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Features / Folk festival unveils this year’s musical feast

Goodbye Girls promise bluegrass, old time Americana and Swedish traditional sounds.

SHETLAND Folk Festival has unveiled an eclectic line-up for its 37th festival at the end of April. 

Fifteen acts have so far been confirmed for the annual four-day feast of superb music, sessions and sleepless nights. An exciting variety of bands from the USA, Canada, Italy, Estonia, Belgium and Ireland will be featured alongside an array of fantastic UK and local talent.

Travelling across the Atlantic to perform at this year’s festival are four exciting acts, three of which will have their UK debut at the festival.

Always popular with festival audiences, some Boston-based bluegrass will be provided by The Lonely Heartstring Band who are witnessing a meteoric rise on the circuit with their achievement of an IBMA Momentum Award in 2015 and recent signing to Rounder Records.

Also bringing a little bluegrass alongside some old-time Americana and Swedish traditional sounds are The Goodbye Girls, whose members hail from Canada and Sweden as well as the USA. They utilise their range of backgrounds and individual musical virtuosity to create a unique sound that is fresh and full of energy.

Rooted in old-time Americana and country traditions are The Lowest Pair, an exciting banjo picking duo with sweet harmonies from Washington State, USA.

Imar is an exciting new quintet whose members have all played previous festivals with musical outfits including Mànran, RURA, Talisk and Jamie Smith’s Mabon.

Completing the North American contingent are young acoustic power trio Ten Strings and a Goat Skin from Prince Edward Island, Canada, who play guitar, fiddle and bodhran, traditionally made of stretched goat skin, which clarifies the band name! With a plethora of music awards under their belt including the 2015 ECMA Award for World Music, this trad/world/folk/fusion outfit will delight audiences with their fiery and infectious sound. 

Joining the Swedish member of The Goodbye Girls in representing mainland Europe in our line-up, are three diverse acts from Estonia, Belgium and Italy.

Delivering something a little different this year with their own take on Estonian folk sounds are Trad Attack who have been described as a “twenty-first century Nordic turbo folk band who thrill”. Performing in the UK for the first time, their punchy and rousing shows will be given a more acoustic feel in the festival’s smaller concert venues. 

Trio Dhoore are three brothers from the Flanders region of Belgium who will blend traditional Flemish folk music with their own style to create an energetic sound.  Their technical excellence and rare musicality has been applauded in many rave reviews. 

Good-time country blues with a touch of ragtime, hokum and jug band are being dished up by Veronica and the Red Wine Serenaders, who surprisingly hail from….Milan, Italy. Their blues sounds of 20s and 30s America and fantastically entertaining shows earned them the title of European Blues Challenge winners in 2013 and will be sure to put a smile on the faces of festival audiences.

Also providing something a little different for 2017 is The Michelle Burke Band. Michelle is a highly acclaimed vocalist and former lead singer of Irish-American trad legends Cherish the Ladies. She hails from rural Cork in Ireland although now resides in Scotland alongside the rest of the band – Anna Massie (no stranger to the festival) on guitar, mandolin and banjo, James Ross on piano and John Kenny on trombone. Michelle and her band will be dishing up a fine selection of songs from her album and show ‘Step Into My Parlour’, which has been described as ‘Irish stew for the soul’. 

Dhoore are three brothers from Flanders whose energetic sound blends traditional Flemish folk music with their own style.

Completing our Irish contingent is the Sligo-based New Road, who will be joined by the Canadian claw hammer banjo virtuoso Leonard Podolak (The Dukhs) for their their trip to Shetland. Their set will include an exciting mix of Irish traditional, Appalachian old-time, blues and beyond.

Mainland Scotland is well represented in the festival’s 2017 line-up with three varied and exciting acts. Ímar is an exciting new quintet whose members have all performed at previous festivals as part of different musical outfits including Mànran, RURA, Talisk and Jamie Smith’s Mabon. Their collective trophy cabinet is crammed full of prestigious awards and their combination of Scottish, Irish and Manx influences promises to bring some exciting and unique sounds.

From Glasgow, The John Langan Band will bring some balkanesque madness to the festival along with some Roma and flamenco elements fueled by a visceral punk spirit. Acoustic magazine said of their performance ‘it’s hard to resist leaping up and dancing’!  

New Scottish traditional quintet The Scott Wood Band are fronted by one of the world’s leading young bagpipers, and feature five young musicians who have all graduated in music from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Award-winning Boston-based bluegrass group the Lonely Heartstring Band.

Appearing for one night only during the weekend are rising stars Mec Lir who will be sure to get bodies bopping with their infectious brand of Celtic “trad pop”. Two members of the Manx/Scottish quartet will already be attending the festival as members of Ìmar, and the remaining two will fly in specially to perform as part of Clickimin’s Friday night standing gig.

Marking a quarter-century since their debut festival appearance are local favourites Fiddlers’ Bid.  Internationally respected as leading exponents of Shetland’s fiddle tradition, this musical tornado will take to the festival stage once more to demonstrate their stunning musical virtuosity and harmonic imagination. As The Scotsman newspaper said, they have “enough energy to power a small town”.

Also celebrating a festival anniversary are Orcadian supergroup The Chair, who first performed in Shetland 10 years ago under their former moniker ‘Lazy Boy Chair’. This eight-piece riot of fiddles, banjos, guitar, accordion and drums will be sure to get the party started once again.

Orcadian party band The Chair are coming back for more.

With at least one further visiting act yet to be announced, and a vast array of local talent to be confirmed, the 2017 festival is shaping up to be one of the most exciting yet.

All visiting acts will be performing at concerts all over the isles alongside fantastic local acts that never fail to do Shetland and the folk festival proud. The festival will conclude as usual with the famous foys – three venues open on the Sunday night featuring a short 15-minute set by the visiting bands.

  • Early memberships will be on sale at www.shetlandfolkfestival.com from 1-28 February. These members will be able to book their concert tickets online for two weeks before they go on sale to the general public. Tickets will go on sale to early members from 20 March, and to the general public from 3 April. The festival now operates exclusively with an online system for the purchase of memberships and concert tickets.