Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 Jan-Feb Contents current anniversary landmark?
BH: I’m surprised that I’m still doing it. The time has gone fast
and it seems only like yesterday that we started this thing.
There were tough times that threw up doubt and I’m glad we
never listened to ‘sound’ financial advice.
JM: We had no serious scares or scars along the way, so not
really. I certainly had doubts that I would make it!
IS: From the outset in 1992, while it proved to be a difficult
concept to ‘sell’ the festival, we had the sense that it had
something which made a strong emotional connection for
the audience which only deepened and strengthened over
subsequent festivals, although it probably took 10 years
and, really, becoming annual (in 2003) to be recognised as a
valuable part of Australia’s cultural landscape.
PM: Given the history of the event – from its days of travelling
around the country to finally settling in the national capital
– it’s a fantastic achievement and there are a lot of people
down through the years that can claim a sense of satisfaction
and take credit for reaching this 50th milestone.
Have your expectations and targets been largely
BH: In one sense I can’t ever be satisfied – it feels unfinished
and while some people say, “Wow, you must feel great”, it
isn’t like that. I enjoy what I’m doing and every day I feel a
sense of appreciation for having a job I love.
JM: The major focus has mainly been to get the year ahead
into a better shape in some ways than the last, working
through a never completed list. In the big picture sense of
moving with the times and maturing as an event, we have
done pretty well.
IS: Probably modestly exceeded, in terms of financial
targets, but the overwhelming thing is to look at the cross-
generational appeal of WOMADelaide – its audience
is extraordinarily diverse in age, gender and social
background. The universal characteristics of our audience is
how deeply passionate they are about the festival – they love
it like a member of their family and generations have now
grown up with it.
PM: The thing about the National is that everyone ‘owns’
it. People refer to it as “our National Folk Festival” and that
engenders a wonderful community spirit. I think that’s a
great strength. It’s more than just a series of concerts on big
stages. It’s an overall experience built around some pretty
In terms of infrastructure and innovations, what
achievements are you most proud of ?
BH: I think Woodfordia’s 500 acres with the incredible
permanent infrastructure and the beautiful parkland that’s
emerging is something that all of us, thousands of us, who
have given to it, can feel a great sense of worthiness. It’s a
hard-won prize that will reward generations. I also think that
our three minutes of silence at 11.30pm on New Year’s Eve
so humbly reflects what wonderful respect our beautiful
patrons have gifted our festival.
JM: The bar comes to mind! Ours is called The Shebeen and
it’s quite a phenomenon really, being the only licensed area
on site but holding 2000. The atmosphere can be incredible,
such as at the annual Big Sing-out led by Rick E Vengeance
with a packed house singing every song at full volume.
The variety of undercover venues, underground services,
production values and use of the whole village is pretty
IS: What we brought to the festival from the outset was
a belief in the importance of what we were presenting,
the value of the artists and also the audience. Hence,
production and presentation standards, and the broader
audience experience are paramount. That, and the mix
of a determination to push the boundaries and try to
present challenging discoveries of music, arts and dance
from around the world and to not be pigeonholed as any
particular type of festival (i.e . ‘world music’), although the
critical shorthand, like music store catalogues means that this
will happen regardless.
In what ways has the Australian festival climate changed
since you started? Is it harder to stage a festival these
days and compete for ticket-buyers’ ‘hard-earned’?
BH: While festivals are very different now than they were
when we started, we’ve always worked hard to attract
people. In the early days we were all undertaking an
apprenticeship; it’s never as easy as it looks and that hasn’t
changed. I don’t think anyone can rest on their laurels,
though. The competition is not other festivals. All festivals
work together to get people away from their television sets
– that’s the real competition. Festivals will come and go and
popularity of them is subject to fashion but the ones that
will sustain I think are those that have developed a strong
relationship with their patrons and continue to strive for
JM: Compared to 1977, it’s like being on another planet!
There has been a festival revolution from the mid-’80s (when
Woodford started – so blame Bill) and an evolution of ever
more and diverse festivals. New festivals keep appearing
on the basis that a good show will bring an audience.
Many more people are discovering the love of live music
experience at festivals.
IS: WOMADelaide began in the same year as the Big
Day Out, at a time when large-scale outdoor music/
festival events were just emerging in this country. We’ve
seen many new events come and go and the broader
commercial imperatives have seen higher and, in many
cases, unsustainable performance fees paid. Now there
are fewer players than say five years ago – the cycle moves
on – but fundamentally we have great faith in the power of
great live performance. It’s vital for artists and audiences
alike. It’s where they meet and ‘the art happens’ so yes, it’s
competitive, perhaps more for attention away from the hand-
held device, than a competing entertainment attraction!
PM: More accountability, compliance, rising costs. Trying to
keep prices affordable is a challenge while still being able to
produce an appealing program.
What’s the worst thing that’s happened during your
tenure as festival director, the most wonderful and the
BH: We nearly lost Woodfordia in 1996. We had a creditors’
meeting. I had to chair it. That was the worst two hours in my
30 years. The best moment was at the close of that meeting
when we won permission to keep trading by one vote. That I
needed help to walk to the car was the funniest.
JM: The worsts have been forgotten. Wonderfuls have
been many. One was pulling off a rather huge River Dance
illuminations event and concert from the Moyne River to the
main street stage. Goodwill and good luck turned chaos into
a beautiful evening. It was also amazing fun!
IS: In 1999, when the festival was in mid-February, it was
baking hot in Adelaide. Marta Sebestyen and her band,
Muzsikas, arrived a day late after they’d been double-
booked with a concert in Hungary, so they flew in, arriving
late morning on a 42 degree day, having come from -5
degrees and having to play that same evening.... The most
wonderful experience was seeing a capacity crowd listen to
Ravi & Anoushka Shankar in 2010 – you could have heard a
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