Connecting Prince Edward Island to the land down under
by Teresa Doyle
There’s a reason why Island musicians love Australia. In fact a few good reasons, the first being The Woodford Folk Festival. Paper Lions, Ward MacDonald, Richard Wood and Gordon Belsher, Irish Mythen, and other Islanders have played there.
This year my son Patrick Bunston and I were invited and The East Pointers were back by popular demand. Patrick and I would just tell people we were from East Point Island, enough said!
Woodford is impossible to describe. It is so massive, so creative, so life affirming with a program the size of the PEI phone book. The festival is a tent city with 2000 performers, 35 stages, lectures, a postal service, folk medicine, crafts, a strong environmental ethic and a hippie vibe. We chose to stay in tents on site to take it all in.
Over 120,000 people attend the six day event and despite these massive numbers it always feels laid back, safe and fun. Hundreds of people take part in the opening and closing ceremonies spending months building gigantic puppets and creating dance and choir pieces. It was awe-inspiring.
For the ceremonies we joined our fellow Islanders to marvel at the beauty and imagination of the human spirit. Patrick and I did six shows in all ranging from children’s music to kirtan (chanting). Our favourite was the Canadian songs of Happiness show with the The East Pointers, Digging Roots, Small Glories and Alysha Brilla.
After the intensity of Woodford, Patrick and I were happy to spend a week near the beach in Maroochydore at the home of a friend I made in India last year. It’s wonderful to share these adventures with my son. Patrick returned to university in early January and I stayed on for a few more weeks to play at The Cygnet Folk Festival in Tasmania.
Tasmania has a strong connection to Prince Edward Island through the writing community and the Institute of Island Studies. Tassie has a Maritime vibe. The land is hilly and lush with lots of beautiful farms. Cherries and apricots were in season.
At Cygnet I was asked to do a master vocal class on chanting. One of the attendees invited me to spend a few days with her after the festival. She worked with the Dali Lama for several years and had great stories to tell and taught me a number of Tibetan songs that I will be sharing at my chanting classes (Tuesdays at The Vessel, 171 Great George St, 4:45 pm).
Other trip highlights were performing in small towns like Maryborough and Nanango, meeting an Aboriginal shaman named Gootala Doyle with enough Irish blood to give him green eyes, and a trip to Lady Elliot Island at the south end of the Great Barrier Reef.
Australia is an incredible country and a month is just a taste. We felt very at home there, like being with distant cousins for the first time. We were warmly welcomed and can't wait to return.