On paper Purbeck Valley Folk Festival doesn’t necessarily seem like the kind of festival that would be a standout; in reality, however, it has become one that you couldn’t pay me to miss. The music line up doesn’t feature waves of my favourite artists, the family-friendly billing isn’t in keeping with my usual raucous festival persona and the folk genre in general doesn’t inspire in me a great deal of excitement. On a personal level it shouldn’t be among my favourite festivals and yet it is.
This festival is a hidden jewel in the calendar and the reason for this is the incredible passion, friendliness, and musicality of the organisers and everyone involved. Whilst you might not know by name every act on the line up going into the weekend, by the end of it you will be coming away with two or three new favourite artists. Whilst you might not think you’re a fan of folk, being gently woken up (if you choose to camp in the “noisy/artist” campsite) by a jam circle complete with fiddle, guitar and soothing vocals is a quick way to become enamored.
The festival is by far one of the most welcoming that I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending, this is in large part thanks to the family-friendly status it enjoys. The bars are well stocked with local and premium ales and ciders and if you’re looking for a boozy waltz with a weekend of debauchery you’ll be well looked after by the smiling and energetic bar staff, but alongside that is a calming and measured pat on the shoulder that discourages anyone from getting into the states of distress and mess that lean into the more dangerous side of inebriation. Walking across a field it’s easy to be stopped and tempted into conversations with strangers discussing the amazing music and activities of the festival so far.
The site is a working farm the rest of the year and the stages themselves are set into the barns and livestock holdings. This means they are protected from the elements and enjoy a natural sound amplification. The festival is split into two halves, (ignoring the campsites) you have the main farm with its solid flooring and two large stages where the bigger bands tend to be found and then uphill you have the open mic stage, arts and crafts, child friendly play areas as well as the poetry stage and Fire stage (for the more dance inclined). The setting is beautiful and the breathtaking view of Corfe Castle looms over the entire festival. If you are after a retreat aided by musical therapy there are few festivals that offer such a luxurious and pampering excursion. It remains one of few festivals that leaves you feeling recharged and more in tune with yourself coming out than when you came in, a sharp contrast from the usual hungover grubby mess we usually leave as.
Last year we spent a great deal of time in the fields of the upper portion of the site. The Duck Shed where the open mic stage is situated is a beautiful place to spend the daylight hours and you’ll meet and enjoy plenty of musicians who you may well see again later as part of larger acts showing you now what they can do as a solo artist. There is also the Woods stage which as well as being a platform for poetry and spoken word this year saw itself becoming a mixing pot in which members of the audience were invited onstage to jam out and see what can come of good old musical improvisation and collaboration. Owing to the musical pedigree of a large proportion of the attendees of this festival it was a sight to behold with many unforgettable, one night only offerings.
There are beard competitions, welly wanging, jewelry crafting, excellent vegan and not so vegan food stalls, fancy dress, poetry slams, emerging artist battle of the bands, busking stages and so much more in this ridiculously well curated little festival. It is seemingly impossible to condense into a bitesize chunk all of the memorable moments that we stumble into on a daily basis.
Last year our highlights were as follows; an addiction and appreciation of the incredible local Dorset Sunshine Cider whose chief apple botherer Alasdair Keedie was on hand to detail and dazzle with the inner workings of the brew, musically we came away with a few new favourite bands including from the smaller stages The Fox & The Owl and Catnip & Coconut who both dazzled with sublimely well written, ear-worming ditties that got your heart skipping and feet zipping through the hay, on the main stages we got absolutely soaked with sweat to the dirty sounds of the Dirty Bourbon River Show and then sonically assaulted by the sonorous rapture of the Elephant Sessions. All of whom we implore you to go and check out for yourselves.
This is a festival that shouldn’t need an introduction, it’s the absolute best at doing what it does. It’s one that you can book a ticket blind as soon as they go on sale and be sure that you are going to have an unforgettable weekend regardless of the bookings. Its organiser Catherine Burke is not only an incredible musician in her own right but she knows the festival, its crowd and what will get them going on a near personal level (sometimes literally, it’s a small site and she’s at the front of the crowd for most of the bands, something that again speaks volumes). We have been in attendance for the past three years and we’re sure to see you there for the next three too.
Tickets are on sale now and can be found here.