In what has now become a unwavering personal ritual, a week's rather damp camping in Wales was followed by a visit to this marvellous festival based at the West Midlands Showground close to the centre of Shrewsbury.
For those unfamiliar with the event, which immediately outgrew its original home at the Quarry park even closer to the city centre, a description of the layout and facilities may help to set the scene.
A ring of camping (with quiet, noisy, family and disabled areas) surrounds a central core of two huge marquees, various smaller marquee, indoor venues, craft and food stalls and two excellent bars serving an astonishing range of superb real ale and ciders. The largest of the main marquees holds around 2,500 people and has two large screens so the audience can see the details of the performance and, during band changeovers, messages from people around the world who are watching on line. A further marquee to the north of the site holds the recently expanded dance tent which houses an excellent floor and another small bar.
There are copious mains toilet facilities reasonably close to the main marquees (just as well with all that beer around) and mobile toilets dotted in strategic locations across the site. Given that one of the sponsor of the main stage at the festival is the supplier of the latter facilities it is perhaps not surprising that they are kept in excellent condition throughout the weekend.
Even in heavy rain the ground does not become exceptionally muddy although a pair of stout waterproof shoes you don't mind getting dirty are still recommended!
Every year we have arrived earlier and earlier on the Friday but find that the best camping spots start to disappear by around 11am and so this year we stayed overnight in Shrewsbury itself and joined a queue in a field opposite the site at around 9.40am behind around 80 other vehicles. A better plan, which we would have discovered if we had read the final festival newsletter email, would have been to arrive at 10.01 when all the gates were opened and we could have just driven in!
After the usual saunter round the very fine city and a couple of pints in its better pubs we were fortified for the only part of Shrewsbury we really dislike - queueing. Its a case of 'If you can't beat them join 'em' as if you want anything like a decent seat at the most popular evening concerts you need to arrive at least 45 minutes before the venue opens.
Once inside the main marquee however the irritation faded as Session A9 opened the evening with a fine set - quickly dispelling my fears that the presence of a piano would drag down the tempo - instead it drives the sound on, working well in both the tune sets and occasional song. Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo stood in for Canadian duo Madison Violet who were the first of the weekend's artists who had to pull out due to sad family circumstances. Though their musicianship was unquestionable I found it hard to relate to the material. Watching them on the video recording feed after the festival, however, my disinterest waned and I resolved to check out their recordings. Highlight of the evening though was the incredible Anxo Lorenzo Band. I had seen them perform at Musicport previously so knew what to expect but to be honest these expectations were far surpassed in what was the first of several unforgettable sets that weekend. Although much of their music was rooted in Anxo's home of Galicia and strongly featured that area's native bagpipes, excursions to Venezuela and Ireland were also taken. Special mention must be made of fiddler Eoghan Neff who, if he has sold his soul to the devil to play as he does, has definitely got the better part of the deal!
A further quick pint in the busy pavilion bar saw us back to our tent in a very happy mood indeed.
On Saturday we took advantage of the festival bus that runs into the City Centre every 20 minutes and stocked up with essentials. Although there is an excellent range of food stalls we prefer to cook for ourselves and there are usually a couple of hours between the afternoon and evening concerts to do so. There is also a reasonably well stocked shop on site (who are also festival sponsors so those who prefer to stay on site all the time are not at a great disadvantage)
We returned to the main marquee mid afternoon in time to see the second half of the Jackie Oates Band set. Although I can see the appeal to some, and again have absolutely no criticism of the skill of the musicians, I find her style just a little on the twee side of the tradition for me. Things soon livened up, however, when the Global Dance Project took to the stage - a superbly arranged (thanks to Hannah James) kaleidoscope of English, African and Punjabi dance which it would be good to see recreated at other festivals (and potentially in theatres where the energy of the performers would be even more tangible to the audience).