Summary of letters in the Sidmouth Herald 13 August 2004, relating to the Folk Festival.

There were four letters. Further coverage of the festival itself was limited owing to a major local news story - flash floods in the nearby fishing village of Beer in the early hours of 12 August. A summary of this further coverage is given on the next page.

51st festival could see the innocent spirit of folk return

MADAM - The following is an attempt to make a genuine point about the festival, which I did attend, looking at it through the eyes of someone who just wandered in looking for whatever was there...

In the marquee by the buses, Captain Pugwash was playing for the umpteenth time as the dancers bounced up and down on the wooden floor. The fiddlers were fiddling, the bass player more firmly based and the dancers revolved in an intricate pattern based on a Celtic knot. Or not, as the case may be.

In the alternative marquee in the park, the tune was different, (though still recognisably Captain Pugwash) and the buffet was available to passers-by without the all important "pay-for-it-all-whether-you-like-it-or-not-season-ticket", but if an instant transposition had occurred of dancers from the one venue to the other, nobody would have noticed except probably the dancing partners.

In the nearby Arena, fenced in to prevent a mass escape, innocent grockles were being fed to whatever was wailing in the performers' tent. Others could eat by paying an admission charge to enter the food hall, or pay to be sold a musical instrument, Russian doll, or a very outrageous hat.

Official performances were advertised on numerous leaflets, vast numbers remaining to be pulped by the end of the week, but they were all pre-booked and generally sold out. Other events were listed, in a grand total of 851, in a little book hoarded under the counter and sold to enquirers. (Shhhh!) Fiddlers' elbows moved up and down rhythmically in the licensed premises of the town, generally transferring liquid from glass to mouth, and clearly no publican would have made a loss by the end of the week.

Here and there one could see a small group of musicians in the street attempting to play (and doing well!), against the over-amplified buskers placed at strategic points. One competition to find the best musician was cancelled with only one entry having been received. Buses came and buses went, all moving people from somewhere to somewhere. They were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling...

But it was all big, commercial, top - heavy, financially motivated, and somewhere the innocent spirit of the first folk festivals here had been lost. Could number 51, free from all this, be a new beginning?

JAMES PETERS, 4 Water Avenue, Littlehampton, West Sussex

Town benefits financially

I am writing in response to the comments of Mr Chris Taylor, quoted in your article of July 30. He states "there is no evidence in the town that local businesses benefit the way people think they do." Where does the money go? I would like to present my own case.

A season ticket to the festival costs around 180 or less. For this you get access to more than 400 events and workshops, the majority of which take place in the town. I stay in a hotel on half board basis which costs around 500 for eight nights I estimate that I will spend an additional 300 during my stay, of which about 50% will be spent in the town. Items purchased in previous years include; food, drink, toiletries, gifts, stationery, clothes, jewellery, shoes, art materials, hardware, taxis, train and bus fares, and petrol.

My typical weekly spend would be split as follows: Festival organisers, 180; Festival traders, 150; Town accommodation and traders, 650. Whilst Mr Taylor has not benefited directly from my spending, I hope he must become aware of the "trickle-down" effect it must have on the town's economy, whereby the businesses that directly benefit then have profits to spend on other goods and services such as those he provides. The festival is not run for profit. It promotes an awareness and celebration and development of our own cultural heritage and that of other countries. It is about learning and teaching, sharing and participating; singers and musicians who were at first inspired by festival events and workshops many years ago are now headlining the festival and passing their skills and inspiration to a new generation.

There are many beautiful towns around Britain's coastline; surely one of them would welcome the business the festival brings to the area. Let's find the festival a new venue that would welcome its values and leave Sidmouth to contemplate its folly.

HAZEL BURDEN, 3 Crawford Close, Isleworth

Back to bland normality

The tents and the dancers have gone, the music sessions are silent and Sidmouth returns to its placid and bland normality. But what of the festival week? During that time the town came alive to an extent that few other towns can emulate. Like or hate it, almost everyone will have been stimulated in one way or another, from those who welcomed it, to those who resented it. Either way, there has been something different to talk about, something different to remember; something different to the normal routine. This effect of the festival may be obscure, but is real and of benefit to all. There many side issues, apart from the obvious financial one that would be a loss to Sidmouth if the festival is no more.

G T BUNGAY, Sandford House, 74 Woolbrook Road, Sidmouth

Best week of the year

Last week my husband and I were two of the many thousand visitors who enjoyed Sidmouth International Festival. We had previously visited during 1997 - the Year of the Rain - and for obvious reasons we did not explore the town quite so thoroughly as we did last week. What a delightful place it is! We were particularly impressed with Connaught Gardens which we had not visited previously. The flowers and shrubs are wonderful and the whole park is so well tended that it really added to our pleasure in the Sidmouth experience.

Indeed the whole town looked very well kept, despite the huge number of visitors. The public toilets were always clean and well maintained, the late night litter seemed to be removed before people were out and about again in the morning, and the colourful flower displays around the town were a sight to behold. Well done everybody who was involved in this.

We are hoping that the festival will continue more or less in its present form, since for folk fans it is truly the best week of the year. The thing that impressed us most was the number of young people involved - not only children and young people visiting with their families, but the number of youngsters busking along the Esplanade, and the range of events organised to encourage young musicians and dancers to get involved in live music and other activities. This enriches the future cultural life of not only your region, but also the whole country. We really need this to keep creativity alive and to encourage everybody, young and old alike, to turn off the TV and go and participate in real live singing, music and dancing.

MR & MRS B BARNETT 14 Cornwall Road, Retford, Notts

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