One of my favourite locations for festivals is right in the heart of a city. Folk Weekend Oxford, which took place from 17-19 April 2015, did not only successfully tick this particular box. It also managed to put on a veritable smorgasbord of folky entertainment for all ages for a whole weekend again. And all this was achieved by more volunteer hours Cat and her hard-working team probably care to remember – well done! Having joined as a weekend steward once more this year, it was again a great experience – and the weather played along nicely too for a change.
Even though I had decided I would take more of a chilled approach this time and not squeeze too many sets in too many of the fabulous venues in over the three days, Friday night started out with a pretty busy event. I helped running the ceilidh in the beautiful St. Barnabas church in Jericho, one of my favourite areas in Oxford (including the Illyria pottery shop with resident kitty Lucie Maud). Alas, just around the time we were supposed to have our stewards briefing on Friday afternoon, there was a fire at the iconic Randolph Hotel in the city centre. It not only kept the fire brigade busy for most of the evening, but also meant the first main concert at the (a little ominously named) Old Fire Station sadly had to be cancelled. Our dance event, which was sold out last year too, went ahead though and attracted nearly 200 enthusiastic ceilidh dancers of all ages. We had a wonderful evening with lots of laughs and many of the first-timers excitedly asking when the next dance night was going to be on (as it happened, on the following night).
After a hearty breakfast at our B&B I headed back into town along the canal and its parade of lovely narrow boats, caught a short set but great set by Splat the Rat in the OFS gallery space and spent the rest of the morning leisurely browsing the many charity shops and bookshops before having a latte at one of my favourite cafes in town, Zappis Bike Cafe. I returned just in time for Welsh-born but now Oxford-based folk singer Tom Blackburn followed by The August List, a surprising and refreshing Americana addition to the largely trad folk line-up.
Oh and how could I forget the many Morris sides about town? With their colourful costumes and bells tinkling wherever they went, they added a bit of living folk tradition to the village fete on Gloucester Green and in the centre of Oxford and definitely got many a tourist’s camera clicking.
I spent the evening at the cosy Wesley Memorial Church listening to the beautiful harmonies of local female duo Wednesdays Wolves, who were already a welcome addition to the festival last year. They were followed by Ninebarrow and Lady Maisery. Although I had intended to „stay awake“ for the always entertaining Hut People (think percussion extravaganza extraordinaire) who were on at the OFS just before 11pm, I ended up calling it a night around 10pm.
On Sunday the weather wasn’t quite as sunny any more, which was just as well as I spent the afternoon in the best venue a music-loving literature-crazy festival goer could ask for: a bookshop! Blackwells impressive three-storey literary maze on Broad Street to be precise. It was the first time it was used as a festival venue and all afternoon visitors were pouring into the Norrington Room where, from 11am-4pm, FWO musicians took up residence. First up were Henry Webster and Dave Malkin (two of the folk trio Tandem) followed by trad trio Moore Moss Rutter. Young folk singer Penny Kempson was up next as well as quirky and humorous trio Susanna Starling & Friends.
Up-and-coming folk singer Kelly Oliver also made an appearance, so did Ben Moss & Laurel Swift, whose performance included some solo clog dancing by Laurel on an old table top spontaneously provided by Blackwells staff. Yes, I did miss some of the bigger names, but knowing the UK folk circuit, I am bound to catch them live again one of these days. As far as I’m concerned, I had the most fabulous folk weekend again!
If you need additional reasons for visiting Oxford, have a look at this archived post with tips for live music, charity shops, museums and visiting the “Headington Shark”. And in order to find out how the festival came into being and what makes it tick, check out my interview with Folk Weekend Oxford director Cat Kelly.