Now in its 34th year, Ely Folk Festival is a small but perfectly formed festival that punches well above its weight. An impressive range of stalls and food options, plus the obligatory (outstanding) beer tent, line the central rectangle of the site where the three stages are situated. There’s surprisingly little sound bleed between them and ample room for everyone to see what they want to. As usual there’s a strong Morris presence, dance having been an important part of the festival since its inception, with a big parade through the city on the Saturday, and the three on-site ceilidhs are all well attended. The booking policy is enlightened, encompassing everything from Ferocious Dog at one end and Julie Felix at the other together with established stars like Oysterband and Nancy Kerr as well as rising artists, of whom Lucy Grubb and Megan Wisdom, who both entrance Marquee 3, are particularly impressive.
Les Barker’s poetry goes down a storm, and as ever he finds time amongst the comedy to slip in serious pieces, here about war and Brexit. Stick In the Wheel attract big houses to both their sets, which are full of contemporary folk as it should be, with Nicola Kearey’s deadpan and laconic between song comments the source of no little entertainment on and off stage. At the loud end of the scale, the aforementioned Ferocious Dog and Oysterband deliver full on sets that have the main marquee bouncing while the energised contemporary folk rock of Sam Carter and Jim Moray’s False Lights do likewise for the second stage despite having sound difficulties throughout. Those who prefer quieter sounds are well-served by Jackie Oates and Cara Dillon amongst others. Elsewhere Martin Harley plays a solo set of blistering country blues, new bluegrass outfit Lunch Special win over an initially uncertain crowd and veteran troubadour Rory McLeod captivates the audience in his own inimitable style as well as playing unannounced in both the late night sessions.
A hugely enjoyable weekend.