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Folk Festival 2014 / Legion crowd enjoy foy’s feast of folk

It was no surprise how quickly the Lerwick Legion filled up on Sunday night, with everyone desperate to get away from the driving drizzle outside. This undoubtedly helped stoke up the atmosphere for one of the five sold out foys which was about to get under way.

Brittany Haas, Jordan Tice and Paul Kowert were the American trio to open the night. Playing double bass, guitar and fiddle, their music was pulsating in dynamic and kept the audience attentive with their mix of contemporary folk and old time American. Their cover of a John Hartford song was well received by all.

Next up was Adam Holmes and the Embers, a quintet who echoed the vocal styles of Jack Johnson or Paolo Nutini. Their smoothly polished roots sound gave the singing the perfect springboard to capture the audience once more. Dedicating their final song to Davie Henderson was a touching sentiment for someone who gave the festival so many great things over the years.

Nordic Fiddlers Bloc took us back to something perhaps more familiar to Shetland with their traditional tunes filled with innovation and flair. The chemistry between the trio was as evident as their mastery individually of their fiddles, and all this combined into a rich and wide-ranging tone which had the crowd ecstatic.

Young Irish folk band Fullset heightened the energy of the crowd even further, with their high energy sets having most of the crowd moving in their seats. A good mix of instrumental tunes and songs was topped off by their bodhran player displaying his talents as a dancer in front of the stage, just one of the many signs of their charisma and flair.

Breaking the folk streak were The Sojourners with some electrifying blues and gospel music. Regardless of your own religious preferences, their soulful singing was powerful and their stage presence unmatchable. A great understanding appeared to exist between all as the band and singers played off each other, a phenomenon present for many bands that night which can only come from years of performing together.

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Orcadians and Folk Fest legends Saltfishforty were the last act to play before the break, and quickly won the love of the crowd with their inimitable blend of folk, blues and trad styles. They were able to get the crowd in good voice too, which can be a wonder sometimes at Folk Festivals, as well as having everyone moving in one way or another.

Canadian band The Dardanelles were the next to take the stage. Their set was lively and ever shifting in dynamics and timbre, with constant movement from each of the band members. Their a capella sea shanty went down a storm with the crowd and their explosive style was entertaining to both witness and hear.

Rose Room provided another variation from folk music, sounding like gypsy jazz masters Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli doing a collaboration with Ella Fitzgerald. Each of the quartet flaunted their brilliance whilst still staying tight as a unit, and their cover of The Ink Spots’ ‘It’s A Sin’ was bursting with energy.

Mairearad and Anna provided a crowd-pleasing set on guitar and accordion respectively, which had the vast majority clapping along in their first set. Able to change the tempo and feel of a set at the click of the fingers, the duo managed to stay witty and humorous in between playing despite the brevity of the time slot.

Madison Violet were next up on their return to the festival after five years. Their country roots music, which was complemented greatly by the pure tones of all their instruments (fiddle, bass, acoustic, electric and lap steel guitar), held the audience captivated and wanting more. 

Belgian quartet MANdolinMAN took the floor with their rich and varied sound thanks to the different type of mandolins used. The movement of each part was constant and flowing, morphing constantly, and their playful mix of bossa nova and traditional Belgian folk tunes was entertaining to say the least.

Its hard to pin down the music of Mountain Firework Company and define it into one genre. The quintent’s elegant mix of country, bluegrass and Irish allowed them to work together smoothly in a good mix, which at times could have come from a modern day Western film. 

Adam Sutherland and Friends is another band which is hard to define. Their music sounded like the love child of smooth jazz and folk at times, and at others like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’ with a fiddle or Radiohead doing folk. It is safe to say it’s a long way from Shetland’s fiddle and accordion clubs, but the quintet impressed the legion greatly and showed how open-minded many can be.

The penultimate act was the infectiously catchy Mariachi Tequila, all in sombreros and sunglasses. Entertainment value with the four-piece was high, covering ‘Don’t Want You Want Me’ with humour and happiness. In fact, it was impossible not to be joyful watching them, with crowd participation at a high with a legion-wide Mexican wave.

Rounding off the night was left to the phenomenal Asham Stompers, who were received as they had been all weekend: with wonder. Hailing from Manitoba, Canada, the varied group of dancers (the youngest being no older than seven) left the audience captivated by their mesmerising performance of stomping shoes and spinning skirts, with one man playing both fiddle and keyboard.

The foys always seem fantastic when the acts can get in their element in their small sets, and this was helped greatly on Sunday by the crew behind the sound desk and all behind the scenes – who kept turnarounds down to roughly five minutes each time and maintained good sound quality.

Sunday night was a brilliant display of the variety of acts this year and how instrumental a great crowd can be in the mix. The only thing the audience wishes for is more time with each band, even though everyone would have been there until midday on Monday.

Iwan MacBride


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