There’s no group of humans I would rather spend a week with, and I am not even exaggerating when I say that. Sidmouth Folk Week, in the years I have been attending, has opened my eyes to the greatness of festivals, at the same time that the idea of any other festival has sent me running and screaming in the other direction. You do get dodgy loos at folk festivals – you get dodgy loos pretty much any place that people gather – and no amount of dressing it up will disguise the fact that you are still living under canvas for much longer than any reasonable person would want to do so, but there is more to Sidmouth than those two minor issues. If you’re looking for a good time, you would do much worse than heading down to Devon for the first week of August.
1. The People
I have met some of the kindest people I ever knew at Sidmouth Folk Week and as it is the sort of place that folks go to year after year, you’re sure to meet them again eventually. No one at Sidmouth is in a hurry and everyone has time for each other. You can get chatting to someone at a gig and then you see them every single day for the rest of the week, completely by accident, but almost without fail. Don’t ask how it works – it’s some kind of special Sidmouth Law or something, that you can see the same fifty people every day in a place that is teeming with literally thousands.
We’ve adopted a great many new friends over the years, from Lemonade Guy (who makes excellent lemonade, coincidentally) to Knitting Lady to Smoking Hippie Lady, Cute Old Dancing Couple and Sidmouth Santa. As you can tell, you don’t really get to know much about these people – including their names – but that doesn’t matter; for one week of the year, they are there all around you and you start to care about them. If you see them again the next year, it is a mega bonus. Sometimes, they even remember you too.
2. The Location
We’ve both been to Normal Sidmouth, the sleepy little town that exists for fifty one weeks of the year. It is a nice enough place, if you don’t want to do anything except walk by the sea or eat fish and chips, but it isn’t exactly jumping. It is a popular holiday destination for people of a certain advanced age and that is easy to believe when you are there in mid October.
For the other week of the year, Sidmouth is a whole different creature. The folk week is one of the biggest in the world and it definitely shows. The entire place embraces the festival and the venues are all over town. On sunny days, people spill out onto the beach and up into the pleasure gardens on the clifftops. I doubt there are many other festivals that offer that opportunity.
Our very favourite place at Sidmouth is a rock on one of the outcrops called, imaginatively, The Rock. It is a flat topped thing halfway out along the outcrop and we have spent a lot of hours of our lives sitting on that rock. We read there, eat there, people watch there, even nap when the need arises. One time a friend of ours lost her very expensive lense cover in the rocks and we spent a good hour trying to fish it out before we gave up and turned a friend literally upside down by his ankles to reach the thing. I’d bet that everyone who attends Sidmouth Folk Week has a similar place and a similar story.
3. The Variety
For a long time – when we were young – we didn’t have a lot to do with actual organised events at Sidmouth. We much preferred to spend our time revelling in our new found freedom and rolling around town, overspending on our food budgets and listening to the free music that was available in every single pub and on the seafront. It was great, for a fifteen year old.
These days, we are more discerning attendees of the festival, and there is literally something for every taste. There’s the big gigs, with some of the biggest names in folk, like Show of Hands. There’s smaller gigs, whose bands have followings that are no less enthusiastic than the bigger ones, and who perform in venues like the only nightclub in Sidmouth, which looks like a patisserie from the outside.
Every night you can dance until 3am in the Ceilidh or every morning attend a 9am lecture on popular mythology (or do both, if you’re really hardcore). Do you play the accordion? There’s a workshop for that. How about the harpsichord? Yeah, they’ve got you covered. Do you just want to go to a pub and play your guitar? Sorted. Do you want to sit on the floor and drink beer and listen to people play? Take your pick. If you have any interest in folk music or folk culture, Sidmouth is the place for you.
Sidmouth Folk Week runs from 29th July to 5th August this year. There are some great deals on tickets, especially the Bulverton-In-One passes, which is cheaper if you are between 18 and 25. Visit www.sidmouthfolkweek.co.uk to check out the range of tickets and see a taster programme!
Written with the help of Cat Tarrant
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