19th June 2015
This years summer festival season is in full swing and Folk By The Oak is fast becoming a must for music lovers. Situated in the picturesque surroundings of Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, the festival is easily accessible from road and rail and is a terrific day out. The boutique festival in a day has two music stages, plenty of family friendly activities from archery to crafts, a fantastic watering hole filled with locally sourced ale and an abundance of food to suit every pallet – you can even bring a picnic! The festival which started in 2008 has been growing year on year with 2015 being the biggest ever attracting over 7,000 people. The festival also works closely with charity Willow which specialises in providing special days for seriously ill young adults from the ages of 16-40. Money raised from ticket contributions and donations at the festival since it began have helped to raise £38,447 so far for the inspirational charity, which is based in Welwyn Garden City.
Festival directors and folk fans Caroline & Adam Slough already had experience organising live events and wanted to create a folk music event. t Soon they had envisioned a one day folk festival and Folk by the Oak was born. Their passion for creating a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere with great music has not stopped as the festival has grown. This year boasted a terrific line-up from the crème de la crème of the folk world.
The afternoons music started off with Moore Moss Rutter followed by Lady Maiseryon the main stage. Keston Cobbler's Clubdrew quite a large crowd and certainly got the festival atmosphere into full swing. They are a vibrant young band with the sort of talent and musical depth that Mumford and Sons are envious of. They performed some great tunes such as Won't Look Back and the titular track from their new album Wildfire along with a cover of Fleetwood Mac's The Chain which they really made their own.
Nancy Kerr & The Sweet Visitor Band, were next to hit the main stage. Seeing Nancy's set left the audience in no doubt as to why she won this years converted BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year Award. Songs such as Gingerbread and Sickle and Harvest along with Nancy's ability as a singer/songwriter and fiddle player ensured they NK & SVB were definitely one of the festivals highlights.
The Unthankshad the audience gripped with their genre blending folk music, orchestral arrangements and haunting blood harmonies. No matter where you were in the festival the live version of Mount The Air really took over the sedate surroundings and drew you in. A magical moment.
Over on the smaller Acorn Stage the Jess Morgan Trioimpressed with their lovely melodic country folk stylings and Blair Dunlopwas a huge draw with his beautiful songs. Throughout the day the Acorn Stage certainly grew to be the place to be with the moderate size tent becoming more and more crowed as the day went on. The Young'unsopened their set with a rousing version of Billy Bragg's Between The Wars. Their three part harmonies are superb, and their song writing ability second to none which is perhaps an indication as to why the Teeside trio were awarded Best Group at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards this year. If The Young'uns had the Acorn stage packed, then the next act had it rammed! Moulettesdrew such a crowd it was a fight to even catch a glimpse of the stage. Their ethereal cello and percussion based music breaks away from the traditional folk tag and morphs it into a totally original sound. Moulettes are really a band to look out for in the future.
The first of the headline acts was Grammy award winner Mary Chapin Carpenter. What a fantastic addition to have on the line-up! Rather than her full band, MCC took to the stage with her pianist Jon Caroll and guitar player Jonathan Trebing for a paired down version of some of her classic songs; Passionate Kisses, Only A Dream, Lucky and The Hard Way. Sadly He Thinks He'll Keep Her, which features in her current touring set was absent from this performance. However, she was joined on stage by tour mate and 2014 BBC 2 Folk singer of the Year winner Bella Hardy.
Bellowhead hit the stage running for their headline slot. An air of sadness hung over their set at it was recently announced that this current tour (which goes on until April 2016) would be their last. The band performed at their usual high level in-spite of their looming separation. Bellowhead have won more folk awards than you can shake a fiddle at and have become the posterboys (and girl) for rejuvenating British folk music. The set was filled with their amazing reworking of traditional folk tunes and shanties as the magnificent 11 jumped and frolicked around the stage creating a real festival party atmosphere. Singer and violin player Jon Boden was on full theatrical form as he powered through Fine Sally, Roll Alabama, Gosport Nancy, Roll The Woodpile Down, 10,000 Miles Away, New York Girls, Betsy Baker, Greenwood Side and many more of their extensive back catalogue in a Greatest Hits based set. The band are certainly making sure that their swan song is going to be a an epic farewell.
With a firework finale, Folk by the Oak is over for another year. It's going to take one helluva line-up to top this outstanding year. Regardless of whether you are a hard and fast folk music fan, or looking for a great value music event, Folk by the Oak has got to be on you festival to-do list.