Established in 1982, and with the first event in 1983, the festival is manned by a voluntary committee of around a dozen members, who work year-round to bring the festival together each May, supported by countless more in the preceding weeks and days. This is one of the principles upon which it was founded over thirty years ago, and is central to the festival’s feel and welcome – for both artists and audiences.
Rewind over thirty years, and in the early eighties both tourism and traditional music were going through low periods in Orkney (hard to believe now…). The main summer tourist season was shrinking, so there was a great need to increase visitor numbers to the islands in the earlier months, of late spring, so that the industry could become more sustainable. At the same time, folk and traditional music was seen as unfashionable – particularly amongst the younger generations.
Taking these threads as a cue, the then Orkney Tourist Board, alongside BBC Radio Orkney, brought together the first Orkney Folk Festival committee, who staged the first festival at the end of May in 1983. The festival has since established itself as an unmissable event in both the Orkney and Scottish folk calendars, and has contributed enormously to the outward promotion of the Orcadian folk idiom – through project such as “The Gathering”, but also simply through fuelling and furthering interest amongst many now well known local players.
One of the most important characteristics of the first festival that stands true today is the balance of visiting and local artistes. Whilst the festival has become a sought-after stage amongst artists worldwide – and has been a four-day home for many, over the years – it is equally, if not more so, the local, Orcadian acts that make the festival what it is and keep the crowds coming.
Many folk enjoy the festival, and the atmosphere it creates in and around Stromness and the isles, so much that they return year after year to experience the fine mixture of music and hospitality. Many are musicians, storytellers or dancers themselves, however there are scores of others who simply come to enjoy the craic.
We invite you to come and experience the festival’s magic too.
“An amazing amount of fun – really just quite ridiculously cool.” The Scotsman