By Maurice Sibelle
WOODFORD — Nothing captured the magic of Maleny Folk Festival at Woodford more than the Fire Event on closing night, January 1. On a cool clear night, up to 30,000 participants gathered on the hills that surround the festival site. A million stars lit up the night, enormous spotlights crisscrossed the crowd and finally came to rest on the stage as Cuban percussionist Jacinto Herrera beat an ancient rhythm to bring in the new year.
Song master Chris James led the audience in chants and harmonies that echoed through the hills. Indonesian bamboo instruments tinkled out a tune as lanterns of all shapes and sizes descended from the hill opposite where the majority of people had gathered. Imbala Aboriginal Dance Troupe pounded the hillside.
For the next hour, Sirocco performed an eerie track as dances with fire dazzled the audience. This year's theme was the crossing of the burning bridge from the old year to the new. As if written into the script, a falling star streaked across the sky.
Maleny Folk Festival is the largest folk music festival in Australia. Beginning on December 28, it ran for five days. Hundreds of Australia's best performers performed on 16 stages simultaneously between 9am and 1am every day. Aboriginal artists presented a Murri Festival. Children were entertained at an enormous children's festival, while the greenhouse tent explored environment and social justice issues and their relations to the arts.
Evening lantern parades wound through the festival site. Some of Australia's best storytellers spun their yarns daily in the union tent.
Dozens of workshops were run throughout the festival. Topics included yoga, alternative building, storytelling, self-publishing, women writers, various instruments, bird watching, Cuban rhythms, African music and dance from many different countries.
Bush poets duelled with the urban poets, matching rhyme with wit. There was plenty of opportunity for participation. Bongo drums rumbled till the wee hours of the morning, people joined the festival choir which performed at the fire event, and instant bands battled it out in the band competition. Comics met daily to "do lunch".
Debates raged on the constitution, an Australian republic, Aborigines and the constitution and a bill of rights. Annie Deller, Brisbane organiser of the Queensland Folk Federation, produced the Women in Voice show, which has played to packed houses in Brisbane for the last two years.
A feature was the Don Henderson Workers' Memorial concert. The late Don Henderson was one of Australia's most prolific and important working class song-writers; many of his songs are already deeply entrenched in the oral tradition. Hosted by Danny Spooner, several of Don's contemporaries celebrated his life and work in song. Bill Hauritz, president of the Folk Federation, launched an anthology of Don's songs and music.
This, the first festival at Woodford, is the ninth Maleny Folk Festival (named from the town of Maleny, where the first eight were held).
Almost all of the festival was organised by volunteers. Organisers estimate that $1 million worth of labour was expended in preparing the site, which is now owned by the Queensland Folk Federation.
The list of performers was impressive. You could walk through the festival and experience a touching performance from Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter, bathe in mellow voices of a cappella band Arramaieda or journey through the history of Ireland in song by Danny Doyle. Alister Hulett and the Hooligans didn't mince words pushing their politics.
Local Brisbane musicians included Chris Anderson, Cigano, Sister Moon Ensemble, Jumping Fences, Kubata, Majawil Q'ij, Natives of Bedlam, One Straw, Spot the Dog, Tangled Web and the Lawless Murphies. The festival launched Ruth Apelt's latest CD.
On any day you could hear Dya Singh mixing the folk melodies of India with music from around the world. Penelope Swales would be belting out her songs of conscience in the cafe. Rory McCleod would be tapping and strumming at the concert stage. No-one can play a harmonica like Rory. You could laugh till your stomach felt like it was going to split at the antics of the Sensitive New Age Cowpersons. You could take in the atmosphere of a John Williamson concert at the amphitheatre and later that night dance to the tribal rhythms of Utungan Percussion. There was something to please everyone.
The Maleny festival is a valuable contribution to the cultural life of this country. Don't miss it next year.