I was eating breakfast again, shoveling beans and rashers into my face with the poise of a narcoleptic zombie. The fourth and final (sort of) day of the Shetland Folk Festival was upon me, and, based on the lack of tragic news at breakfast, I figured nothing untoward happened to the festival club the night before (i.e., it hadn’t collapsed).
My body withered in the absence of caffeine so I sucked down cup after cup of the black stuff before hitting the streets of Lerwick. This was it, the final day of the festival, the grand finale. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, the bodies of exhausted and desiccated festival-goers to crumple into heaps. Me.
Day Four: A Foy to Be Reckoned With
Out the breakfast window slept my black Kia Picanto. It being the sabbath, today would be its day off. Actually, I had tickets to two shows so there wouldn’t be any rambling around Shetland’s vertiginous coastal cliffs.
The day was built around a short show at the British Foreign Legion and then the coup de grace at night: the Festival Foy. In Scots dialect, a foy is a farewell gift, feast, or drink. This night would turn out to be all three.
The sun was shining when I stepped in the Legion building again. It seemed a waste to spend fine weather inside a low-ceilinged and dark hall, but I quickly forgot such thoughts in the midst of SVER’s beautiful set. Their song “Thank You All” has one of the most heart-swelling hardanger fiddle melodies I’ve ever heard. Next came Kansas City’s The Wilders. This four-piece outfit rocks out fiddle-infused honky tonk and hillbilly tunes – it’s not typically my style but I was sold on their passion and showmanship. Loved it. Beltaine finished up the afternoon show with their signature energetic blend of Celtic and world music tunes.
That night it was time for the foy. Let me give you the inside scoop on this marvel. Shetland’s folk festival foys happen simultaneously in three different locations around Lerwick. Each band gets a 20-minute slot at each location. With roughly 15 bands in the foy, visitors get a long and varied show that relies on the impeccable timing and planning of the folk festival crew. Imagine artists circling Lerwick in the care of their festival handlers; one late appearance and the whole foy is off track. It went off without a hitch.
Clickimin Center, the site of my foy experience, was a bracing 20-minute walk from my guest house. I eschewed the car in favor of tallboys. The show kicked off at 7pm in a massive hall and ran straight through to just after midnight with rarely a dull moment. Each band has time for about three songs after they’ve set up. This is sad if you really like them or good if you’re not impressed. For some folks, this is the first time they get to see many of the bands and for others, like me, it feels like seeing old friends after so many shows. Overall it’s an excellent way to share the wealth of the festival and is a must see event.
I was particularly impressed with Pokey LaFarge and the South City 3, The Fred Morrison Trio, and Breabach. Pokey and his boys bust out the ragtime and the man on the harmonica is a virtuoso, Fred Morrison is the Gandalf of bagpiping, and Breabach has got to be my new favorite Scottish folk band. I can see why the people of Shetland trust the all-volunteer festival organizers to bring in good musicians.
Day Five: Da Final Fling, Seriously
Monday’s dawn signaled the end of the 31st Shetland Folk Festival. Right? Joyously no, not so. I slapped myself a few times to end the premature dreams of sleep. You see, when Mhari handed me the press packet on the opening Thursday, it included an invitation to “Da Final Fling,” an event suspiciously devoid of information taking place at the festival club. Throughout the day I saw many of the visiting musicians carrying their instruments on what I assumed was their homeward journey. I happened to catch half of SVER jamming out in the Lounge Bar with what must have been £100 worth of empty drink glasses on their table. Warriors.
I moseyed down to the festival club at the prescribed time, full evening sun shining again. The weather had blessed the festival with endless blue sky. Inside the club people milled about as they were wont to do here. I grabbed a cider from the drinks area as the real ale table had sadly disappeared. I think the Valhalla Brewery guys should stick around next year.
The crowd of musicians, supporters, press, and guests of the festival was given thanks by one of the festival organizers and told to expect the unexpected. I expected a simple get-together with drinks but what we all got were impromptu, innovative, and informal sets from band mash-ups. Part of Breabach and half of Shee there, Fred Morrison and members from five other bands over there. You get the idea. These folk artists have an amazing ability to play together whatever the scenario.
Da Final Fling ended my bout of sleep deprivation. The folk festival had delivered far more than it promised and my brittle bones and flimsy tendons barely held me together by the end. Oh, but those were sweet-sounding Shetland nights, the North Sea illumined by the legendary skill of these bardic souls.
Check out my Shetland Folk Festival wrap-up and tips on how to best enjoy forthcoming festivals!