Fife’s Big Tent Festival, held in the beautiful location of the Falkland estate under the watchful Lomond Hills, celebrated its 5th birthday with another outstanding weekend full of superb music, delicious food, charming company and ecological enlightenment.
The festival, hosted by the Falkland Centre for Stewardship and known as Scotland’s Environmental Festival, was first launched in 2005 by Ninian Stewart, Steward of the Falkland Estate. Over the years the festival has grown from a small, but powerful, response to the G8 Summit held in Gleneagles to one of the most significant and enlightening eco/green festivals in the land as well as one of the most diverse and entertaining folk festivals around.
The festival is separated into particular zones including the Head Zone, Food Zone, Wood & Craft and Kids Zone. The Food Zone is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the festival. The One Planet Food Village, organised by the inimitable Christopher Trotter, showcased the sheer quality, range and diversity of local food around Fife which is also, of course, home to Mike Small’s famous Fife Diet Project. The traders, gathered from a 50 mile radius of the event, included venison from Auchtermuchty’s Reediehill Farm, Smokies from Arbroath, the Pillars of Hercules’s superb vegetarian food and even buffalo from the Puddledub Farm amongst many, many others.
Traditional skills and crafts were also covered with some fascinating talks including presentations on pottery, wood turning and eco-renovation as well as panels and exhibits from SEDA, Forestry Commission Scotland, Carse of Gowrie Orchard Project and the Scottish Lime Centre Trust. One of the highlights, amongst many, was Sunday’s session in the Big Yurt with Folk legend Bob Pegg (many may remember him as founder of 70’s folk/rock outfit Mr Fox or even his single “The Werewolf of Old Chapeltown”) whose Roots and Flutes talk was an absolute gem. This was followed by David Jones from St Andrews University chairing a fascinating panel (which included Georgina Follet from Dundee University, Amanda Game from the Scottish Gallery and carver Roger Hall) on “Sustaining Craft in the 21st Century”.
As a family friendly festival kids were also treated to shows by the legendary Mr Boom, a puppet workshop with Flotsam and Jetsam and felt making with Linzi Knox as well as the traditional parade on the Sunday afternoon.
For Folk Radio listeners the festival consistently boasts one of the most interesting and entertaining line-ups around. The music predominantly takes place in two locations – the Black Isle Brewery Main Stage and the more intimate Wee Shindig Stage with most acts performing a set at each venue. Events on the Wee Shindig were hosted by Sharon King whilst Big Tent regular and local boy Phil Kay captained the Main Stage effortlessly.
The Festival opened on Friday night with performances by the Second Hand Marching Band, FOUND and Das Contras as well as a celebration of Fife’s own Fence Records which also saw a headline slot from founder King Creosote. Saturday saw some fantastic sets from acts such as Grassroots Zimbabwe, The Chipolatas and the Homecoming String Band. Brazil! Brazil! electrified the crowd with their vibrant samba rhythms whilst fresh folk/indie favourites Wooden Box with a Fistful of Fivers rocked the Wee Shindig Stage with the audience heartily welcoming their current single “Hang the Noose”.
Saturday night was handed over to folk-experimentalists Tunng on the main stage (after having played an intimate Wee Shindig set). Headline act Session A9 (who, amongst them, can boast members of Caparcaillie and Peatbog Faeries) closed the night with a series of energetic jigs and reels.
On Sunday all talk was on the appearance of Rosanne Cash and her husband John Leventhal. Famously, Rosanne’s father Johnny had traced his ancestry back to the area. Indeed it was through a chance meeting with Ninian’s father that eventually brought Johnny to Falkland in the 1980s to record a television special. As Rosanne herself explained, their ancestry can be traced to William Cash from nearby Strathmiglo who was a mariner in the 17th century (indeed Rosanne’s “The Good Intent” was inspired by William’s history) and also a judge on the infamous Salem witch trials. Rosanne’s set included a number of highlights from her recent album “The List” so named after a list of 100 favourite country songs recommended by her father.
Rosanne, whose memoir “Composed” is released on 10 August, explained the origins of the album during the Press Call: “[We] don’t appreciate what your parents give you till they’ve gone [making the album was a] very special experience”. Indeed it was her family’s relationship to the area that brought her back to Falkland and she was keen to highlight the importance of the festival’s message and noted the very special and emotional relationship she feels for the area, noting “how proud my dad was of the connection”. Not only was this a family link but was also shared through her, and her father’s, musical interests: “Music is the connection. Celtic and Appalachian is so close, the relationship goes way back”.
Rosanne was not the only highlight on Sunday though. Virginia’s A.J. Roach and Irish flautist Nuala Kennedy performed a beautiful duet in the Wee Shindig mixing folk/country and traditional Irish/Scottish music gracefully. The night concluded with the mighty Orkney ensemble The Chair (which includes Douglas and Brian from Saltfishforty) who got the crowd moving as only the Chair can and sent everyone home tired but happy.
The Big Tent has firmly established itself as not only one of the most informative and entertaining green festivals around but also one of the friendliest and relaxed folk festivals in the UK. Surely this is the way all festivals should be.