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Woodfordia rises once more as state's iconic folk festival finally celebrates its 35th


Woodford Folk Festival is set to make its triumphant return at the end of this year, with the just released program bringing back a mix of old favourites and newer artists to transform this rural idyll into Woodfordia once again.

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Before Covid the festival attracted more than 130,000 people, growing into a temporary village larger than the nearest town of Nambour.

This year familiar names such as John Butler, Catherine Britt, Eric Bogle, and Boy and Bear will mix with emerging artists such as The Moving Stills and Parvyn to hopefully bring the crowds back to the 35th festival’s many stages from December 27 to January 1.

The Moving Stills vocalist and guitarist Tom Mahler said the band is already getting their Torago mini-van ready for the trip to Woodford from their Central Coast base, bringing tunes from their debut album as part of the Volcano tour.

“We played there about three or four years ago and I think we’ve all been just itching to get back,” Mahler said.

“There’s nothing quite like it that I’ve experienced at least, just super cool. I think we’re playing on about three or four different stages. I feel like a lot of festivals, you just get into the groove and then it finishes, but Woodford you get to just fully immerse yourself.

“It’s just so nice playing a bunch of times as well. You get people coming back. It’s just a really humble, polite, nice crew of people to play to, and to hang out with.”

He said the laid back summery style of The Moving Stills’s music suits the Woodford Folk Festival atmosphere, and he looks forward to celebrating their new album which came together over the pandemic, with live audiences.

“I think I’m looking forward to getting out and… last time we went for a little day trip out to some swimming holes and some waterfalls,” he said.

“It’s in a really nice location up there. But also I think just connecting and meeting a bunch of cool people. I just remember last time, we met some real gems. I think I’m just keen for a little holiday and playing some nice gigs.”

Parvyn Kaur Singh is also readying her Suburu for the cross-country trip from her Adelaide home to perform at Woodford Folk Festival.

The Punjabi Australian singer and dancer will bring her new solo expression to Woodford audiences, synthesising a lifetime of work into her debut record ‘Sa’.

Her eclectic influences range from electronica and jazz to her background in Sikh devotional music and her training in Indian classical music and dance.

But while Parvyn is one of the farthest flung artists, she’s actually also one of the longest participating – having come to the Woodford Folk Festival since she was a child.

“I’ve been going to Woodford since before it was called Woodford – back when it was Maleny Festival. I used to go with my dad, Dya Singh, who was a Sikh spiritual singer,” Parvyn said.

“My sisters and I would sing with him. So, I think we went to about two Maleny’s, before it then moved to Woodford, and we used to go every single year.

“I feel like I’m one of those Woodford children, having been brought up in the Festival. It was just a yearly expedition, heading up from Adelaide to go. I remember getting in the Tarago, the whole family, we would all jump in the Tarago and we would slowly stop and camp along the way.

“I’ve probably been to, I want to say, at least half of the Festivals since then. I have lost count how many I’ve been to, but probably about 17 or 18, or something like that.

“I was there with the Bombay Royale, which was my other big band. I’ve been there with my other band, BlueGuru, which is more of a folk trio with Andrew Clermont and his Supper Club. So, I’ve always found different ways to get into the Festival. I’ve been there with my sisters, the Singh Sisters doing Bollywood dance workshops.”

She said it feels like coming full circle where now she can return just as her solo career is taking off, having been featured in Rolling Stone India.

“It’s called Parvyn, under my own name. It’s my first solo,” she said.

“It’s a baby solo record that I’ve put out. It just got nominated for an ARIA for Best World Music Album of the Year.

“And Bill Hauritz from Woodford, I used to call him Uncle Bill when I was little. He’s been a really great supporter for me, and encouragement, and has given me really great advice over the years that has helped me develop my own voice, or find my own voice. It’s taken me 30-odd years but I finally got there.”

She’s looking forward to giving back to the festival which has tracked the development of her music and career.

“If people enjoy it at Woodford, people will enjoy it anywhere. It just feels so much like my home, musically, and has been such a massive influence on my journey as an artist, and all of the influences that I used to get coming to Woodford year after year, and seeing the variety of music available.

“Which as an immigrant kid growing up in the Adelaide Hills, my exposure to a lot of different styles of music wouldn’t have been there if I didn’t have the opportunity to go to folk festivals and things like that. So, I’m super-grateful for all of that, and now I’ve just put it all together, got my own band.

“It just feels like a lot of aunties and uncles that are just so proud of me, and they’re really happy that I’ve followed my heart when it comes to what I’ve wanted to do in this lifetime, is to pursue the arts.

“The other thing that I’m really grateful about at the moment, and especially with the ARIA nomination and stuff, is that I really feel seen and I really feel heard as coming from an immigrant… a little immigrant girl that was from Adelaide Hills.

“Having that representation in that space, I think has been really valuable for me, and making sure that I feel proud of my identity, and that others can be part of that, I can share that with others in a really proud way. “

She’s also looking forward to bringing her six year old son to continue the cycle of Woodford Folk Festival for the next generation.

“Ravi, he’s been going to Woodford since he was in utero. I was pregnant the first time, and then we went, so he’s been already three times,” Parvyn said.

“Then obviously, we missed the Covid moment, but I’m looking forward to getting him back there as a six-year-old and seeing how much more he’s going to enjoy it. I just think it’s such a beautiful environment for kids to explore, and be free, and just be exposed to the variety of life that is available in the world, that you don’t see in mainstream media.

“It gives you a different perspective on the possibilities of how this world can be. It’s almost like you go into Woodford and you’re surrounded by this beautiful environment and everything, and then when you come out after a week and you get hit by the grey of concrete, and it’s like, “What happened? Take me back to that utopia that was Woodford Like, why can’t the whole world be like that?” I’ve missed it.

“I’m looking forward to just going back, stripping out the rest of the world, and just being in that beautiful, free space, and freely express myself in ways that you can’t in other places.”

Festival director Bill Hauritz said while Bushtime was a great placeholder when the festival was disrupted by the pandemic the last couple of years, he’s thrilled to see Woodford Folk Festival return to full programming for it’s 35th year.

“There’s a lot of events, in fact 1,835 to be exact,” Hauritz said.

“The logistics are challenging but we love to do it and it’s a challenge to try and make it look like it happens by accident.

“We change it every year and this year is three years change in one. We make changes purposely because the world changes, and if we don’t change, we’ll become same thing every year.vSo, we’d become irrelevant. We want to be a relevant festival with singer-songwriters, poets, writers, politicians, arts. Recording the times of the year as much as we can.”

He said one of the key aspects that makes Woodford Folk Festival unique is the number of people who keep returning, generation after generation.

“The festival has a lot of very loyal citizens who have been coming for a very long time. And the percentage of people who return is about 70% of our audience, which is huge,” he said.

“The tension of the festival is people racing out of one venue, racing down the street into the next venue to catch an act, and our job is to make it as hard for them to get there as possible with good street theatre, great food, running into friends, just good energy. I think that summarises our attitude to how we see the festival.”

His only recommendation for “Woodfordians” – is to be ready for anything when it comes to the weather, and to not be daunted by La Niña hovering over the event.

“Some of our best festivals have been held in the wet,” he said.

“All bar one venue is undercover. And sometimes in a very wet festival, people crowd into the bars and into the things. In a funny sort of way, it’s more joyous.

“The weather forecast this year is actually pretty good, but when you’re standing in the middle of a paddock in inches of rain, it doesn’t matter what the forecast is.

“If you’re camping, it’s good to bring wellies.”

For The Moving Stills, the biggest logistical challenge of their set could be strapping their home-made volcano to the top of the Tarago mini-van to feature in their festival performances.

“Yeah, Mike (Brennan on guitar and vocals) — he and his mum made a volcano, and Mike mounted a little smoke machine behind it, so we might have to bring that up to Woodford,” Mahler said.

“We’ll throw it on the roof, we’ll bring it up.”

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