Possibly the friendliest and most relaxed festival I have ever attended.
Shrewsbury Folk Festival is a first for Festival Kidz and myself. In the 25 years I’ve been going to festivals I have never experienced such a warm and welcoming vibe. As I don’t follow the folk scene or attend these sort of events I was pleasantly surprised by how well it was run and it exceeded all my expectations with its calm, safe, chilled, family atmosphere.
Predominately attended by mature couples but still lots of families and youngsters there was no unruly, drunk youths or bad language. It felt like a large community gathering on a huge scale with so much respect, kindness and friendliness between everyone. All the volunteers weren’t there to get a free ticket, they were passionate about music and being involved in the event.
Location & Campsite
A stone’s throw away from Shrewsbury town centre, held at West Midlands show ground, the festival is nestled next to a river and surrounded by fields and trees. A fantastic location but not the easiest place to drive to on a bank holiday weekend.
After a 6 hour journey we arrived on Friday afternoon to find very few camping spots. This is mainly due to the majority of people arriving on Thursday evening and Friday morning. Whether you are a tent, camper van, lorry or caravan you are free to camp wherever you want within the festival and surrounding area. This also includes families being able to park their car next to their tent which is a real bonus.
We ended up camping in a field next to the festival which was quiet and just a few minutes walk away. I found it quite liberating that if we’d arrived earlier we could have camped next to the main stage or the big top tent.
From tots to teens this festival has it covered as long as you don’t want commercial, flashing fairground rides. There is a timetable of activities, circus skills and crafts in the Pandemonium tent which caters for all children up to the age of around 12.
Family yoga each morning followed by dance workshops, silent disco, woodland crafts, den making, song writing, music playing, treasure hunts, fun and games. There was a circus tent next to pandemonium where you could learn hula hoop, juggling and try out a variety of crazy bikes on the tipsy turvy cycle circuit.
For older children and teens between 11-20 there was a designated marquee and area called ‘The Reef’. Here you could try out rapping, samba drumming, acrobatic and circus skills with ‘Organised Kaos’ henna tattooing, bracelet making and you could even join in a jamming session (all instruments provided). Between ‘The Reef’ and ceilidh dancing in the dance tent my daughter and her friend both aged 13 were constantly on the go and the best thing was all activities and workshops were free.
Village Stage & Dance Tent
A Folk festival wouldn’t be folk without the amazing variety of different dance shows that were put on at the village stage which was surrounded by individual craft stalls and shops. From clog dancing, Morris dances, even contemporary folk and Asian, there was always something entertaining to see. This leads me to the main attraction and activity that my daughter couldn’t get enough of, ceilidh dancing.
We all enjoyed getting involved in this dance but she couldn’t get enough of it. To be honest after 3 dances in a row I was almost passing out as it’s quite energetic but Libby was completely engrossed and it was a joy to see her dancing and laughing with numerous different adults and children. If you haven’t tried it you must give it a go. You can’t help but smile and there is always someone to encourage you or steer you in the right direction if you get it wrong.
Music & Workshops
I don’t follow the folk scene so to be honest I wasn’t aware of many of the bands playing but there was a mixture of folk and world music all of which we throughly enjoyed. Black Umfolosi, Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, Track Dogs, Edward II and Skerryvore were some of our favourites. It was actually quite nice to just go along with no preconceptions and listen to new and fun music.
A big pull for many people will be the almost unlimited amount of free musical and instrumental workshops and tuition available. What an opportunity for anyone interested in learning to play an instrument or just wanted to get better or more involved in jamming sessions. There were designated marquees and areas for these workshops but quite often we would come across an impromptu group of 3 or 4 people happily jamming away.
Food & Drink
The Food Village was brilliantly set up around a large open sided marquee which housed seats and tables for eating. A wonderful selection of meat, vegetarian and vegan vendors, prices ranging from £3 – £12, there was never long queues and food was good quality.
Also located at the Food Village was a large bar and cocktail double decker bus. Obviously I had to test the products and the selection of beers, ales, ciders and even Guinness were brilliant. Prices were reasonable £5 pint and £7/£8 for a cocktail, plus they were served in reusable, plastic glassware.
Although choice of meals and beverages was great what I loved about this festival is you could bring in your own food and drink and this can really help keep costs down for lots of families. There was a fantastic allotment shop selling a variety of different breads, pastries, veg, fruit, sausages and bacon so you could always stock up on supplies and makes your own sandwiches for the day.
This incredibly well organised festival had some of the best toilet and shower facilities I have seen at such a large event and the recycling effort was outstanding. I constantly had a pocket full of tissues as there was never a toilet without loo paper. Very rarely did I have to queue and the toilets were always pristine with plenty of soap and hand towels. The recycling in the campsite and around the festival were amazing. There were separate bins for glass, paper, cardboard, compostables, cans, plastic and general waste. What I found inspiring was that everyone was separating their rubbish and putting it in the correct bins.
This festival also offered the facility to bring along your dog, although we chose not to bring our furry friend its a great option for families who aren’t able to leave their pet with anyone to go away. There was never any mess and we saw people walking their dogs in the surrounding fields each morning.
If you want a safe, relaxed and civilised festival full of warmth and friendliness this is for you. Remember to bring chairs, a blanket and picnic and enjoy all the free entertainment and activities. The only thing that I missed from this festival compared to some others is the quirky, flamboyant artists and performers that are often found roaming around but I would definitely return and I would urge everyone to give this folkie fest a go. I will be looking into other folk festivals which I have often overlooked in the past.
For more information on Shrewsbury Folk Festival please see our factsheet