It may seem as though the Shrewsbury Folk Festival has travelled just a short distance during its increasingly-impressive lifetime, writes Andy Richardson.
It started out in humble fashion 20 miles from its present home. Back in the day, a few hundred ardent folkies descended each year on Bridgnorth, scuttling along Oldbury Wells to enjoy sessions in unprepossessing venues.
Having outgrown that, the festival relocated to Shrewsbury’s Quarry Park, where it proved so successful that it was forced to move for a final time to its present home at the Shropshire Showground.
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As the crow flies, that may seem like a short distance but, in fact, the Shrewsbury Folk Festival has travelled a million miles.
Today it’s firmly established as one of the nation’s finest events; a rabble-rousing annual hoedown for fans of acoustic, roots and folk.
It’s popular among the 6,000 fans who descend for their annual fix and it’s loved in similar measure by the galaxy of A-list artists who rate it alongside Blue Riband events like Cambridge Folk Festival.
During the coming weekend, some of the biggest names in folk – Richard Thompson, Kate Rusby, KT Tunstall and Show Of Hands – will thrill fans from across the UK.
The action began last night when Session A9 took to the main stage at a little after 7.30pm. The Scots were the perfect opening act, delighting fans with a musically accomplished, Bobby Dazzler set of Celtic reels. Deft interplay between smoking fiddles, acoustic guitar, percussion and guitar got the weekend off to an impressive start.
Second-on-the-bill Madison Violet were forced to pull out at the last minute due to a family illness, but stand-in Emily Barker proved a noteworthy replacement before the crowd-pleasing headliner Anxo Lorenzo took to the stage. The Galician piper offered an explosive end to the first night action, leaving fans eagerly-awaiting the days ahead.
The Shrewsbury Folk Festival is about much more than star performers, however, and its second stage offered equally impressive talents. The Jaywalkers, Jonathan Byrd, Lau and Vin Garbutt made for an impressive line-up, with Lau being the pick of the bunch.
The Scottish trio – Kris Drever, Aidan O’Rourke and Martin Green – are no strangers to Shrewsbury. Drever played a heart-warming set in recent times at The Hive, off Belmont, and a deep affection exists between the town and his band. They were imperious last night, bringing sublime melodies, exceptional instrumentation and heart-warming harmonies to the stage.
The rain fell throughout the evening, but fans were immune to the downpour. Inside the main tent, there was a sunshine mood as beautiful playing brought warmth to a dark autumnal night.
There was entertainment for all on the opening evening, with experienced amateur musicians delighting in a Beer Tent session; youngsters enjoying fun and games and Al Hewson leading a country-tinged singalong in the pavilion bar.
The party lasted well into the night as fans made the most of a good-natured atmosphere and enjoyed the impromptu sing-a-longs and sessions.
With much to look forward to across a busy weekend, the 6,000 fans at Shrewsbury Folk Festival are destined to enjoy a supremely entertaining weekend.
By Andy Richardson