Yes, WOMAD is going ahead. Here's what you need to know about the festival and its attendees. Photo: WOMAD NZ Facebook.

An essential guide to the people you’ll meet at Womad 2020

Michelle Cruickshanks presents a complete taxonomy of the types of people who’ll be descending on New Plymouth this weekend for Womad.

First things first: Womad is going ahead this weekend as planned. You can find more information here, and a statement from it follows:

“New Zealand is prepared and ready to deal with a Covid-19 outbreak should it occur here. The risk of an ongoing outbreak is low-moderate, the Ministry Of Health is monitoring the situation closely. With continued vigilance, the chance of widespread community outbreak is expected to remain low.

Womad 2020 event is proceeding as planned. Safety of our festival audience is the top priority. The Ministry of Health does not propose altering arrangements for public events nationwide, with large- and small-scale international events in the music, arts and sports sectors all proceeding as programmed. 

Womad NZ is working with local, provincial, and national agencies to ensure a safe event and will continue to monitor the situation closely and will provide updates as necessary. We are in communication with our UK and Australian Womad colleagues to ensure the safety of our artists and audiences also.”

To the uninitiated, the word Womad conjures images of a vast ocean of hemp-clad alternative types tribal dancing barefoot. In reality, the vast majority of the 50,000 people who converge on New Plymouth’s idyllic Brooklands Park each year are pretty representative of those you’d find in any middle-class New Zealand suburb.   

That’s not to say Womad isn’t awash with colourful characters. So, Attenborough-like, let us investigate some of the more common Womad species and see what lessons we can glean from their adaptations and behaviours.

Indisputably, the WOMAD expert. Photo: WOMAD NZ Facebook page.

The Expert

Perpetually clutching their (heavily notated) festival guide and stage schedule, the Expert’s Womad planning and preparation makes North Korean military exercises look sloppy.

The Expert has their work cut out for them. Seeing 40+ musical acts perform on four stages is just the beginning. To truly earn their Expert title they need to somehow bend the rules of space and time and get to six additional spaces all jam-packed with their own schedule of  performances, workshops, demonstrations, lectures, cultural activities and more.

Mystery surrounds how the Expert manages to condense so much into three days. Just as puzzling is their reproduction, as Experts seem to be almost exclusively male. They will happily coexist with all other species but can become defensive when encountering one of their own, and it is not unusual for squabbles over scheduling to break out. While all Experts are proficient in tool use, only a handful shepherd their followers through the throngs by holding aloft a tall festooned stick, a behaviour adapted from the European tour guide.

What we can learn from the Expert:

Consulting the stage schedule, selecting amenities away from performances, and making judiciously timed food and beverage runs can drastically reduce queuing.

The Revellers at Womad 2020. Photo: Womad NZ Facebook page.

The Reveller

At the other end of the preparation spectrum is the Reveller. Despite being unable to name a single act now that Ziggy Marley has pulled out, the Reveller is one of Womad’s biggest enthusiasts and zealously recruits new festival goers.

The Reveller religiously attends every Womad. Like estimating the age of a tree by its rings, keen observers can calculate how many Womad a Reveller has attended by the number of hair and body adornments they sport. Males of the species go shirtless and can be identified by their unique sun scorched markings.

Revellers account for a disproportionately high number of bar sales, a phenomenon linked to their enthusiastic dancing rituals. Females carry bottles of bubbles or rosé on their person at all times. The males’ Globlets (Womad’s reusable, environmentally friendly cups) are refilled with a selection of premium and craft beers more often than any other festival goers.

What we can learn from the Reveller:

Don’t let not knowing any of the acts hold you back. Go hard but remember Womad is a marathon, not a sprint. If you do peak too early, follow the Reveller and soak up the excess with a Hungarian bread puff or gourmet pie and a quick nap under a tree.

The Parents and their children in their Womad habitat. Photo: Womad 2020 Facebook page.

The Parents

Early every day Parents vie for territory and status as they cover the upper slopes of the Bowl with Kathmandu shade shelters and impossibly large blankets.

Parents are some of the easiest Womaders to identify, shackled as they generally are to one or more of their young (who are themselves identified by the cell phone numbers emblazoned up their arms in black Vivid). The dominant adult of each group shoulders a mandatory back-pack.

Parents form large social groupings to facilitate the shared care of their juveniles, who are primarily focused on the Kids Zone. This carnival of kid-friendly performances, workshops and activities requires minimal input from the Parent, leaving them largely free to jostle for shade while they count down to the hand-off of the juveniles to the next scheduled caregiver.  

Away from their base camp and the Kids Zone, juveniles are enthusiastically accepted into the general Womad audience and can be seen safely whooping and dancing (or napping) alongside all other species throughout the weekend.

What we can learn from the Parent:

Womad is a fully self-sufficient ecosystem. Come prepared but don’t freak out when you forget something – you’ll be able to borrow it, buy it or find it being given away. 

The Boomer in their natural Womad environment. Photo: Womad Facebook.

The Boomer

While they generally avoid music festivals in favour of lecturing millennials on the sacrifices required for home ownership, Boomers make a rare exception for Womad. They can be seen all over the festival reverting to the tolerant, adventurous behaviours characteristic of their youth.

Nowhere is this more evident than within the Global Food Village, where Boomers happily queue for a delicious array of ethnic dishes. In fact, such is their vigour for the (admittedly legendary) eats on offer, that they often resolve to write strongly worded letters to editors advocating a name change to Womaf (World of Music, Art and Food).

Inspired, the female of the species frequents the OMV Taste The World tent. Here Boomer males are on high alert, worrying they may be forced to try quinoa and concerned how their partner’s exposure to the secrets of Somalian pilaf will impact their Tuesday-night rissoles and three veg.

Goldies are a subspecies of Boomer. Older and exclusively wearing sensible, over-priced hiking sandals, Goldies are so named for the Superannuation Gold Cards they carry. These golden tickets let them enter elevated, primely positioned, over-65 seating areas. 

What we can learn from The Boomer:

The food is, quote: “A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.” Wear something with an elasticated waist.

A bunch of the lovable Weirdos in their natural habitat. Photo: Womad NZ Facebook page.

The Weirdo

No Womader list would be complete without the Weirdo. They encompass a magnificent array of colourful subspecies, from hippies and witches to steampunk aficionados and old-school punks. From monochromatic goths to neon glowing ravers, as well as metalheads, bogans and the odd cowboy.

The Weirdo is one of the rarest species at Womad – some subspecies’ populations number less than a handful – but one of the most visible, thanks to each subspecies’ distinctive plumage.

The population of the largest subspecies, the new age/nippie Weirdo, actually swells during Womad, with many festival goers using the event as their annual chance to dust off their patchwork pants and tie-dyed tops and indulge their love of crystals and prayer flags. 

What we can learn from the Weirdo:

Womad is your chance to let your freak flag fly and still blend in. Like the festival itself, the Weirdo embodies diversity, inclusion and tolerance. If only for this one weekend, revel in what makes you unique and embrace the weirdly wonderful festival of difference around you.

As of this writing, Womad 2020 is going ahead this weekend in New Plymouth. You can find Covid-19 guidelines here.


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