25 years ago, in 1975, there was a small first music festival run in a cosy water mill and throughout the town. 1999 saw the 25th return of the Tønder Festival, with now about 26.000 ticket sales, 33 music acts and seven different venues. Nobody would have believed this in the beginning of the festival. The Tønder Festival has been an incredible story of success, although at some stage it looked like the end of what is today Europe's most prestigious Folk festival. The 25th birthday should be a reason to have a bit of a flashback on the history of the festival, as well as a review of this year's festival.
Tønder Festival 1999 was a new record, with all 26.600 available tickets sold out. A real run on the tickets was seen on the first day of advance sales - when the box office opened on a Saturday morning, there was a queue of more than 700 fans, some of them having waited in front of the office since the afternoon before. This first day, 24.060 of all tickets have been sold.
Everybody wanted to be part of the Jubilee - no wonder, as this year's guest list featured quite a lot of today's Folk music legends. This year, festival director Carsten Panduro wanted to present mainly the favourite artists of the last 25 years, and the programme read like a real Who is Who of the most important Folk musicians of the 20th century: On the Irish side The Dubliners, Ronnie Drew, Altan, Dervish, Eleanor Shanley, Kavana McNeill Lynch Lupari. From the States the legends Arlo Guthrie (along with his son and daughter) and Tom Paxton. From Australia Eric Bogle. From Scotland the Battlefield Band, the McCalmans, Iain MacKintosh, Dick Gaughan, Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham and Runrig. The English Oyster Band, the Galician star piper Carlos Núñez, the Canadians Natalie MacMaster, Slàinte Mhath and Barachois. And more. It's been once again a great feast!
In 1975, the three music clubs in Tønder, a Jazz, a Folk and a Beat Club, organised the first Tønder "Multi Music" Festival at the last weekend of August, to coincide with the town festival. Names that a Folk fan from today might still remember were Alex Campbell and Paddy Doyles. Since then the last weekend of August was always dedicated to the Tønder Festival - although the town festival faded away quite soon.
It should be a good weekend as the Danish Meteorological Office said that it would be statistically the driest weekend of the year. As the official festival biography says, "many of the festival's 25 years have proven that meteorologists are frequently wrong". Several of Tønder's festivals are well remembered from its muddy campsites, heavy rains and storms...
Right from the start, the festival received massive support from the local Barracks - in the beginning, the musicians were even housed in the barracks, being awoken by the cries of the Captains and Sergeants. Today, the soldiers support the festival by helping with the construction and destruction of the big festival tents.
In 1980, an important point in the festival's history was marked. The festival's organiser struggled with the town council to receive more substantial financial support, without success. It was decided by the committee that the 1980 festival would be the last.
But then, the Tønder Festival Foundation was founded, money was collected in town to support the festival, and in spring 1981 the town council announced another endowment for the festival. The festival survived.
Soon a real secretariat was realised, with Carsten Panduro being the official leader. He has held the job until today - and he has been highly successful, proving every year his taste and knowledge of the current music scene. Since then, the festival was growing and growing. In 1981, a second tent was bought (which is today the smaller tent). More and more volunteers were helping to make the festival happen. More and more visitors came, more and more concerts were organised.
In 1988, a company "Friends of Tønder Festival" was founded to buy the building which is today the Tønder Festival headquarters, the Hagge's Music Pub. 250 shares at 1.000 Kroner were sold - enough to buy the building.
Since 1995 the Tønder Festival is extended to a four days music feast, starting already on Thursday.
This year, for the first time ever all tickets have been sold, and the organisers will have to discuss whether to introduce a new major venue, and rethink the policies of advance sales (up to now, orders by letter were handled at the end of the first day of sales; this year it resulted in the fact that some of the letter orders would not get any tickets!).
During all these years, Tønder has gained - especially among musicians - the reputation as one of the best festivals in the world. The professional organisation of this mega event is always praised by the visiting artists. Festival director Carsten Panduro proves to be a real organisational genius, organising the work for all the 1.600 voluntary helpers who work throughout the festival, at the same time bringing together always some of the best musicians to be found, and organising the whole infrastructure of the festival.
The volunteers are rewarded by a Volunteers Party on Monday night, when the "surviving" musicians thank them by cooking a huge curry and give a show. It's impressive to see the 1.600 volunteers assembled, filling a huge tent. It's amazing if you think of the little town of Tønder, how to get 1.600 people work hard on a voluntary base.
While the festival is 100 % professionally organised, still the buzz of spontaneousity is absolutely there. It is one of the festivals where new musical friendships are made, where very different bands play together, and where everybody - musicians and audiences alike - enjoy themselves. The most important feature in this purpose is the Sunday afternoon's Ceilidhs, where all musicians of the festival play in the two tents, with the intention that every act should invite many other musicians on stage to join them. That way, you will hear the greatest and strangest combinations. This year, in you could hear a Tent II big band consisting of members of the Oyster Band, Battlefield Band, McCalmans, Barachois, Natalie McMaster Band, Slàinté Mhat, Drones & Bellows, Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham, Bente Kure, Kavana McNeill Lynch Lupari, Ian Bruce...
The real birthday gala happened on Sunday night: A star programme with nearly 30 different acts appearing in a four hours concert - without long breaks between each act, and with a superb sound quality! Maybe there is no other festival on earth that could organise such an event in such a professional and perfect way. The gala featured Altan with Carlos Núñez, Eric Bogle, Battlefield Band, Tom Paxton, Dervish, Natalie McMaster, The Dubliners, Arlo Guthrie, Oysterband, Barachois, Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham, etc.
As a special birthday surprise, at the end of the evening a Champagne glass was distributed to everyone of the more than 2.000 people in the audience, while a bottle of Champagne was given to groups of eight. It gave a good foretaste on the sound of the millennium celebrations when all bottles were opened at the same time. After all had clinked glasses, the stage filled up with all the artists of this year's festival to sing along with the audience the Tønder classic "Will the circle be unbroken".
Tønder Festival has done a lot for the Irish and Celtic music scene in Denmark, creating a major interest for this type of music. It has set standards for all the other Folk festivals in the world, and the Tønder standard will only hardly be beaten by any of them. Skål and good luck to the next 25 years!
Tønder Festival can be contacted at Postboks 113, 6270 Tønder, Denmark. Tel. +45-74 72 46 10. More infos on their website
Photo Credit: All photos by The Mollis, all from Tønder 99
(1) Iain Mackintosh in front of the poster of the first Tonder Festival
(2) Carlos Nuñez with Natalie MacMaster
(3) Tønder Ceilidh - Alan Prosser (Oyster Band), Bente Kure, Ian McCalman (McCalmans)
(4) Cross fiddles with Dervish's Tom Morrow and Natalie MacMaster (5) Barachois' Tonder Festival Coop featuring Davy Steele and festival director Carsten Panduro
(6) Tonder Festival Session with Dervish's Shane Mitchell and Natalie McMaster
(7) Tonder Ceilidh with Davy Steele and Brian McNeill
(8) Will the Circle be unbroken - Arlo Guthrie, Altan's Ciaran Tourish, Tom Paxton
Back to the content of FolkWorld Articles & live reviews
To the content of FolkWorld online magazine Nr. 11
All material published in FolkWorld is © The Author via FolkWorld. Storage for private use is allowed and welcome. Reviews and extracts of up to 200 words may be freely quoted and reproduced, if source and author are acknowledged. For any other reproduction please ask the Editors for permission.