The best folk festivals this August

The best folk festivals this August

HAVING spent a day at the very well organised GuilFest where, despite the threat of thunderstorms, the sun thankfully smiled on a great crowd, it does emphasise what an important part the weather plays at festivals and the risk that promoters and traders take.

Now with August sweeping in, the festival season is in full swing. Cambridge Folk Festival has been sold out for a while but there is plenty more going on elsewhere.

The East Devon coastal town of Sidmouth has been hosting Sidmouth Folk Week during the first week of August every year since 1955 attracting tens of thousands of visitors to a huge number of diverse events.

Although the festival officially starts on Friday (August 1), there is a pre-festival concert with Ralph McTell tomorrow (Thursday). It seems a bit strange that it is not part of the festival proper.

Perhaps they didn’t want to change the tradition and Ralph was not available any night during the actual official festival week. It may also be just a clever bit of booking on Ralph’s part to pick that date and tag onto the festival publicity.

As usual there are a bewildering number of acts and events packed into the week ranging from major concerts to small sessions, roots parties, ceilidh dancing, master classes and family entertainment. Scotland is the focus for the main concert on Friday when legendary duo Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham top the bill with support from Fiona Hunter and South Mainland Young Fiddlers.

cara dillon1-n Cara Dillon will take to the stage at Sidmouth Folk Week

Saturday sees Derry songstress Cara Dillon headline a strong line-up on a day that also sees Thomas McCarthy performing in a different venue. Thomas will be making a number of appearances at the festival and it’s good to see Racker Donnolly, a personal favourite, also on the bill.

There are plenty of Irish activities with Irish dancers, set dance and bodhran workshops throughout the week. The full programme — all 31 pages — is available to download on

If you are a total seaside-loving festival fanatic then you could immediately head to East Kent for the Broadstairs Folk Week which starts next Friday (August 8). With a packed programme of around 70 events every day, boredom should not be a problem.

Cajun/Zydeco/Swamp’n’Roll outfit Elvis Fontenot & The Sugar Bees should get the feel-good juices flowing on Friday night. The accordion-led music from the Bayous of Louisiana — by way of Staffordshire — is infectious and should have the place jumping.

The exceptionally talented singer/songwriter Bella Hardy is another main attraction. She was voted Folk Singer of the Year at the 2014 BBC Radio 2 awards. Other acts to watch out for are Tim Edey (featured a little while back in this column) and Seth Lakeman (already sold out).

Bluegrass is represented by the high-flying Southern Tenant Folk Union and brilliant songwriter Mick Ryan will be accompanied by guitarist Paul Downes who will also be appearing with Maggie Boyle. Folk legend Dick Gaughan makes a couple of appearances and all in all it’s an excellent festival line-up. Full details are available on

Not to be left out of the picture, the Bath Folk Festival, now entering its fifth year, will run from August 9-17 and will feature some Irish acts as well as numerous Irish sessions.

Headlined by folk legend Martin Carthy MBE, the festival will feature a fairly eclectic mixture over the week with acts such as Sheelanagig, Rory McLeod and Clive Carroll sitting alongside the likes of exciting new Irish trad outfit CrossHarbour (who should be just back from appearing at the Cambridge Folk Festival), Ards branch of Comhaltas and a whole range of diverse events coming under the broad folk umbrella in the lovely city of Bath.

Well worth checking out, the website is