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Thursday 23 May 2024

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Sidmouth at Seventy! Celebrating Seven Decades of Folk-Fuelled Fun by the Seaside

Dec 23, 2023

The Sidmouth Folk Festival is getting ready to celebrate its milestone 70th year with a classic top-class feast of captivating song, dance, music and merriment, plus some very special anniversary events to delight and unite everyone visiting or living in the picturesque Devon seaside town.
Folk lovers have been making an annual pilgrimage to Sidmouth since 1955, when the very first event dipped its toe in the water with a gathering for folk dance fans, featuring displays along the Esplanade.

Seven decades later, the much-loved annual summer festival has grown into a world-renowned week-long extravaganza that’s become part of the town’s DNA, as well as a faithful stalwart of the West Country festival calendar.

Sidmouth not only champions the very best of traditional and grass roots music and dance, it’s also proud to inject vibrant new energy year after year, embracing a myriad of folk-fuelled genres, as well as harnessing and nurturing the young, rising, cutting edge and culturally diverse.
Bursting into action for the 70th time next summer – from August 2-9 – it promises to be a treat for the ears, eyes and feet, with hundreds of formal and informal events, indoors and outdoors, in marquees, halls, pubs, gardens, on street corners and pavements, not forgetting the stunning backdrop of the town’s sand and shingle beach and striking red cliffs of the Jurassic coast.

The bill features top tier concert headliners, high-octane standing shows, intimate sessions, emerging talent, exclusive commissions, dynamic ceilidhs and folk dances, colourful Morris displays, storytelling, a dedicated fun-packed children’s festival, Shooting Roots sessions for 12- to 17-year-olds, and a huge range of hands-on workshops.

First concert headliners announced for 2024 include contemporary folk queen Kate Rusby, master singer and songwriter Ralph McTell, multi-award-winning Scottish songwriter, folk singer, and storyteller Karine Polwart, perennial powerhouse folk-rockers Oysterband, and impassioned English folk duo Spiers & Boden.

There will also be a rare set from the exquisite Chris Wood and Andy Cutting, tender tunes from Yorkshire pairing O’Hooley & Tidow, the theatrical Spooky Men’s Chorale, folk singer and academic Fay Hield, rich harmonies and high energy dance from South Africa with Zulu Tradition, plus festival patron and Devon folk hero Steve Knightley with his new band Dream in Colors with Johnny Kalsi, Eliza Marshall and Bennet Cerven.

The customary pre-festival Ham Marquee shows for 2024 feature folk rock pioneers Steeleye Span, who helped to define and popularise the genre more than 50 years ago (Friday, August 2, 3pm matinee) and the highly entertaining Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (Thursday, August 1, 8pm), with a special Thursday matinee still to be announced.

Central to the 70th celebrations will be a traditional Street Party harking back to 1955 with picnic, music and dance, and contributions from the local community will be at the heart of The Story of Sidmouth show, reflecting the rich history of the seaside town in words and music.

Other highlights include exquisite alt-folk duo The Breath, Gambian kora-player Jali Bakary Konteh, whose father Dembo played at Sidmouth in the 1980s, Anglo-Indian fusion from Mishra & Deepa and Samia Malik, Jim Causley and Miranda Sykes presenting Ghosts, Werewolves And Countryfolk – The Songs And Stories Of Sabine Baring-Gould, and Daphne’s Flight featuring five of the leading singer songwriters of their generation – Chris While, Julie Matthews, Melanie Harrold, Helen Watson and Miranda Sykes.

The Bulverton, renowned as the high energy hub for dynamic evening roots shows, sunset and campfire sessions, workshops and after-hours fun, will host a specially curated New Moon Party, filled with songs and stories reflecting the phases of the moon and phases of the festival.

This is also the venue for a festival appearance for the Sea Song Sessions featuring the stellar line-up of Jon Boden, Dartmoor’s Seth Lakeman, Ben Nicholls, Emily Portman and Jack Rutter, visits from award-winning Scottish supergroup Mànran and Orcadian dynamos Saltfishforty, plus late night extras with Oysterband and Tickled Pink plus Melrose Quintet, Brown Boots Boogie Band and more.

Super early bird week, weekend and day season tickets and official camping tickets are now on sale, with prices held at 2023 rates, and in some cases dropped. Tickets for Ham Evening Concerts will go on sale in the new year.

Festival co-director Tash Daly said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to reach our landmark 70th festival and look forward to sharing the unique magic of Sidmouth, some amazing performances and immersive events, with music, song and dance lovers from near and far. Folk music is traditionally passed down through the generations and we pride ourselves on being a family-friendly festival. With that in mind, for 2024 we have introduced free tickets for all children aged 11 and under.

“The town and its people welcome the festival so generously year after year, so we’re putting them at the heart of our anniversary celebrations with a unique special production based on local memories and a street party that everyone is invited to. We’re also delighted to welcome back local company JR Event Services as event management partner after a two-year sabbatical.”

Check out sidmouthfolkfestival.co.uk for tickets and more details of the 2024 programme.

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