Although I didn’t know it at the time, my 2014 Woodford experience was beginning many hours before I arrived at the folk festival site. Early on Boxing Day morning, a dad and his 9-year-old daughter drove through the festival gates to set up their camp. The previous year they had been part of a big group of friends; this year they happened to be alone. “Don’t worry,” said dad to daughter, “I’ll make sure you have some kids to camp with.” And he spread out a large, flat camp in a prime position and went out searching. He was being quite picky – looking for families with girls who were roughly the same age as his daughter, and of course who were not already part of a group. It was harder than he expected, but by midday he had found his first festival friends, and they happily set up their campervan in the shady spot that had been saved for them. But he needed more, so dad and daughter set off once more on the trail of new arrivals who by now were having to drive further and further into the massive campground to find a space. By 4pm he was getting tired and a little worried. Then he spotted us. We were getting tired and a little worried too. Although we are music festival veterans, we’d never been to Woodford before and had totally underestimated the size of the place, the need to arrive really early to get a half decent site, and the inevitability of rain. Our car was parked a little desperately next to a viciously sloping patch of grass that we weren’t even sure we were allowed to camp on. Our three kids (two of them girls) were getting restless and anxious in the back of the car. And that’s when he appeared – our festival angel – to rescue us from certain discomfort and lead us to a promised land of flat grass and proximity to toilets and the festival entrance. It seemed like a miracle!
From this relatively calm base (which still turned to mud within 24 hours) we were introduced to the incredible event that is Woodford Folk Festival. We wandered open-mouthed through the festival streets on that first night before it all began. We hadn’t been expecting festival streets! We walked slowly, taking it all in, becoming part of the event by osmosis, so that when the rain arrived and our feet and legs started to blend in with the earth it seemed quite natural.
And then there was the music. Some of my favourites like Kate Miller-Heidke, Mama Kin, Fred Smith and Medicine for the People, and new discoveries like Matt Anderson, John Smith, Del Barber. And workshops too, on slide guitar and blues harmonica. And even the chance to perform some of my own songs on a few stages. An afternoon chalkboard in the Small Hall where I was joined by most of my family, followed by an impromptu session in the Chai Tent with my good friend Forte and his mandolin. And the next morning we were up early for a quick spot in the Blues Tent. And then it was back to being an audience member again, listening to Mary-Lou Stephens’ talk (in which her invisible husband was the undoubted star), laughing with Mario Queen of the Circus, and meeting up with our festival angels from time to time, who would text us to let us know they had saved us an awesome spot for a band, or were heading down to the waterhole for a swim when the temperatures soared. The kids got along beautifully, as I knew they would.
On the last night we were sitting up on the hill in the amphitheatre, candles in hands, watching the amazing spectacle of the Fire Event together. The festival was coming to an end, but I knew we’d be back sometime for another year of music and miracles.