Tønder Festival, Denmark, 22 - 25 August 2013.
The Tønder Festival 2013 already started on Thursday with a series of concerts, which is a part of the new festival concept. However, as usual I arrive Friday noon. It's hot, but we're used to play ceilidh in the summer heat for four hours ... Canadian fiddler Troy McGillivray coins the motto for this year's festival: stifling temperatures and not a single drop of refreshing rain the whole weekend long.
At least, the music is refreshing. Troy presents strathspeys and reels in the Belgian spiegeltent on Friday afternoon. His accompanist Louis-Charles Vigneau picks a gorgeous "Silver Spear" reel on the guitar. At the same time, the Carolina Chocolate Drops entrance the audience in the big marquee with their old-time and jug-band mix.
I already need a break and take a stroll through the town: There are buskers on every corner and Scottish trad veteran Brian McNeill is playing away with German-Danish group Drones & Bellows in the beer garden of Hagge's Pub.
The beautiful weather makes the green lawn before the huge open air stage the perfect place to chill and relax. The music buzzing from the gargantuan P.A. is less relaxing. Admiral Fallow's pop/rock makes the opener for Irish chanteuse Sinead O'Connor. It's a rock music spectacle, but the spark jumps only about when she is chanting her vintage hits "Nothing Compares 2U" and "Thank You".
Inbetween I jump to and fro the Folk Spot Denmark at the Visemøllen where up and coming Danish outfits are introduced to the international public. I'm catching a glimpse of Trias with their fresh and innovative take on the Danish tradition.
At the P4 stage, sponsored by Denmark's radio station P4, the Irish group Tupelo is burning down the curtains, thanks to front man, singer and banjo player James Cramer's charismatic delivery. Tupelo's energetic live show is followed by London's gyspsy punk band The Great Malarkey; singer Alex Ware wonders: I thought I've come to Denmark and it's the hottest place I've ever been ...
In the evening, Billy Bragg oscillates musically between early Byrds covering Bob Dylan songs and late Byrds country rock, including Woody Guthrie adaptations plus punkish Bragg classics. It turns out to be a fine concert with many nostalgic moments for me. Even nicer this time is that Billy doesn't throw his tea bag into the audience (thus not hitting me again!)
Friday was rather quiet. Too quiet maybe. On Saturday they say that the venues are sold out, though there is still plenty of room to roam. In the early afternoon I enter Tent 1, there are three outfits, everyone very different to the other.
First of all, Scottish fiddler Duncan Chisholm presents tunes of his Highland triology. Dervish are back in Tønder after an 11 year break. They are more intricate these days, it only gets faster when swinging into the home stretch. The set is finishing off with a gigantic Danish hand clapping orgy.
During the break I'm strolling across the festival site. Troy McGillivray is playing in the P4 tent, this time his guitar player is bored of being just the sideman and joins some dancers on the floor.
Back into the marquee. Kate Rusby has been on the festival's wish list for quite some time, eventually she made it to Tønder. Kate is on top of the game this afternoon, with Dervish flutist Liam Kelly joining her already brilliant band.
The Tønder festival's most beautiful stage though is the living room on a truck just outside the festival area. Red Molly and Tupelo are playing away - no amplification, 100% acoustic and handmade.
In the Visemøllen there is another Folk Spot Denmark and I gather a couple of tunes of the trad dance band Svøbsk, before I make it into the marquee again. There is rock'n'reel with the band of Jarlath Henderson and Ross Ainslie. Once partners in crime the Scottish and Northern Irish piper, respectively, formed a mighty outfit, ft. fiddler Matheu Watson, guitarist Ali Hutton and bass player Duncan Lyall.
Thanks to the sympathetic drumming of James Mackintosh, the tunes are not drowned by rock'n'roll. The three folk pop songs (one original, one by Gerry Rafferty and John Martyn, respectively) are not my cup o' tae but suit Jarlath's voice very much.
Ah, time flies so fast! It is Sunday noon, it is ceilidh time again. The marquee is packed to the brim at last, and there is an enthusiastic audience clapping, hollering, yelling and screaming. Brian McNeill and Ron Kavana present the best of the crop to recall what you've seen and what you've missed.
Proceedings are kicking off with the Tønder Festival Ceilidh Crew, ft. members of Dervish and the Niamh Ní Charra band. There are almost 20 musicians on stage. Niamh follows with a couple of Sliabh Luachra tunes and a Gaelic song.
The Whileaways (the Irish trio formerly know as The Wildflowers) set the scene for a rather quiet interlude. Rod Sinclair then is ironically introduced as the last of the heavy metal banjoists.
Rod is accompanied by Ron Kavana who eventually sings his big hit "Reconciliation." Brian leads the shanty "South Australia" with the Whileaways joining in, same as -- surprise surprise -- Ian McCalman does. Sometimes you have to sing a simple song, Brian muses, just do it and it would make the world a better place.
Troy McGillivray is joined by half a dozen ofDanish pre-teenage girl fiddlers. The Ainslie Henderson Band is rocking away with a set of traditonal Scottish pipe tunes and Gordun Duncan's pipe version of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck."
A big set of reels features many fellow artists. Duncan Chisholm remains on stage for the most colourful set of the entire ceilidh, before Tupelo takes the stage by storm and gets everybody up on their feet. Ron Kavana performs a drum solo, and James Cramer has a sore throat as if he didn't sleep for days and drank too much Tuborg in the morning. He probably didn't sleep and ...
The session band plays "Johnnie B Goode" now and I take a coffee break. Bluesman Guy Davis is jamming backstage for a bewitched female audience. When I enter the marquee again, Dervish is in full flight. The ceilidh's grande finale has tunes, tunes and some more tunes ...
Well, I personally love the direction the Tønder Festival has taken, and I really hope that audiences will agree with me and keep Denmark's premier folk and roots festival going. Some of the new festival concept is embryonic and doesn't work out perfectly, but patience and good will would be great helpers - from both audiences and personnel. Just one thing, easily straightened out - I would favour a better timetable in the festival's booklet, especially if you have no intentions to stay in one place but wander around.
Photo Credits: (1) Svøbsk, (2) Trias, (3) Tupelo, (4) Guy Davis, (5) Jarlath Henderson & Ross Ainslie (by Walkin' Tom).