Monday 11 October 2021

Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2021

I bought our tickets for the Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2020 in December 2019, hovering over the keyboard as they went on sale and bagging them at the cheapest price - not that it's cheap at £167 for an adult weekend ticket with camping, but at least the tiny people's tickets are free so a four day break for five of us cost £501 with unlimited music, dancing and workshops and a full programme of activities for the children.  When the pandemic struck the Festival was cancelled and we decided that rather than seek a refund, we would roll the tickets over and use them this year.

It takes months to plan an event like this one so decisions had to be made in the spring when nobody could have foreseen what the covid situation would be at the end of August.  In May the Festival organisers let us know that the format would be different this year and gave us another opportunity to request a refund if we didn't want to use our tickets.  Firstly, all the artists would be British-based; secondly, there would be only three stages this year, two large and one small, and no marquees so everything would be in the open air and we would have to bring our own rugs or chairs.  This is a big change: usually there are three huge marquees as well as the small outdoor stage and seating is provided.  Thirdly, there would be no dance tent so all the dancing would be outdoors and there would be no Festival events in the town so no performances in pubs and no dance parade through the streets to the main square.  Fourthly, the children's festival events would also be in the open air.  We did consider asking for a refund at this stage because  of the unreliable nature of our weather - we didn't want to sit in a field in pouring rain, hail, freezing temperatures or a heatwave, all of which we have experienced at the Festival over our previous eleven visits - but we decided to go ahead, largely because we just felt desperate for some live music and a return to something resembling precovid normality.   We almost regretted that decision when the programmes landed on our doormat the weekend before the Festival and we saw how thin they were in comparison with previous years, so it was without my usual level of giddy excitement that we packed up the car at the end of August and headed off to our county showground.

My fears were unfounded.  The weather was kind, neither cold nor wet, and on the first evening we packed the tiny people into their wagon with blankets and pillows, picked up our chairs and walked to the stage field.  We had all been asked to take lateral flow tests within forty-eight hours of attending the Festival and to keep away if those tests were positive. People were sensible about maintaining a distance from others and as The Longest Johns sang and the sun (and the wine) went down, I knew that we had made the right decision.  We were with our tribe, I felt safe and my heart was singing as well as my voice; I knew that it was going to be all right.

And it really was all right, although the outdoor stages created a very different mood from the indoor stages we are used to at this festival.  I enjoyed the relaxed mood, the space around us which meant that we could easily wheel the children in, let them dance around and then fall asleep on our laps or in the wagon.  I met an inspirational woman named Regina, at least twenty years older than me and probably more, who explained to me how she used her chair to steady herself when she stood up and then danced with one hand on it to maintain her balance.  She had come to the Festival by herself and she told me that she had brought a tent for her toilet and was sleeping in her car.  I think that I want to be like Regina when I grow up.  On Saturday evening Show of Hands played a blinding set full of hopeful, positive songs, just what we needed  eighteen months into a scary pandemic, and when they sang about people who were fleeing Afghanistan in fear of their lives and asked us to shine a light to guide them to safety we all turned on the torches on our mobile 'phones and held them aloft without feeling at all self-conscious, and we meant it, even the Best Beloved!  On Sunday evening, the tiny people went to bed and The Teacher and I sat outside our tents as we listened to Seth Lakeman and watched the lights beam across the sky.  The Teacher commented that she always forgets just how much she likes Seth Lakeman until she hears Seth Lakeman.

Without the large marquees the site felt strange and I found it difficult to orientate myself but the food court (once I found it!) felt the same as ever and we ate some delicious treats in the sunshine.  Tom Kitten and Cottontail would like to recommend the ice cream and the Best Beloved would like to recommend the stuffed crepes.

There were far fewer dance teams than usual but no dancing in the town meant that there was more dancing on the showground and it was surprising and delightful to come across these teams and their bands unexpectedly while I was waiting for my cocktail walking through the site.  

The Festival was small this year and felt rather subdued.  I missed the buzz.  Many people said that they preferred the outdoor stages and that it felt more like a "proper festival" but they obviously weren't there when it rained (every year between 2009 and 2018) and we were glad of the protection of the marquees.  I really can't compare this year's event with previous years, it was such a different experience that it would be like trying to compare pears with oranges, and I like both.

This is a small post for a small Festival but before I finish I must show you one more photograph.  The Festival finishes on a Monday evening and we always stay over and leave just before midday on Tuesday.  Every year I take a photograph of the camping field as we leave, before the volunteers come in to litter pick and clear the site, showing exactly how the campers have left it.  I am hugely proud to be part of this community which comes together for a few days once a year and leaves the site almost without trace.  Folkies are tidy.

I am sorry that it has taken me so long to bring you this post. I'll be back soon to share my covid experience with you.

Take care.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x