The Cork Folk Festival goes on despite closed doors.

Ronan Leonard looks forward to Cork Folk Festival, where organisers have had a lot to orchestrate
The Cork Folk Festival goes on despite closed doors.

Five-string banjo player and guitarist, Mick Daly and Singer songwriter, John Spillane launching the Cork Folk Festival — running from 30 September to 4 October — at the Cork Opera House where virtual concerts with Ireland’s top folk musicians will be live streamed on TG4’s social platforms. 

The Cork Folk Festival has traditionally heralded the start of festival season for the city, and while 2020 has been a very strange year for music and concerts, the festival continues with this year’s edition running from Thursday to Sunday October 1-4.

William Hammond, one of the festival’s organisers, spoke of the multiple festivals they had to plan this year.

“We tend to work at least eight months in advance of what we’re planning, so when lockdown happened we had one in the can, so to speak, with bands coming from all over the place.

“Once that all happened we started thinking about if bands and people were going to be able to travel to the festival. Would audiences come? We had to start working on an A programme, a B programme and even a C. Would we be able to do live concerts? Would it be only online? When it all started in March we were hoping that this thing would finish very fast, but all of this, around the whole world it has been unprecedented. Even as we are talking, things are evolving!”

Strung will perform at the Opera House.
Strung will perform at the Opera House.

The festival has chosen the tagline of ‘A Festival Behind Closed Doors’, but while there will be a lot of events online there is an important distinction insists William. “The thing is that there is still going to be a festival in Cork. All the musicians on the programme are going to be playing live at the times we have designated. Some will be recorded, some are going to be streamed live and some are going to be live in concert.”

William and the festival knows there’s a very fine balance to be found between doing what’s best for the festival and for the audience. “Our thoughts are that we don’t want people to travel, so we’re saying it’s a ‘festival behind closed doors’.

“There’s a few people who will want to go out and a lot of people who are not going, they don’t feel safe. We have to respect everybody’s opinion on that but we do want to run the festival in a live environment, so this is an in-between kind of an event.”

The usual sell out large concerts have had to be adapted, as William continued. “We have partnered up with TG4 who are going to do a top quality professional job on recording two major gigs from Cork Opera House with people like John Spillane, Karen Casey, Strung, and many more musicians. We’re having no audience as that is the only sure way of making sure that that happens.”

The Four Star Trio.
The Four Star Trio.

The live music hub of Cork Folk Festival will be in Kino on Washington Street, and William is delighted to have them involved. “It’s vital, it’s probably the only place you’re going to be able to even distantly say hello to other musicians or to other audience members.

I’ve been in there for two concerts recently, and it’s very well run by Joe and Ed there, they run a safe venue.

The concerts are short, they’re about an hour and a bit, you aren’t on the premises for much longer than that. We were lucky enough to be able to develop the whole concept for the Saturday and Sunday of the festival, the idea of sort of people coming together in a small way.

So we can have the usual events that happen at the festival; instrument concerts for the accordion, the fiddle and the concertina, and then we have some interesting artists such as The Four Star Trio on the Saturday, who have been playing at the Cork Folk Festival since its very first year, that’s Johnny McCarthy (fiddle, flute, songs), Con ‘Fada’ Ó Drisceoil (accordion, songs) and Pat ‘Herring’ Ahern (guitar, bouzouki).

John Spillane.
John Spillane.

And then later that night we have A Celebration of Sliabh Luachra music with Eoin ‘Stan’ O’Sullivan and Lisa O’Sullivan from The Ceili Allstars and other musicians such as Brian O’Leary, Emma O’Leary and Maura O”Connor.”

One of the festival’s song events is an outdoor affair. “With the Cork singers club festival we have organised singing tours before, and for this year’s one tickets must be booked in advance via our website.

“The singers will be performing Cork songs, starting at the National Monument with songs like ‘Down Erin’s Lovely Lee’, going up to the Berwick Fountain and doing ‘The Night The Goat Broke Loose On Grand Parade’, then up along the Coal Quay for ‘The Coal Quay Song’, and as we are moving along we will also have songs by John Murphy from his new album The Burning Of Cork: A City In Flames.

“For instance there is a great song about a fireman from England who was the leader of the Cork Fire Brigade and he was kicking English soldiers out of the way to try and to douse the fire, that was written by one of The Cork Singers Club, Cliff Wedgbury.”

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