We had to re-imagine Cork Folk Festival

The 41st Cork Folk Festival is underway. WILLIAM HAMMOND, Organiser of Cork Folk Festival tells us about how this year’s festival will be different to previous years
We had to re-imagine Cork Folk Festival

Singer songwriter, John Spillane launching the Cork Folk Festival — running from September 30 to October 4.

THE Cork Folk Festival celebrated its 40 th festival last year, with a major festival attracting over 200 musicians and an audience of 10,000 plus to the city. Some of Ireland’s and Europe’s finest traditional musicians featured at the 2019 festival including Eliza Carthy, the late Arty McGlynn, Steve Cooney and Dougie MacLaine. The energy from 2019 was to carry through into the 41 st festival. However, earlier this year the country came to a halt by the Covid-19 outbreak. Like all festivals and events in the country we had to rethink or cancel our event.

The Cork Folk Festival has had a long history and many challenges in its 41-year history. It grew from the vibrant local folk scene in Cork city. The first festival committee in 1979, led by Timmy The Brit McCarthy and Malachy Daly, wanted an event that would feature local musicians playing alongside the world’s finest folk musicians.

Local traditional singers and musicians like Jimmy Crowley, Diarmaid Ó Súilleabháin, Conal Ó Gráda, Stokers Lodge, The Phoenix Céili Band, Any Old Time and the Lee Valley String Band plus the traditional musicians who live in the city, pipers, fiddlers, flutists, accordion and concertina players would all feature in the new Cork festival.

Over the years the festival has attracted some of the most talented musicians in the world to Cork including Johnny Leary (1979), June Tabor (1980), Christy Moore (1984), Paul Brady (1985), John Martyn (1985), Michelle Shocked (1987), Julia Clifford (1986), Dolores Keane (1986), Frank Harte (1989), Mary Black (1991), Emmylou Harris (1992), David Grey (1996), Jimmy McCarthy (1996), Seamus Creagh & Jackie Daly (2000), Martin Carthy (2000), Carlos Núñez (2005), Donovan (2017) and Andy Irvine (2019).

As well as this, groups like Na Filí (1979), De Dannan (1980), Stocktons Wing (1981), Sweeney’s Men (1982), The Chieftains (1983), Fairport Convention (1986), Nomos (1992), Altan (1995), Dervish (2001), Lúnasa (2007) and Lankum(2016) performed at the Cork Folk Festival.

The festival also broke the Guinness World Record for the Siege of Ennis with 7,664 dancers on the streets of Cork in 2005.

With Ireland in lockdown due to the Covid -19 pandemic, planning for the festival was very difficult. With so many events cancelled in Cork this year including the St Patrick’s Day Parade and the Cork Jazz Festival, it was important to us to fly the flag.

We went through many different drafts and each week, as the pandemic situation changed in the world, we had to refine our planning.

Let it be said the festival is no stranger to working in hard times. When we started out in 1979, Cork was in a depression. Then in 1984, Cork main factories, Fords, Dunlop Tyres and Verolme dock yard all shut their doors. It sent Cork into a deep recession and there was colossal unemployment and emigration as well as very little work for the people who stayed around. However, the festival kept on going. We slashed the admission prices and organised a free events in pubs and bars. It lifted the spirit in the city.

This crisis is different. It is all about the safety of audiences, musicians and crew. One way or the other the 41 st Cork Folk Festival is going to happen this week.

Organiser of Cork Folk Festival, William Hammond. Picture: Diane Cusack
Organiser of Cork Folk Festival, William Hammond. Picture: Diane Cusack

Our aim this year is to re-imagine the festival and to do what’s necessary to run a safe event.

The title this year is ‘Festival Behind Closed Doors’. It is a festival that’s part live and part virtual. We intend to give badly needed work to musicians, who have had a very difficult year, in our limited programme.

The festival is funded by the Cork City Council arts office with additional funding coming from Failte Ireland. We are indebted to the support we received from Eileen Gleeson and Ashley Keating at the Opera House, Ed O’Leary and Joe Kelly at the Kino and Tony Sheehan at the Triskel.

The programme for this year’s re-imagined festival will feature two concerts streamed live from the Cork Opera House, 10 live concerts at the Kino and one at the Triskel Christchurch.

These events will have limited audiences following government advice. We have organised three classes on Zoom, a book launch and walking tour live on Facebook.

The festival has teamed up with Aniar TV and TG4 to record the festival for broadcast and stream them live from the Cork Opera House. The line-up for these concerts includes, Friday, October 2, Cork’s own John Spillane with Pauline Scanlon, Waterford singer Karan Casey with Beoga’s Niamh Dunne and Sean Óg Graham and veteran Cork bluegrass combo now in their 52nd year, the Lee Valley String Band.

The second night, Saturday October 3, features The Bonny Men, a seven piece trad band from Dublin, Altan’s Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh with her daughter Nia Byrne and bouzouki player Manus Lunny and the wonderful band Strung featuring Maria Ryan, Lucia Mac Partlin, Maria O’Connor and Aonghus McCarthy.

The line-up for the Kino includes The Cork Singers Club, last night; Leah Sohotra tonight, and Martin Leahy; Friday October, Anna Mieke; and on October 3, Maija Sofia, Four Star Trio, and a celebration of Sliabh Luachra concert. Sunday, October 4 with the Fiddle Concert followed by the accordion and concertina concert. The next event features the young Dublin singer and daughter of Frances Black, Aoife Scott and the final event of the 41st festival is ‘A Night for Ron Kavana’ featuring Clare singer, Katie Theasby.

Other events planned include a concert in the Triskel Christchurch with Greenshine, the launch of a CD, Cork 1920: A City in Flames by John Murphy and the launch of the book, Becoming an Irish Traditional Musician by Jessica Cawley.

It has been a huge learning curve for me as the organiser; and for the festival chairman, Jim Walsh, to completely change our programming this year. We hope that next year, on our 42nd festival, we will be back to normal. Stay safe everyone!

For a full line up see https://www.corkfolkfestival.com/

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