From Friday, 9 June to Sunday, 11 June, the picturesque town of Westport, Co. Mayo will come alive to the sound of folk, bluegrass and old-time music, as the town hosts the 11th Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival.
Established in 2007 by festival producer, Uri Kohen, the festival has gone from strength to strength and is now considered by many as the highlight of the bluegrass calendar in Ireland, attracting many overseas visitors year after year. One couple from Florida, Candee and Tom Manwaring, found themselves at the opening of the festival nine years ago and have been back every year since, planning their annual holidays around the festival. They said: “As time has gone on, the venues have multiplied and improved (without losing that hometown feel), the acts have expanded beyond local and national, to even international. The festival just keeps getting better, bigger and always improves in quality.”
The 2017 festival will host 20 official gigs in 11 different venues, two workshops, one children’s concert, a vinyl record fair, a luthiers’ exhibition, one official session and a whole host of spontaneous ones. Performing at the festival will be 18 different acts from 4 different countries – 10 of them are international and 8 are Irish-based. The 18 acts are made up of 60 individual musicians.
The opening night concert takes place in the stunning setting of the Holy Trinity Church and will feature three acts all connected by a common immersion in the old rural American string band tradition – The Horsenecks (UK), Jock Tyldesley and Vera Van Heeringen, and Fox and Branch. These three acts will once again symbolise a musical bridge across the Atlantic featuring old-time string band music from America and the UK.
Saturday will be an extremely busy day for the festival and amongst the day’s offerings there will be master-classes on guitar and fiddle and a kids’ concert in the Town Hall Theatre. McGing’s will host the festival big session, where professional and amateur musicians will come together to play with musicians from some of the festival’s main acts.
Later that evening, in the Town Hall Theatre, three of the most up-and-coming young bluegrass acts on the UK scene will come together to perform for the first time under the one billing for the Saturday night concert. The Vanguards, a traditional bluegrass band based in South London, play a number of popular bluegrass songs and tunes, alongside some original material. Cardboard Fox – winners of the 2015 Spiral Earth Award for Best Debut – are an exciting new four piece with a fast-growing fan base, while Jaywalkers have cemented their place as one of the most exciting, virtuosic, and entertaining young bands working on the British Folk scene.
Following on the huge success of last year’s ‘Gospel Hour’, the Holy Trinity Church will once again open its doors on Sunday morning at 11.30am for what promises to be one of the festival highlights. After the Gospel Hour, music will continue throughout the day in multiple venues before the festival finalé concert which will host one of Ireland’s finest folk groups – Greenshine. A family trio comprising Noel Shine, Mary Greene and their daughter Ellie, their material straddles the boundaries of contemporary, folk and roots and includes many self-penned songs.
Set against the backdrop of the majestic Croagh Patrick and Clew Bay, this little gem of a festival is well worth a visit. Official performances will take place in the serene setting of the Holy Trinity Church, and the top-class venue of the recently renovated Westport Town Hall, as well as in many pubs, coffee shops and hotels around the town, but of course the impromptu sessions, which see musicians taking to table tops and street corners, is where the magic is at, and if the sun happens to shine as it did last year, this winning combination of stunning scenery along the Wild Atlantic Way and world-renowned toe-tapping performers mean that quite simply there is nowhere better to be on the weekend than the Westport Folk and Blues Festival.