May Day approaches, cider and bearded men (of both the biking and Morris dancing varieties) are set to be in abundance, and Hastings is soon to get all pagan on us. So when better to hold a Folk music festival, and extend the May Day celebrations?
Closely following the festivities of Jack in the Green, and arguably much in the same vein, from the 6th to the 10th of May venues across Hastings Old Town will be participating in Folk Fest, hosting four nights of Folk music performances, headlined and brought to a close by Barbara Dickson at St Mary in the Castle.
Folk Fest began, as all the best ideas do, with a conversation in a pub, as one of the organisers, landlord of the Stag Inn, Alan Griffith told me. A gathering of local music supporters were bemoaning how Hastings, being the beacon of music culture we know it to be, with its thriving music scene, doesn’t have a Folk festival. It turns out the last Folk Festival to be held in Hastings was in 1987, and on the pier. The group made the decision to remedy this situation, and from these humble beginnings Folk Fest has grown.
Although in its tentative first year, the concept of the festival has the ring of a great idea about it. Alan stresses how the organisers have been careful not to distract from the events around May Day, or to overstretch the festivals potential, essentially wanting to “keep it small, and in the Old Town”.
Finding some funding from brewers Shepherd Neame to cover the cost of printing, the structure of the festival has been kept very open, much in the image of the Fat Tuesday festival, with venues and acts booking themselves in and bearing their own costs. Hopefully setting the festival up to grow year on year, as more acts and venues want to participate.
This open structure has led to a varied line up. ‘Folk music’ has always been an elusive concept to define, and Alan is certainly reluctant to pin down the term, admitting that it has previously conjured up images of “guys with beards, long hair, and a finger in his ear”.
The festivals strong line up reflects both the revival, range and potential of Folk music, covering more Traditional Folk with the likes of Titus, Copperplate and Blakeley and Son, through to the American styling’s of a Bluegrass Session, and the Balkan influences of The Moors unplugged.
Even the venues participating in the festival seem to reflect this open nature. Ranging from the traditional, hop garlanded pubs such as The Stag, to the more slick setting of Whistle Trago bar, or the atmospheric caverns of St Mary in the Castle.
Hastings take on Folk seems to have been interpreted as ‘of the people’- being celebratory, accommodating all styles, and without pretensions. We can but hope that Folk Fest will return, taking root as a feature in the Hastings cultural calendar.
After all, Hastings loves a good festival.
More information about Folk Fest can be found on their website: hastingsfolkfest.org