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This Is Northern New South Wales


In a time and society so vehemently driven by commercialism and consumption, we are so easily blinded to the things that truly matter.

Christmas began before the Christians claimed it, a Pagan celebration of the winter equinox in jubilant thanks that the cold, dark days of winter were finally waning and Spring, warmth, life and light would soon return to the world. 15603081694_122210ef40_o Religious or not, an underlying current of this remains; reunions of families, giving, thinking with the heart, even the drunken revelry are all echoes of time-immemorial tradition.

But it is a rare thing to be able to dwell in this mindset and return to the fundamental message of the Christmas spirit. Gaudy signs and adverts scream at us at every turn, fractious renditions of carols deafen us in artificial-air cocoons of consumerism, even the beautiful message of giving has been corrupted as we’re guilted into giving more, bigger, newer, brighter, emptying our coffers for no other reason than that we are told we should.

The Woodford Folk Festival stands as a totem against the shrink-wrapped falsities of pseudo-Christmas, a sanctuary for the heart and soul and the essence of Christmas, Saturnalia or whatever you choose to call your festive season.

In the hidden glades of Woodfordia you can forget yourself, forget daily chores, in fact, forget the outside world altogether, immersed in the simplicity and honesty of the celebration of the arts. Conformity and commercialism are crucified ceremoniously by liberated free-thinkers, that tangent of society that chooses to no longer be spoon-fed an existence but instead to embrace life in all its manifest glory. 15938083147_b4254cebe9_o Woodford is a societal enema, purging the accumulated silt of another year and reminding us annually of the true importance of a life fulfilled and not endured. Staving off engorged torrents, this year’s festivities endured only sporadic showers, enough to settle the dust and immerse the wooded valley in a short-lived cloud of humidity, but they came as welcome respite from the more challenging periods of sunshine. The crimson canopy of the iconic chai tent offered shade to the sunbaked patrons, the far-reaching limbs of numerous trees offering shelter and a moment’s repose for many. 16140146831_16a40fae75_o But, where the weather may not have been the most amiable, the abundance of entertainment was more than enough to make even the heavens’ most temperamental tantrums more than bearable.

What strikes you about the Woodford Folk Festival is its diversity. From the clean and family-friendly campsite, you wander through what annually becomes, with its 125,000-plus temporary residents, Australia’s 67th largest township. Dawn yoga may be followed by some breakfast jazz, perhaps some pottery or moccasin-making workshops before a lunch from any of the myriad of unique eateries, an Edwardian Tea Dance in the afternoon, some fire twirling as the sun’s light wanes, reggae beats to commence the evening’s revelries and rocking out into the night’s latter hours, winding up with some electronic beats before you wend you way wearily back, past camp fires, to your bed under canvas, the gentle sounds of laughter trickling on the night air before the blanket of darkness and sleep envelope all. 15949012727_4b89943ccf_o Woodford is also a spiritual experience, evoking a reconnection of the soul for those willing to partake in any one of the many yoga, meditation or kirtan events. But on a simpler level, the festival’s acknowledgement of indigenous peoples, from Australia and around the world, influences of a plethora of cultures permeate all manner of entertainment, dance, song and art abound to bring about a wonderfully grounded sense of belonging and reconnection to all that truly matters.

And all this, the performers and the music, the art and the culture, the camaraderie and revelry, is all punctuated by the festival tradition of the midnight vigil, three minutes of candlelit silence observed by all, in thanks for the year that was, praise for the year to come and acknowledgement of all that we are blessed with and those less fortunate than ourselves. 16223638911_317f63a419_o This year’s Woodford boasted as star-studded a lineup as any year has seen. Taking to the stage were contemporary artists spanning several decades, world musicians from India, Morocco, Slovakia and Guinea as just the tip of the geographical iceberg, and performers of dance, acrobatics and vaudevillian antics to make the mind boggle.

The Violent Femmes garnished the crowd with fistfuls of classics, L Fresh The Lion conveyed a greater message through hip hop, Nahko and Medicine for the People, enthused their audience with a story of hope and unity and Archie Roach infused his own brand of folk-pop with tones of indigenous culture and history. 15954753300_36a21c9221_o

15947322178_0f8feb13c4_o ‘Folk Festival’ may well have become a misleading rubric, though this is certainly how the event started 29 years ago. It is now far more a cultural festival, celebrating the performing arts of a global stage, from crafts and creation, through theatrics and acrobatics to the obvious musical element.

For festival junkies, there is still an abundance of big name acts – Mia Dyson, The Cairos, Lior and the ever-explosive dynamism of Sticky Fingers – but these are just one dimension of experience in a multi-faceted affair.

We all wish to return from a holiday refreshed and invigorated. From Woodford you return exhausted, in the best possible way – from sensory over-indulgence and from having almost too much fun.

While it is not a spiritual festival in the most literal sense, and while you may pamper your esoteric alter-ego as much or as little as you choose, one thing is certain: whether a festival virgin or veteran, after a week at Woodford Folk Festival you return a different person, ready to live and no longer exist. 15973325358_7ae70e2428_o