There's been a folk festival in Wimborne for a long time but due to retirement a new organisation took over in 2013. This being my first visit I can't make comparisons between the old and new but it's quite clear the festival today is in good hands and not willing to rest on it's laurels.
Wimborne's a pretty town in the Dorset countryside and the festival makes full use of its amenities. This isn't a festival based in a field and marquees, instead there are two main venues. The Allendale Centre is a community based organisation and various rooms are used over the weekend for concerts, ceilidhs and film shows. An innovation for this year was to use the Minister Church as an impressive stage. The building's origins date back to Saxon times, so history and tradition make perfect partners, and everybody commented on the superb acoustics. It's a real addition to the festival and it's to be hoped that 2018 is the start of a long-standing relationship.
As well as these two main sites there's music and dance is various pubs, public spaces and other attractions. Mention has to be made of the Model Village, which was home to several dance events. Set in rather pretty gardens is shows Wimborne as it was in the late 1950s and the attention to detail is incredible, right down to the real shop names of the time. Thankfully the town centre has escaped the ravages of developers and so it all looks very familiar.
Dancing was everywhere, the festival is famous for it, and there were over 60 sides. It wasn't just the usual Morris and variants either. Appalachian sides were in evidence along with belly dancers and Tibetan Buddhist monks. They gave a wonderful insight into their spiritual lives and the costumes were incredible.
Being a folk festival music was, of course, at the heart and there was a very good line up. When the three headliners are Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar (Friday), Ange Hardy (Saturday) and Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman (Sunday) then you know you're in for a treat. But there was excellent strength in depth, from well known names to rising stars and local performers on various stages around the town and in the pubs, too. It makes the festival really exciting and, with so many free events, one that involved the whole community. I've seen reports that some 30,000 people attend over the weekend but the town never gets overcrowded and there's always space to drop in somewhere.
With any festival it's always worth exploring around the edges and I found some well attended sessions and workshops, normally with local beers not too far away. The open stages around the town and in pub gardens were also worth a visit and I saw some good acts, although inevitably quite a few of the audience aren't necessarily there just for the music.
In a weekend of excellence the highlights are hard to choose but the two concerts I attended in the Minster Church stand out. The church events were curated by Kadia and they called on some class names. Ange Hardy has already been mentioned as the Saturday headliner but with support from Daria Kulesh and Jonny Dyer and then a set from Kadia themselves it was a delight to be at. The Sunday matinee, featuring Amy Goddard, Louise Jordan and the Polly Morris band was also one that will stay long in the memory.
No festival happens without a team of hard-working and dedicated volunteers and they earned themselves all the plaudits they deserve. From the main organising committee to the stewards everyone worked hard and, as far as I could see, everything ran like clockwork. This is a good festival and the next one, from the 14th to 16th of June 2019, is certainly worth considering.Festival essentials
Wimborne has all the facilities you'd expect of a small town, including several supermarkets and a good range of restaurants and shops. The festival attracts a good range of stall holders too and they add a bustling market atmosphere. Navigating around is very easy as the Minster is a landmark visible from most places and there's a good map in the programme.
The campsite's good and the facilities well maintained, with plentiful hot water in the showers all weekend. There was limited food available however and, as lots of people leave on the Sunday, nothing on the final evening. The stewards and security were a great bunch, always happy, smiling and helpful and it felt very secure. Going back at night involves crossing the historic Julians Bridge, which has two way traffic but no footpath, but somebody with a torch was always on duty to help you cross which was very comforting.
Tony Birch, words and pictures
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