Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Folk Festivals

The article posted below is written by Amber Cowan and was originally posted in Metro on 25/06/12. Metro is a free newspaper that can be found dotted around London's Underground network. The article highlights a recent revival of folk festivals in the UK and explores their implicit and explicit religious aspects, especially with reference to their indicating a sociological shift in the ways that Britons want to collectively escape from the modern life. But most of all the article provides a good example of accessible and unbiased writing concerning religion and society that the College is excited to showcase in the hope of its providing food for critical reflection for those wanting to explore these issues in more depth.

Last summer, Glastonbury godfather Michael Eavis declared that music festivals were ‘on their way out’, blaming high ticket prices and the feeling that people ‘have seen it all before’. 

Glasto is taking a break in 2012 and the big, branded events are sticking to safe territory – but home-grown folk festivals are enjoying a creative renaissance not seen since the days of cheesecloth blouses.

From the much-loved Green Man in Wales to newcomers such as Wilderness and Folklore, this season’s calendar is full of opportunities to let your hair down, perform a pagan ritual and connect with the spirit of Albion.

‘There has definitely been a rise in the number of cool, small folk festivals in the last few years,’ says Alex Neilson of Glasgow psych-folk band Trembling Bells, who are playing Green Man and FolkEast in Suffolk. 

‘I think people are looking for something different and more honest. No one wants to pay £200 to be rained on while drinking expensive beer any more.’

The British festival scene has its roots in folk music: Cambridge Folk Festival, which was started in 1965, arguably pioneered the bands-in-a-field format, while the first Glastonbury, held five years later, stemmed from the same folky ethos. 

However, the new generation of folk festivals is also about the idea of connecting with a mythical, magical past.

Loyally attended fixtures such as Fairport’s Cropredy Convention and the Cambridge event still play to the real-ale brigade: Cropredy annually sells 20,000 tickets to fans who want little more than to relax in the sun and enjoy some music and dancing. 

But on folk’s fringes, you can take your pick from more intriguing options, from relative newcomer Wilderness in the Cotswolds – a hedonistic celebration of ‘Arcadian arts, lost traditions and outdoors pursuits’ in a forested country estate – to Folklore in Jersey, where rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson and Ray Davies of The Kinks will play a stone’s throw from St Helier beach.

‘Many of these niche folk festivals have a unique location,’ says Neilson, ‘and being somewhere stunning really adds to the experience. It’s about escapism.’ 

As well as feeling more ancient and earthy, they also have the little luxuries you don’t get at big events. ‘The organisers know the importance of providing artisan food and inspiring places to relax. Plus, there are proper toilets.’

The current folk revival started with Green Man, the festival that combines the appeal of a lost weekend in the Brecon Beacons with the chance to burn a wicker effigy at the end of it. 

It was founded in 2003 by Jo Bartlett and Danny Hagan, and has since grown into a phenomenally popular three-day event, with 15,000 tickets on sale, a no-sponsorship rule and an influential music policy: Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling and Noah And The Whale were among the names the festival championed before most of us had heard of them.

Green Man’s line-up this year is as impressive as ever, with Van Morrison headlining, but it’s the only folk event that competes with big names. For the rest, it’s all about the vibe, man. 

‘Wilderness isn’t really about sitting watching bands,’ says organiser Tim Harvey. 

‘The centre of gravity is more ethereal than that. It’s about turning your phone off and enjoying the time-honoured pleasures of feasting and celebration.’

This year, you’ll be able to see a performance of Homer’s Odyssey on a lake, dine in a souk and even learn to fly-fish.

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, which has been a fixture since 1976, is proof that folk festivals are about more than star-studded bills. The event has exactly the same headline act every year – Fairport Convention, obviously – and puts its longevity down to its family-friendly atmosphere.

‘I’ve seen four generations of one family rocking up to Cropredy,’ says Simon Nicol, a founding member of the folk-rock veterans. 

‘In fact, I’m often told the children were conceived at the festival. We sell more pints at Cropredy than at the Great British Beer Festival but we don’t have any trouble. You can let your kids roam free here and you can’t do that at Glastonbury.’

Harvey agrees that families are a big reason for the new popularity of folk festivals. 
‘We have people in their twenties who come to Wilderness for the parties but also people in their late thirties and forties who bring their kids. We want to make the festival a spiritual experience for them too.’

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, Aug 9 to 11, www.fairportconvention.com; Wilderness Festival, Aug 10 to 12, www.wildernessfestival.com; Green Man Festival, Aug 17 to 19, www.greenman.net

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