Another year, another excellent Shrewsbury Folk Festival (23-26 August), which is fast becoming a permanent fixture in my festival year. The volunteer stewards were allowed to set up camp a day early on Thursday afternoon and after I had found a good spot for my happy tent, we went exploring the centre of Shrewsbury. We happened to run into a group of local ‘rappers’, who far from being hip hop musicians, are a type of morris band who dance with rapper swords, flexible steel swords with a handle at each end. It turned out that The Loggerheads pub was the place to be for a live session on a Thursday night, the perfect start to our Shrewsbury weekend.
On Friday morning I had my volunteer welcome meeting at the artist reception tent, where I was stationed this year. It was a small, friendly team and our shifts were split between guarding the artist gate and checking in artists, making coffee as well as entertaining the children of musicians. The first night of music was already a highlight. First up on the main stage were Nidi d’Arac, a fast-paced Italian band, who play Southern Italian tarantella music with a modern twist, followed by Steve Knightley, longstanding festival patron, who had everyone singing along of course.
We then headed over to main stage two for the long-awaited Nic Jones set. He had only started singing in front of audiences again last year, accompanied by his son Joseph on guitar and Belinda O’Hooley on piano. Even though it was early days at Shrewsbury 2013, I already knew this was going to be one of my favourites and the most emotional and inspiring set of all. We even had a few words with Nic and his son in the bar afterwards.
On Saturday the festival was in full swing. After a fantastic harmony singing session with Lady Maisery (see above), followed by an impromptu flashmob mini peformance near the main stage, I had a busy afternoon switching between various tents to catch Martyn Joseph , Nancy Kerr & James Fagan, Tim O’Brien and Luke Jackson. Then I was off to another volunteer shift, which was eventful and fun. I spent the first part of the evening at Eddi Reader‘s set on the main stage followed by the Oysterband. Mark Erelli in the Sabrina Marquee was our next stop and I finished off the evening in the dance tent with the hilarious spoof country duo The Doyle & Debbie Show.
I had a slow start on Sunday morning. There was another harmony singing session, this time with The Melrose Quartet, and then we had a great laugh with Keith Donnelly‘s comedy/music act on the main stage. After another volunteer shift at artist reception, there was another great evening of music ahead of us. This included Barnstar (the Mark Erelli’s band plus Jake and Taylor Armerding), the Bright Phoebus Collective (with Jon Boden) singing Tom Waits, including a guest appearance by Eddi Reader, and the fabulous Carolina Chocolate Drops from North Carolina.
On Monday we pretty much stayed in the main tent where we caught Canadian all-female band The Be Good Tanyas, whose base player, having missed a flight, just about made it on stage for the last song and encore. Luckily, Zack Hickman (bassist with Mark Erelli, Barnstar, Josh Ritter) came to the rescue. Lively Scottish folk stalwarts Capercaillie were on just before the Patron’s Set, this year a duo with Steve Knightley and the Oysterband’s John Jones, plus various guest performers.
While the quality of the music was again superb, the friendly punters (and the many equally friendly dogs) are always the best reason to return to Shrewsbury. As with many great festivals I love, it’s like you’re transported to a different planet for the weekend. One I would be very happy to become a permanent resident of.