BLINDLY following my satnav along the windy B-road from Corfe Castle to Langton Matravers, I foolishly thought I’d easily spot a festival in the open countryside … I didn’t.
Purbeck Folk Festival has a unique setting in the valley of the National Trust’s Wilkswood Farm, where barns and outhouses are transformed into five stages – the intimate Duck Shed, where open-mic style sessions took place, the outdoor Fire Stage, where revellers lounge on the grassy slope near the farmhouse, the Wood Stage, home to jam sessions and more open mic slots, and the main stages in the Long Barn and the High Barn.
Festival-goers could browse a range of gift and craft stalls, dine from numerous food vendors, enjoy the odd competition, take part in workshops ranging from crochet and morris dancing to laughter-yoga and meditation, or just enjoy the fine weather and soak up the festival atmosphere. Even the children were entertained with a colourful craft tent and cinema running all day. I personally enjoyed working my way through the outstanding selection of 40 real ales and 20 ciders on offer in The Baaaa.
The festival camping on offer deserves a big thumbs up – the eco-loos have to be the least offensive festival toilets I’ve ever encountered, the offer of a wood-fired sauna almost too great a temptation and the Quiet Camping field was in fact, just that for a change! .
I’m not a connoisseur in the folk genre and that several of the names in the vast lineup (64 programme artists) were unfamiliar to me. However, for me that’s all the fun of a festival and there is real pleasure from discovering a new act, including The April Maze combination of cello, banjo, guitar and stompbox, Bournemouth based The Mother Ukers who played a delightful set of covers, mashed up on three ukuleles, The Drystones (a 15 year old duo) who rolled off a set full of intricate jigs and reels, Ninebarrow, Daniel and the Lion, who echoed the vocal style of Mumford & Sons, local band and good friends of mine Willowen, and Gadarene and Djambo, stretching the boundaries of traditional folk.
Among the headliners, Texas singer songwriter Carrie Rodriguez held the audience in the Long Barn in pure amazement with her scintillating vocals and expressive lyrics, and The Urban Folk Quartet delivered the perfect mix of infectious, cutting edge folk music and comic stagemanship.
For me the reason I’d really booked my ticket was to see Show of Hands. It was a real pleasure to see their bass player Miranda Sykes step into the limelight and perform a set with Rex Preston. Her crystal clear vocals and harmonies are always the icing on the cake with SoH and to see just that little bit more was a delight.
It was inevitable that Show of Hands would steal the weekend for me. Steve Knightley’s emotive storytelling, Phil Beer’s beautiful musicianship and Miranda Sykes’ understated harmonies had the Long Barn literally packed to the rafters. My seven-year old god-daughter saw me in a new light, clapping along like a loon to”Galway Farmer” and singing my socks off to my personal favourites, “Roots” and “Now You Know”. Even she was won over in the end.
As I popped-down my tent and packed to head home, with sore feet, dirty hair, croaky voice and a distinct lack of sleep, I found myself asking whether it had all been worthwhile. With a dog-eared programme, armful of new CDs and hatful of happy memories, the answer is a resounding yes! With their early-bird weekend ticket priced at just £80, Purbeck Folk Festival was, quite simply, a bargain, folks!
• Save the date: Purbeck Folk Festival 20-24 August 2014.