Sidmouth Folk Week

Sidmouth is a quintessential English seaside town located on the South Coast of Devon, some 9 miles East of Exeter, overlooking the English Channel. Records of Sidmouth go back to the 11th century, but it remained as a village until the Victorian period, as no harbour could be built due to the lack of natural shelter. The onset of tourism from the Georgian period onwards coincided with the growth of Sidmouth into a coastal resort. Many of the Regency buildings still remain and a number of these are listed buildings. Much of the town is in a conservation area and the coast surrounding the town is part of the Jurassic coastline, and is a World Heritage Site.

Sidmouth’s Regency buildings overlooking the English Channel

This has resulted in the town having a special feel of being stuck in some form of time warp, and is an attractive destination for many tourists. For the majority of the year Sidmouth drifts from being a quiet winter town then turning into a popular summer resort. However, for one week of the year in early August the town is transformed into a celebration of folk activities as the annual Sidmouth Folk Week is held. This event has been running in the first week of August since 1955 and sees the already busy resort packed to bursting point, as tens of thousands of people are attracted to the town to enjoy the entertainments. This is rather a unique festival as it doesn’t have a separate central base. It is very much an in-town festival and apart from a few extra campsites it doesn’t open extra facilities for accommodation. The festival is blended into the town’s natural infrastructure with the different activities being found in many different locations.

Ceilidh in the Ford. It is not organized!

However, the larger musical concerts are able to perform at the Ham Marquee which can hold up to 1200 people. After that the Bulverton Marquee is popular for musical concerts and Stowford Rise is the best available dance venue. The beauty of Sidmouth is that it originally aimed its festival at celebrating folk traditions and many of the performers today reflect this past. There are over 700 performers who go on stage during the week and there is even a fringe community who perform uninvited for free. Some of the activities to be found are unique to the town, such as the Ceilidh in the Ford. This is always held on the last Saturday and involves a group of people dancing in a stream while a band plays on the banks of the stream. The event is not officially organized by anyone, probably because it would make them legally liable for any consequences. The event does appear to be led by a man with a whistle who always arrives having just cycled the 94 miles from Chippenham, in Wiltshire.

Another famous event was the production in 2011 of Peter Bellamy’s Folk Opera “Transport”. The 20 odd musicians played to the 1400 audience and there aren’t too many other festivals where live opera has been performed. Although the Sidmouth Folk Week has experienced hard times, with the original organizer Steve Heap pulling out of the event in 2004, recent times has seen a resurgence in the popularity of the festival. The beauty of the area combined with the quirkiness of the event should guarantee its success in future years.

 

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