With sunshine predicted, headlining acts such as Billy Bragg, Lau, Chaz & Dave and father/daughter folksters Martin and Eliza Carthy, there was nothing but a good do in-store for this iconic folk festival in it's 30+ year. Last year the festival had successfully moved to Beverley Racecourse to allow for a burgeoning number of people wanting to attend.
Friday evening was off to great start when the Nick Rooke Band livened up a fairly sedate crowd with their cheery, energetic tunes. The 1500 capacity tent was full and almost entirely seated. The band did a great job of energising everyone.
Next up was Billy Bragg. He not only entertained with familiar and new songs, but was making the audience guffaw with anecdotes and observations about 'folkies'. Complete with a cup of herbal tea in hand. Whether or not the tea was staged I didn't really care and neither did the audience, we were loving it. His style was so relaxed and humorous you had to remind yourself you were listening to a progressive icon. Fantastic stuff.
After a few navigation problems, due to no signposts anywhere on site, I made the discovery of extremely talented The Sail Pattern from Halifax. Good fortune as their songs and melodies really livened up another crowd and the mood was good. Something akin to Stornoway, with powerful sea shanties and excellent harmonies. They delivered a diverse set list that really showed off their many talents.
On to the concert and dance marquee to catch French band La Vent Du Nord. Surprisingly this marquee was also seated which was odd given it was a called the dance tent. But not to be perturbed by this the band encouraged festival goers to throw their chairs to one side and dance. Some of them got up as a result and a spontaneous ceilidh style dance emerged at the front of the stage. Things were looking up. By the end of their jolly set even the seated were jiggling or waving their arms or both, but the chairs remained firmly in place.
After a promising start to the weekend with some fantastic entertainment I was looking forward to a more lively Saturday.
However, despite having some excellent bands playing into Saturday afternoon and evening there was a noticeable lack of festival atmosphere around the site itself. This became clear when I made a visit to a crowded Paddock View bar where comedian Shaun Hughes was running through his stand up routine. After lots of laughs and the signing of his poetry books, (his poetry was actually very good) the crowd simply disappeared. I went on to watch brilliant performances from The Duncan McFarlane Band(main tent), Katie Spencer (emerging talent) and finally Mànran (dance tent), who again got everyone on their feet. Yet, somehow, after each event the audience dissolved into silent and empty fields. Strange.
Despite the perfect weather and spare capacity most entertainment was in three marquees and a handful of scattered about rooms that formed the racecourse buildings. If you wanted to sit and chat, outside, there was very little provision and mostly no entertainment. Enjoying a sunny solstice evening in a typical festival atmosphere between your chosen acts was near on impossible. I thought this was a real shame and for me it cast a gloomy atmosphere over the really good things about the festival. In desperation I even tried to get into an advertised workshop. On finding the room up some stairs and at the end of a corridor there was no one there -not even a workshop facilitator.
The festival organisers sell day tickets, they also sell single event tickets which may explain the quiet if most people are visiting for succinct events. Beverley Folk Festival undoubtedly has a reputation and an excellent line up, but what about the things that don't go on the timetable? What about other activities and things to do? It is a festival after all and potentially festival goers are around for three days 24/7. It would be a great shame to not give a more rounded festival experience. Having looked at the website again on my return I see they have fringe events in the centre of Beverley, with a free shuttle bus so perhaps this is where I went wrong. Instead of waiting on site I should have taken a break on a bus and back again. Sadly not for me.
The rest of the festival line up was, you guessed it, amazing, but I borrowed a good book for the waiting times in-between. Perhaps something to think about for next year? I hope so, as this was one of the better smaller festivals I've been to for the line up alone.
Enough said, Put t' kettle on, it's time for a cuppa herbal tea.