High & Dry with Matt Woodham

Having started a festival in less than a fortnight two years ago you might say that the organisers of High & Dry are resourceful. You might also say they’re fucking magicians.

As the festival is dedicated to supporting local talent, from a range of fields so wide I can’t be arsed mentioning them all, we caught up with Matt Woodham, one quarter of the four headed hydra of awesomeness that is High & Dry, to find out more about the festival’s history and future, however we mainly ended up talking about the present as the grammar got a bit too confusing.

Music Feeds: What made you want to start High&Dry and how did you? I remember it popping up the year Peats Ridge was cancelled, did that help get things going?

Matt Woodham: The first High&Dry was organised in just 10 days when Peats Ridge got cancelled in 2007/08 due to bad weather conditions. We were due to produce and run the Dome Stage that year – we already had the truck packed when the “we’re really sorry but…” call came through – so we figured we might as well put on some sort of party anyway. We have an incredible community of artists, musicians, techies and promoters to draw upon, so somehow a full-scale festival appeared out of nowhere. It’s fair to say we owe a lot to Peats Ridge – the misfortune they experienced that year was the catalyst for High&Dry’s creation.

MF: Tell me about the site where High&Dry is held. I’ve heard it’s an amazing place.

MW: The site is a property called Camp Wollomi – it’s near Wiseman’s Ferry in the sweet little town of St Albans. It’s surrounded by cliff tops, has a river running through it with a beach, loads of shade, a gentle amphitheatre and some of the most beautiful misty morning sunrises you’ll ever see. What’s more, it’s owned and cared for by the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, so it’s a pretty special place.

MF: Now, I have never been up, how would you describe the festival to a High&Dry virgin?

MW: You know when you go to a festival, and all the big names and internationals you see are awesome, but then you discover some local acts that absolutely blow your mind and get you thinking “How on Earth haven’t I heard of these guys before?” High&Dry is the festival that has found the very, very best of these acts and condensed them into three days of aural pleasure and artistic discovery.

MF: With the bands do many of them play for free? Is it more of a communal music event rather than a traditional festival?

MW: After the 2007 H&D we formed a not for profit organisation, High&Dry Festival Incorporated, and made it our mission statement to support, develop and sustain creative culture in Sydney and beyond. As a result, we’re paying every band, DJ and artist – this year we’ve only got the budget to cover costs – however this is still an important standard to maintain. As the event grows in financial stability, the profits shared to artists will increase!

MF: How do you go about choosing the acts that play?

MW: This year it was a combination of picking from our collective wishlists, drawing from our immediate community of incredibly talented creatures, and going through our online submissions.

The submission process was a long one – there were five of us who listened to each band’s supporting material, wrote our opinions confidentially, then came back for a series of meetings to compare and discuss. It’s a strange and complicated thing – exciting but frustrating at the same time.

MF: I know most of you are involved in one thing or another with live music in Sydney, is High & Dry sort of your working holiday? An excuse to drag all the bands you work with out into the bush for an amazing show while still working to get more attention for the bands and increase their exposure?

MW: Holiday is not a term I’d use personally…  But yes, we’ve been collectively helping to support Sydney’s live music scene for years – High&Dry represents the current peak of efforts to provide independent musicians and artists with the sort of exposure and opportunities they deserve.

MF: The line-up is very eclectic, do you have any acts you’d put a particular emphasis on our readers not missing out on?

MW: It’s hard to say – the lineup certainly is diverse, so I guess it’s going to come down to personal taste. It’s certainly a pleasure to have the likes of Entropic and Combat Wombat back in town after fairly extended breaks… not to mention the ever-incredible Barons of Tang (you will never stop dancing!)

MF: I’d imagine you’re all pretty busy getting ready at the moment, how much work goes into setting everything up?

MW: Well… the four co-directors have been working since the beginning of the year – (writing a development application is a pretty massive process for your first time) currently each of us is putting in about 80 hours a week, plus the rest of the crew are contributing any spare days they can. Plus, none of us are getting paid!

MF: You guys work with a lot of volunteers, do you think that adds to the festival charm? Have you ever had problems with volunteers?

MW: As we do rely on vollies in so many important respects, there’s a massive focus placed upon maintaining frequent, personal communication, flexibility and keeping everyone really happy – it certainly adds a whole lot of positivity and charm to things. So far we’ve only had great experiences with vollies – there’s a general appreciation and excitement element that keeps everything level.

MF: What are your plans for the festival over the next few years?

MW: As there’s four of us at the core of H&D, we’ve got more plans than you could write a novel on; the fundamental idea though is to keep the festival small in size, but grow steadily in the right sort of areas. We’re working with the Metropolitan Land Council (MLC) to establish Camp Wollomi as a holiday retreat of sorts, with the idea of creating jobs within the indigenous community and supporting the MLC as an organisation. We’ve also got an exciting profit-sharing model to launch once we’ve reached some sort of financial stability – ensuring that artists, crew and everyone else involved can earn a few bucks for their hard work!

MF: Finally, what’s your favourite memory of working on the festival so far? Any golden moments you’d like to share?

MW: The meeting with Windsor police where H&D was granted approval for BYO was quite amazing – it’s difficult to remain composed and hold back the yelps of delight when you’re in such a formal environment. But…. WOOOHOO!!!!!

The High&Dry Festival takes place from the 27-29 of November at Camp Wollimi, two hours north of Sydney. For more info, check out the website.

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