Address to The Woodford Organising Group by Woodford Folk Festival Founder and Director Bill Hauritz on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary Programme Launch on 17th October at Woodfordia:
I felt that because it’s our 30th anniversary that it’s appropriate that I might offer some reflection on three decades of our special festival. I’m reading from prepared text for only the second time in 30 years. The last time, was after I returned from the Queensland Smithsonian Fellowship study trip which took me to the USA and Canada for a 4 month long trip studying festivals. I presented my findings in a prepared speech to you in 2004.
I was very excited about that trip because it was the first time I had allowed myself out of the coop. I was conscious that being part of the team that started the festival, it was important not to be too heavily influenced by other events but rather try and develop a signature event of our own.
Travelling to the USA and Canada was an eye opener for me. Visiting festivals more than double our age, some of them internationally recognised was, for me, a search for solutions and acquiring knowledge that would help us. It was a great help – but in ways that I hadn’t imagined. Being out of the coop, looking back home to Woodfordia from afar, I became very conscious of just how far we had come and what a truly special event we had all created.
My study’s underpinning theme was discovering the key attributes that successful festivals have in common. Looking through my report years later, I realise I was very much describing our Woodford.
One of those principal characteristics I discovered was that, without exception, all those successful festivals started small and grew organically. What I mean by organic was that they became popular and grew, not because of slick marketing campaigns, but rather because people who came to the festival and enjoyed it, returned the following year and brought their friends.
In 1998 Amanda (Jackes) and I were asked to put together our marketing plan for the then Queensland Events Corporation as part of a funding partnership. Like any plan, it leads with it’s goals. In our case, Amanda and I summarised the plan’s objective with the words:
“Our object is to sell $2 million dollars in tickets for people to come and camp in an ill-prepared campsite, use less than quality amenities, in either searing heat or teeming rain for a week to listen to a host of obscure artists. The advertising budget is zero”.
To this day, the core of our campaign to attract people to our festival is so simple:
“If we do a great job of looking after our patrons they will come back and bring their friends”.
We’ve learnt that this had to be, and remains, a conscious effort.
Looking back over our 30 year history, we’ve been disappointed rarely in the attendance. In fact the largest issue we have faced is buying this land and building the infrastructure to cater for our ever-growing number of patrons. This struggle continues. Like those other successful festivals I studied, what we built in the early years was a festival experience that welcomed our patrons – our customers. Every year and for years we curated a programme that within the bounds of our brief, we could serve our patrons. Most of those successful festivals had an abiding philosophy which gave strength and relevance to its charter. It had deep purpose beyond its commercial necessities. In their own way, as in Woodford’s way, we were ‘saving the world’ – one festival at a time.
From the early days, what we wanted to do was create a festival with a difference. Our brief was to promote the Folk Movement which was hardly an easily defined brief. No one has ever been able to satisfactorily define folk music. We actively developed ideas of what we felt was the essence of ‘folk’ in all its modern manifestations.
When we re-established the QFF in 1985 we defined our purpose as:
“Encourage participation in the artistic expression of our times through the folk idiom.”
I remember folk singer, songwriter and great friend, the late Don Henderson suggested in the late 1980s that the electric guitar should be the symbol of the folk movement and that many elements of the pop/rock scene had stolen the march on what the folk movement should stand for. He cited Bruce Springsteen as the ‘poet of our times’.
We went further in our objects of the Woodford Folk Festival aiming:
“To present the artistic expression of ordinary people in community life as a vehicle for cultural development and exchange and for social change for the common good.”
These pursuits gave us license and responsibility to build a new type of folk festival relevant to the times. We could throw a net over and claim artistic traditions and contemporary expressions across music genres such as blues, country, jazz and pop. We understood that comedy, street theatre, dance and spoken word should be part of a folk festival and we instinctively knew that creating ceremonies would help us build a festival community. We’ve discovered that the Visual Arts could express in our decor and setting, a beautiful welcome that our festival was exuding.
What was important though, was that we had to live and act in the here and now. We mustn’t be people living in the old days and pining for the old ways. Our exploration was underpinned by a clear intention to be loyal to the folk spirit and a never-ending search for meaning in our festival.
Let me quote Pope Pius XX11:
“Folklore takes on its true meaning in correcting the errors of a society which ignores its healthiest and most fertile traditions.
It strives to maintain a living continuity with the past resulting from profound feelings of generations which have found in folklore the expression of their special aspirations, their beliefs, desires and sorrows, their glorious memories of the past and their hopes for the future.
Folklore is not merely a survival from the past ages, it is a manifestation of present day life.”
Honouring contemporaries as they express their art within their cultural idiom has become our festival hallmark. The notion of ‘correction of errors’ allowed us to protest and a programme that could focus on making for a better world resulted. Social responsibility became entrenched in our very festival being.
We adopted the word ‘lore’. It seemed the best word to summarise the work of this body of people searching for wisdom in the way we acted that could help purify our intentions.
In choosing our artists and presenters, we could define artistic excellence as a pursuit of authenticity to the culture from which it emerged. As our festival continues its exploration, looking back is good if it helps steer us into the future. While our festival will change, the values that underpin it haven’t.
An important element common to those festivals was a strong sense of ownership by the patrons. Woodford was and is a great example of that. Every year my eyes tear up during the 3 minutes of silence and again when I drive through the campsites after everyone has left. There isn’t any rubbish. Not a skerrick! People who come to this festival own it. I could think of no greater compliment that so much respect is given. We would be hard pressed to find any festival that could engender such chivalrous loyalty.
Woodford festival is known by our artists as having such generous audiences and I could think of only a few festivals where our patrons were so subjected to foul weather but stuck with us through during those floods in 2010/11. That ownership has been and remains critical to our futures. We must continue and get better at listening to our critics and doing our best to make it better. I’ve observed that our wonderful patrons see us try. They were forgiving when we got it wrong.
That it has been our patrons who have planted the trees that they now camp under, has given rise to ownership but that’s not all. The other big factor is you lot. In this world, every organisation is dependant on its success, upon the quality and the dedication of its people.
From the beginning and over time we’ve developed a strong organisational culture. There was a conscious effort on those of us co-ordinating the event that we should push responsibility as far and wide into the organisation as we could. These intentions and actions consciously created this Organising Group, a body of people with responsibility rather than a list of tasks; that the festival be your festival and organisers would encourage similar actions and give example to our volunteers.
The goal was to build empowering structures which would stand fast when tough times came.
Nowadays there’s queues for Department Heads and for volunteers and while it all looks good, I know that as the festival gets larger and more widely known, we need to strengthen our Organising Group ethic. We need to make your experience more special than it is because the spirit of the festival is created by your energy and goodwill. It permeates through everything we do.
This year, as in most recent years we’ll be putting together a festival that books 420 or so acts across 25 stages an average of 3 times in 1,400 shows over 6 days and nights. We build a completely portable residential township for 20,000 people a day in about a month with mostly volunteers. We manage about 2,800 volunteers and almost the same number on individual artists along with hosting 50 odd small businesses which feed us. Those logistics can be frightening.
Years ago, one of our Department Heads was a Major in the army. He was keen to study how we did it, saying we did it better than the army. After his third year and before he departed to Sydney for his promotion to Colonel, he said to me “Bill, I finally worked out how we did it”. I was interested. He said: “You’ve been practicing for a long time”. The army of course, has to get it right the first time. We do get a little bit better at it every year. The quality and dedication of our people – you, is incredible.
For many years The Woodford Folk Festival flew under the radar – it was a comfortable place. That is not the case now. We are in full public view. The temptation to puff out our chests and brag of our achievements is large. If we hear any self congratulatory tones or if we start bragging, it‘ll be time to buy canned foods and head for the hills. You’ll be able to hear people sharpening their tools to take us down – such can be the cruelty of the darker side of our humankind.
While we do great work and while we have created something special, we need to remember people have been organising festivals for thousands of years. In India organisers of the Kumbha Mela Hindu Festival sit down and do logistical planning for 12 million visitors. We need to remain humble cultural activists who are optimistic and enthusiastic in making this world a little bit better for our work. Let our patrons and our artists speak for us.
Our festival has for a long time now been celebrating success and so we should. Thankfully, we’ve avoided, narrowly at times, being bogged down in it. It’s too easy to rest on laurels. We’ve had the courage to change. If we aren’t the masters of change, we will become its victim. I don’t think anyone though could begrudge us a moment of feeling some pride in our collective achievements over 30 years. Woodford has been innovative and inspirational for many. We’ve been savagely copied for which we can take merit for a broader contribution. We can properly know we have all created something unique and a sense that every time we produce our festival the world is a little better for it. While we can rightly feel that, I urge everyone to also feel the responsibility of continuity.
There’s been heroic contributions. We’ve seen great characters emerge from our midst. I’m talking about Amanda, Des, Annah, Becky, Ingrid, Sim, Pat, Annie, Michael, Rose, Pete, Chloe, Eileen, Karen and countless others who have dedicated such a big part of their lives. But it’s the sum of us all that does what we do and everyone who contributes to this beautiful jewel should feel good.
I won’t in this speech even begin to thank all the people close who has given so much in getting this far. I will say this though. The Woodford Folk Festival, Woodfordia and all that it holds, exists because friends of this festival have given to it. Woodfordians, we have the privilege of having thousands and thousands and thousands of friends.
I quote the Dalai Lama
“passion is our enemy, love is our friend”.
What I have had the privilege of witnessing over 30 years is a growing love of our festival from you and all our fellow Woodfordians. It’s love that will sustain Woodfordia and all that it holds for us and future generations.
For now, we can simply celebrate – we have come of age.
Bring on the programme for our 30th Anniversary Festival, thank you all for your part of this special night. Have a great preparation, a great festival and a great celebratory night tonight, you certainly deserve it.
Woodford Folk Festival Founder and Director