Extracts from an article published in the Sidmouth Herald on 9 November 2001, centred upon a row on the Internet about the quality of the 2001 festival.

Many of the sentiments expressed (on both sides) resurfaced in 2004 and are recorded elsewhere in this section of the website. In particular there is local concern that English amateur folk teams are staying away and that the festival has become 'disconnected' both from its folk roots and from the local people of Sidmouth.

Cyber row over changing face of the festival.

AN INTERNET debate has been raging among Sidmouth International Festival regulars over whether the event's standards have slipped and whether it will reach its 50th anniversary in 2004.

E-mails have been flying around cyber space after one, posted by Mary and Roy Bartle, criticised the 2001 event. It quickly elicited a response from singer Tony Day saying the Bartles had circulated a miserable, negative and inaccurate e-mail. That was followed by one from Ron Rudd, secretary of the Friends of Sidmouth Festival, acknowledging that the event has been changing according to circumstances and trends, but still provided great enjoyment.

The Bartles sparked the debate by homing in on author Derek Schofield's appeal for material to publish in celebration of the 50th anniversary event. They said: "We are writing to express our worries that if things continue to deteriorate as quickly as they have done over the last three or four years there might never be a 50th festival.

"During the 2001 festival we were struck by the large number of festival regulars and townspeople who commented on the way the event had gone downhill at an accelerating event with ever fewer formal and informal teams and virtually no buskers in the town.

"At least one very talented Morris side has said it would not be coming again, because after 10 years' hard work on The Esplanade and Market Place, the nearest it had got to the Arena Theatre was one session on the temporary stage in the showground. 'The concept of the festival as a joyous celebration of folk arts and music' has diminished almost to vanishing point and the whole festival seems to be vanishing with it.

"It is being replaced by something that is very definitely not folk art - one very faithful festival regular described the Arena Theatre week as a second rate end-of-the-pier show."

They claimed that 500 people walked out of the Friday night finale at the Arena Theatre, the Rio Grand Brazilian Carnival night, and continued: "Where are the real buskers? Where are the visiting teams that used to perform daily in the town and on The Esplanade? The ones we have been able to discuss this with say they are not welcomed by the organisers. "What happened to the daily parade from The Ham"?

"Semi-professionals giving a couple of (usually) pretty poor performances and moving on to their next engagement have replaced the annual fostering of international friendships that once typified the festival." The Bartles' final complaint was about over-amplification in the arena and Ham Marquee. "Boots had run out of earplugs by Tuesday," they said.

Mr Day said he had been attending the festival for 25 years and recommended that the Bartles took their complaints first to the organisers before going public. He said in his view the festival this year was one of the best. He praised the organisers for going ahead with the event when, for much of the planning period, it was at serious risk of cancellation due to the foot-and-mouth epidemic. His letter said: "We could all hark back to the jolly old days when more of it was free - and when it lost so much money that it was at risk not only of closure, but of taking the English Folk Dance and Song Society into bankruptcy with it. "

The festival caters for a broad range of tastes and cannot expect to please all of the people all of the time. "I am sure that there is, and always will be, room to make small improvements - as is evidenced by the organisers effecting such improvements, year on year. It is also the case that, in such a large operation, you are bound to hit snags." Mr Rudd was puzzled by the Bartles' complaint about sound systems because at the Friends of the Festival annual general meeting it was minuted that the audio was the best ever. "One has to accept that many musical groups now like to operate at high sound levels - this is the way they present themselves and is not festival policy." he said.

He told the Bartles: "Your totally negative point of view might be changed if you would take time to look at how and why the festival has evolved. There are causes and circumstances over which the festival has no control but with which it needs to comply: people's changing needs and standards and the differing tastes of the younger generation of folkies."

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