Even if Beardy hadn't been the Only Festival of 2020 it would still have won the award for Most Folk Festival. There were 40 acts over the weekend, and we heard 39 of them. (No disrespect to, checks notes, Glymjack, but they were the curtain-raiser on Thursday night and we arrived on Friday morning.) There was a big stage for big acts, and a smaller stage, in an area called the walled garden, for the smaller acts. (This apparently reversed the set up for the first two years, but it worked so well that it is going to stay like that in future years Lockdown or no Lockdown.) The Big Act is setting up while the Small Act is performing, and the next Small Act can set up while the Big Act is doing it's thing; and the audience can walk backwards and forwards between the stages and not miss a thing. Food and Beer is near the smaller stage, so you can still hear the diddly diddly dees and and the murder ballads even while you are ordering your fish and chips and vegetable curry.
This does mean that after a while -- by the second beer on Sunday, certainly -- the acts start to merge into one, a great stream or murdering Morris dancing pirates. So there was definitely a fiddle and squeezebox outfit who said they were improvising and brought on young lady poet to speak some lines about the Saxon invasion over their tunes. Was that the Ciderhouse Rebellion. I certainly heard three Irish Guys doing a song about how they never had TV when they were growing up, but made up for it with singing and story telling. Wet The Tea, possibly? The singer-songwriter who wrote the shamelessly soppy song (in a good way) about the couple who meet via the "Rush Hour Crush" column in Metro ("from the girl in the red dungarees to the boy drinking peppermint tea in Waterstones) was almost certainly Susie Dobson, because I wrote it down. And I am pretty sure that the young guy who provided us with the ONLY PIRATE SONG of the weekend was Chris Fox. If so, he is very worth checking out for a quite exceptionally thoughtful and empathic song about having a conversation with a homeless person, called Little Brown Sparrow.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the highlight of the final day of the festival was Gigspanner in its big band incarnation. Peter "Used to be in Steeleye" Knight is joined by John "One Half of Spires and Boden" Spires and Hannah James and Phillip Martin (who now trade as Edgelarks.) That's supergroup territory, that is. No folk festival is complete without someone singing Oh The Hard Times of Old England. They also did one about two ladies who hid away in a bower to escape a plague.
I am not certain if I remained conscious for the whole of Sheelanagig's barnstorming festival-closing climax. It is hard to imagine what that do when they are not ending festivals -- I can't imagine going to hear something that loud, that fast and that silly in a midweek venue.
Louise, picking me up from the station, expressed some skepticism about whether I had made use of the on-site shower facilities. I had, in fact, dealt with the artic temperatures after sundown in Shropshire by sleeping in my jumper and coat, and it seemed a shame to take them off the next morning. It was that kind of weekend.
There are festivals for people who want to soak up the atmosphere, purchase a poncho, and try out Chinese percussion based healing therapies. And there are festivals for people who want to listen to bands. Beardy was all about the music. Oh so much music. It was an absolute joyous miracle that it managed to go ahead in These Unprecedented Times, and I do hope to return when things are Precedented again.
"We will be back next year, said the organiser, in our normal June slot. The week before Glastonbury. Not that Glastonbury is going to happen." Unprecedented.