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The Shetland Folk Festival – A Brief Guide for Visitors

Published by Theo Jiau

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The Shetland Folk Festival is a completely volunteer organised/ lead event that is drawing the cream of the crop in folk acts to the Islands, year in, year out!

Previous Years

1981 saw the first festival take place on the beautiful and rugged collection of islands that represent the most northerly part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, Shetland is closer to Norway than it is to the Scottish Mainland.

Previous acts to have graced the numerous stages include The Saw Doctors, Eddie Reader, Elvis Costello, Rolf Harris and Dougie Maclean (to name but a few!). As the festival has aged it has only grown in popularity, diversity and perhaps ‘wildness’, a frequently used quote probably summing up the experience was from Dick Gaughan, “This festival requires a Government health warning – nobody sleeps!” (http://www.shetlandfolkfestival.com/index.php)

Local Talent

The Islands also boast a large variety of local musicians who take their turn to liven up the scattered stages and whip the visiting audience into a fair frenzy. Fiddles fizz and guitar strings snap in the melee of traditional and modern tunes that can be heard across the Voes on a still night.

Here you can see an excellent example of communities and cultures coming together, with a growing number of people traveling far and wide to be a part of this great festival. You know it’s going well when the audience find space to dance between the chairs and tables and “we want more” rings, unnecessarily, from all corners.

4 Days, 1 Experience

To really experience this festival I would recommend you attend a hall (local venues spread across the Isles) every night and then head on to the hub of activity at the Islesburgh Centre, where empty rooms fill with musicians returning from their main gig of the night. Instruments are exchanged and artists mingle their sounds with other talented individuals.

Anyone who is a member of the Folk Festival can join in and, often random, members of the public will come to add to the melodies and rhythm that really reflect the true meaning of the festival. This is where something special turns into something spectacular. Here, session music takes on a whole new meaning, with instruments joining on top of already wholesome sounds and causing a vibration through your bones that, I swear, will last long after the feeling of sea legs has faded.

This is where the once in a lifetime experiences happen because the sessions are often improvised (this is real ‘jamming’!). What’s perhaps even more outstanding is that this is a completely volunteer run event, something that you have to keep reminding yourself as the nights roll naturally and successfully.

Personal Experience

As a local artist myself, I have to admit to being totally in awe from start to finish. The butterflies from performing on a stage alongside the likes of The Wiyos and Vasen, were second to none. The buzz was phenomenal and the enjoyment of meeting and ‘hanging-out’ with all the acts made it an extraordinary event to perform at. Everyone treated each other with respect and were genuinely keen to hear fellow acts musical offerings throughout the night.

So what should you expect from the festival?

Expect fantastic music and amazingly talented individuals. Expect welcoming locals and ongoing parties (even after the festival club has closed its doors). Expect goose bumps. Expect to sleep for a week after you finally arrive back home. Expect the unexpected!

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