t going. There was nothing particularly interesting in the line-up and I was looking forward to spend some time by myself and some time with her. But at B’s party (and C’s going away and D’s visit) C offered me a session musician ticket and I had to take it. It’d be the first time I’d get in at any festival as a musician. Sure, it’s a volunteering gig, but it also means I can make new connections that might help me getting similar or better gigs in the future. I bought my flight and told A, who was very disappointed. I apologised— but there was really no way I wouldn’t take a performer ticket for Woodford.

Woodford was nothing like last time. C’s guidance turned it into an unforgettable experience. We spent our days doing tai chi, yoga, dancing, seeing trad gigs and never once ran into any friction. Her darker moods hit us some times but never in a harsh way. The upside is far too good. I danced like I hadn’t danced in years—it’s like I was put in a time machine and reaquainted with my younger, more naive self. I think I value it more now. It was there all along, I just needed some encouragement.

Gig-wise my plan was to stick to trad. Andy Irvine, Sharon Shannon and FourWinds, maybe catch E and D’s gig. I was expecting Andy Irvine to be great, he was good, but somehow the energy wasn’t there. Maybe it was the blistering heat. From what I heard from F, his NYE gig wasn’t good either. Apparently he said something very political expecting a response, but got nothing, and things went sour after that. So much so when he was packing up he gave the audience the finger! It was so bad they had to call FourWinds to do CPR—F’s words—on the venue. We only got there when FourWinds were playing, so for us it was an amazing night of dancing and poetry. Sharon Shannon did not disappoint with amazing gigs back to back. Their show is very much a pop rock show with trad melodies, and she looked absolutely dreamy with her hair blowing in the wind made by the stage fans. They needed lots of them—coming from Ireland weather to 37 degrees Celsius has got to be very difficult. One of my disappointments with her gig was the lack of use of the bass buttons on her boxes, but that’s the trad Irish way.

My actual gig was just playing sessions, which sounds fairly easy. In practise it meant playing at least 5 hours every day, ending as late as 1 or 2am. I had lots of fun but it was hard to keep up—lots of veterans and many tunes I didn’t know. I didn’t start any sets for a few days to see what they played—and I’d stay I knew about 15%. The few tunes I started didn’t go that well. Some too fast (green mountain and monaghan twig), some too boring (cooley’s into drowsie maggie). Some were fantastic though—humours of tully crine, father kelly’s, what a blast. The slow session also went fairly well. One of the afternoons the slow Australian tunes session was on and the host was sick, so they asked me to teach an Australian tune. What a nightmare. I tried Last of the Litter, then Mirandum, then gave up. Some of the fiddle players had better options. Odd that I’d be asked to do that, of all people.

The opening and closing ceremonies were alright, but the closing ceremony, with its refugee undertones, felt far too self congratulatory. Happy beach people in one place, bombed boat people in the other. Somehow it was divine intervention that caused refugees—which I found very annoying. What was missing there was the happy beach people bombing the refugees first, then pretending to be nice people and welcoming (only a few skilled ones) back in. At least it would be more honest.

The fireworks were fantastic, and we went to bed early. Nothing like going to a festival and actually resting.