Woodford Folk Festival, Queensland
27December 2017 to 1 January 2018

I had long wanted to get to the Woodford Folk Festival. It was on my bucket list as a performer but also as a punter. Going to a new festival is always a buzz –  you never know who you might see, hear or meet. Friends who have attended Woodford gave me plenty of positive vibes – it is amazing, you will love it, it’s intense, you’ll have a great time. But also, it’s hot and humid so be prepared for rain, take your gum boots. So I did.

I really got into the whole Woodford feel-good-we-can-make-a difference-to-the-world mantra. I met some great people, caught up with some friends and a cousin I hadn’t seen in over 25 years. Having studied the dozens of performers and presenters in the huge programme I had marked out several to check out, including Vance Gilbert, a singer-songwriter from Philadelphia.

I never expected to come back home to Victoria and want to tell everybody who was into music about Vance. He got a standing ovation every set at Woodford.

Can’t think of a song all festival that blew me away like Old White Men did. When I caught it at the tail end of his set I welled up like everyone else. The song spoke of how these old guys  in a workshop – handymen all of them – had helped Vance as a kid, something many of us can relate to. As kids certain adults can make a big positive difference in our lives and we carry them in our hearts and memories as we too grow old.

The first verse goes like this:
I was such a strange boy
Forty years or so back then
Fat with big thick ol’ glasses
Trouble making friends
Cruising thru my neighborhood
Could easily have come to no good end
Till I stumbled into the workshops
Of old, white men

And, then towards the end of the song:
Old white men
Living crosscut, chainsaw lives
Old white men
They don’t talk back to their wives
Old white men, thanks to them
I can sharpen your kitchen knives with this stone
Some times when I’m alone
I wonder what became of
Old white men

Do they synchronize their watches
As on and on time marches?
Do their belts need extra notches
As their waistlines grow big & ‘round?
I call their wives up often
And I carry their husband’s coffins
As these grey hairs of my own
Chase me down

On the trip home from Woodford, waiting for a plane, I emailed the festival thanking them for having me. I just had to add these words:

Vance Gilbert came to Woodford for the first time and touched us with his grace, dignity and rare talent. I was expecting something special but rarely an artist gives more and more as Vance did over the festival’s magical six days. His beautifully crafted songs.  His a voice, oh, what a voice. His humour, his sincerity touched many and left us altogether better for that experience. I went to all his shows and cried, laughed and wanted more. Vance Gilbert gave it all, then kept giving. Not just a songwriter, performance poet and entertainer, he left us with a part of his soul and humanity. Thanks Vance, you inspire me.


More about Vance Gilbert

Full lyrics to Old White Men

More about Woodford Folk Festival