• Words and images by Layne D

We are all connected - aPurla at Woodford Folk Festival 2018/19

Something pretty special happened for us last year and we are only just getting our heads around it.

Mitchell was very fortunate to get in touch with Cruiser, another guitar maker and repairer who volunteers once a year at the Woodford Folk Festival repairing instruments of every shape, size and kind you can think of. Cruiser has been in the game at Woodford Folk Festival for quite some time and was looking for someone to pass the volunteer baton to, and he was hoping Mitch might be that person. Fate seemed to mysteriously line these two up, and before we knew it Cruiser had dragged us down to our first ever Woodford Folk Festival.

We didn’t really know what to expect from Australia’s largest outdoor festival, we had heard many a whisper on the magical goings on, but some of it sounded almost too good to be true.

But really, nothing could have prepared us for what we was in store once we walked through the gates of Woodfordia. We were blown away by the entire experience.

But, ah maybe I am getting ahead of myself here.

I didn’t even mention how I had a part in all of this. Did Mitchell smuggle me in? That certainly wasn’t an option…

With a killer position for Mitchell secured the organisers recommended that I also find myself a volunteer job. Easier said than done with a ticket at Woodford Folk Festival being a pretty hot item, but with the help of a few friends I managed to score myself a great gig taking photos at Dance Hall, Folklorica and Mandala House during the festival. A place that gave me a colourful and culturally rich experience of the festival, with stories and songs from all over the world, and Dance Hall, well Dance Hall always left me smiling.

So as it turned out the Fates were on both our sides and nothing was keeping us from enjoying to the fullest a volunteer place in the community of Woodford.

Our whole experience went from one magical moment to the next, it took us a while to process this temporary fantasy world, and there were many highlights for us. But here are just a few very special ones.

The opening/closing ceremony was something I was looking forward to (that and Uncle Noel’s boomerang and spear throwing -which was awesome!), but other than that we both went there with no expectations, just a readiness to receive the fullness of the experience we were about to take part in.

Well our first day was a blur of hugs and greetings, followed by the much anticipated Opening Ceremony. We ran a bit late and I was disappointed that I missed Uncle Noel’s opening speech. But I did get to catch the special words “Welcome to Country…” Those words had power and we could feel it.

It is hard to put into words something that seems to set off a spark within you, and harder yet to capture those feelings that were instilled, but I will try my best to paint a picture of how the ceremony went.

It began with the fires of our ancestors, a traditional indigenous fire lighting from the remarkably skilled Rick Roser. The thousands of us gathered watched in hushed awe as he called forth embers from the natural kindling materials before him faster than any one of us could do the same with lighters or matches. The embers danced into a small flickering flame which he took tenderly into his hands and held there. I could see the flame dancing, more and more life flowing into it, it began to beat like a heart, and I felt in my heart that in his hands he held the very heart of the festival, of the land, and the heart of each one of us that was gathered here to share in this celebration. As he blew on the flames and the fire grew, he placed it into a mound of dried grass. The flames lept into life giggling and whistling as they swirled upward into the blackness of the night and the twinkling stars. We all felt it, that shared energy of the land burst forth in the flame, marking the start of 6 days of utter tranquility.

We all cheered as one. The lantern parade set a mystical scene which was followed by the Elders, so magical and other wordly dancing gracefully around the flames, weaving in and out. They stirred something deep and primal in the souls of us all, something beyond race, culture, time or space, something that tied us all together and united us as one.

I will never forget that moment and that ceremony. It was at that moment I knew why we needed this festival, not just for tourism, or even for the world class music and culture that was celebrated there, but for what it did for us as humans, for our community, for our hearts and our souls. Here was a place that preserved so much for the future, it gave us an example of the best version of a world we can have, a place that honoured the elders and celebrated the youth, a place where you can feel safe, loved and nurtured being whoever you want to be, it is a place where we truly are all connected.

So we were hooked from the start, and things really only got better from there.

Mitch fan girling over Xavier Rudd

Mitch was just itching to get some repairs, and he didn’t have to wait long before he had a few fun challenges thrown his way. He was in his absolute element when people started bringing in broken flutes, instruments with input jack issues and the like. People were showing up in a real panic and leaving very, very happy.

Then came a real head scratcher. A guitarist came over to the repair area looking very distressed. He proceeded to tell Mitch and Cruiser how he and his band RURA had come all the way from the Glasgow for their first time in Australia, and their first gig at Woodford, and how apon arrival they had opened up his guitar case to find the guitar inside shattered to pieces, and how they were playing their first gig tonight. His pain was palpable, and Mitchell could empathize in a big way. But with no time to glue the guitar for it to dry for the gig, they were in a bind. They came up with the idea of duct taping the instrument together to hold him until he could get back to Glasgow and see his Luthier there. It worked! He was up on stage that very night and we danced our hearts out to him and his band!

The icing on the cake though, had to be when a guitarist came in with tears of sorrow in his eyes over his hand made acoustic instrument that he had just dropped. He had finished his last gig of the festival and was ready to party. As he was packing up his gear he forgot to close the case fully, so you can imagine what happened when he lifted his guitar case onto his back..... Luckily Mitch and Cruiser helped him out and had it fixed the very same day. Our friend was so happy he played Mitchell a song to show his gratitude, and left the repair room with tears of joy in his eyes.

We are so grateful to have had the honour of serving in our music community at this wonderful festival, and to meet so many magnificent, inspiring, kind and talented people. We just loved everything about WFF, the food, the entertainment, the atmosphere, all the incredible stages and roving performers, it was all amazing and we look forward to returning to lend a hand again this year! And we hope to see many of you there too.

Our only photo at WFF! - By Lesley Morris

We were very grateful to all our guides and helpers throughout the festival and especially to Cruiser who was a very kind and excellent mentor to Mitchell. Special thanks to all our new friends Cruiser, Jon, Jan, Pat & Sim, Leanne, Pam, Dave & Zoe, Chloe, Courtney, Karen and so many more at Woodford Folk Festival who helped us to be a part of this celebration. See you at Planting! For more on Woodford Folk Festival: woodfordfolkfestival.com