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Shetland Folk Festival

Posted by FIDIR Blog on

Regarded as the cheery old grandpa of folk gatherings, this festival has brought eclectic and innovative performers to the isles for more than thirty years (37 to be exact). During the festival, concerts are held all over Shetland and, on the final night, audiences in three large venues are treated to a marathon concert in which everyone has a chance to see all the fifteen or so visiting bands. Hopping, skipping, and jumping aplenty, not to mention frantic, instrument-laden, intra-venue gallops for the bands themselves.

The main stage in vibrant technicolour

For performers, locals, and visitors alike, 'the festival’s ‘sessions’ are amongst the best in the world. Travelling troupes have said just how taken aback they’ve been by the local talent on show, and by local we mean of the remote isles themselves, and by talent we mean the musicians. No less taken aback are these foreign friends by the hospitality of their hosts. The out-of-islanders stay not in hotels, but in the homes of Folk Festival supporters.

Houses in Grödians, Lerwick

This year, not dissimilarly to years gone by, but amped up by the increasing popularity of the festival and its historically niche-regarded genre of music, bands from Canada, Italy,  Ireland, Belgium, Estonia, and the USA, Scotland notwithstanding, will plug their folkish wares at the four-day feast of music and sleepless nights. Among these will be Boston-based bluegrass act, The Lonely Heartstring Band, a group which has experienced a meteoric rise on the folk circuit, winning an IBMA Momentum Award in 2015 and recently signing to Rounder Records.

The Lonely Heartstring Band mellowing out on a leafy atoll

From Glasgow, The John Langan Band will lend a sizeable helping of balkanesque madness to proceedings along with Roma and flamenco elements fueled by a visceral punk spirit. Acoustic magazine said of their performance style, “it’s hard to resist leaping up and dancing”.

Images exist of The John Langan Band practically nude crowdsurfing… Have a little search, if you fancy

If you do make your way up this time round, you’ll be treated to an unofficial festival opening on the NorthLink ferry out in the middle of the North Sea…

Hamnavoe setting out from Stromness, Orkey to Scrabster, Caithness (on the mainland)

The Isles’ eponymous ponies at a verdent watering hole

Visitors to the isles who want a little fauna and flora to break up the folky furore will not be disappointed. The beaches on show are enough to make the tourist board of the Turks and Caicos weep into their PeppaJoy’d lionfish. We can’t forget the ponies, and we haven’t. If you’re as otterly (sorry, the author couldn’t help himself) obsessed with otters as we are, you stand a very good chance of glimpsing the adorably furry, rock-juggling, semi-aquatic pescatarians at full play in their natural habitat.

Spiggie Beach in glorious sunshine

Shetland otter family out hunting (John Moncrieff photography)

How to get there:

NorthLink operates daily, overnight sailings from Aberdeen to Lerwick. http://www.northlinkferries.co.uk/timetables/

Flights are available from Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Inverness, but for the truly scenic (not to mention less expensive) route, it’s got to be the ferry (the Viking below agrees).

Where to stay:

Shetland's hotels, guest houses, B&Bs, self catering properties, hostels, camping böds, and camp sites allow you to get back to basics or luxuriate in comfort. Air BnB is also definitely worth a gander.

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