If you like attending some of the smaller folk festivals, you’ll not be disappointed with the UTSf. Now in its fifth year, set on a small farm in the beautiful South Yorkshire countryside, it takes a lot of beating – top performers, seating in the main venue, magnificent location, very friendly staff, excellent sanitation facilities, an excellent variety of workshops and kids entertainment and not a bit of litter in sight! You come here and it’s like visiting your own family – and this is just what Kate Rusby and her family organisers have been aiming for – and achieved!
As well as folk artists from the UK and islands, eight other countries were represented, each bringing their own unique style of home grown music.

The festival had it’s fair share of ‘big hitters’ plus a whole hosts of lesser known artists, all handpicked by Joe Rusby– one of the key festival organisers.

Highlights of Fridays line up included ‘I See Rivers’, three talented women, originally from Norway whose distinctive style has been dubbed by them as being ‘float folk’ – minimum acoustics accompanying unusual harmonies. Jack Harris followed – quirky intriguing songs (often telling a true story) delivered by one man with a big voice.

The collision of Estonian and Flemish folk performed by Estabel was a beautiful mix of fiddle, bagpipes, accordion and guitar. Then completely out of the box and with a few surprises was the second instalment of ‘Kate & Sal’s Yarn’– back by popular demand – reminiscences between Kate Rusby and Sal, her best friend of 40years.
Steve Earle and the Dukes had the audience in the main venue dancing in the aisles as the pile driving country rock came thick and fast. Highly acclaimed and amazingly versatile these accomplished and experienced musicians delivered an eclectic variety of music to the packed and very appreciative crowd.

Saturday morning brought more surprises as about 250 of the 450 members of the Barnsley Youth choir took to the main stage. Led by musical director Matthew Wright the BYC was established in 2009 to serve the children and young people of Barnsley. This is a big choir with an even bigger voice and has won many international awards although this is not it’s main aim – it’s really about community and we should have more choirs like this! How do I know? Because there wasn’t a dry eye in the place – beautiful!

Saturday afternoon was full of treats – the Sheffield based Melrose Quartet, featuring the BBC Radio 2 folk singer of the year Natalie Kerr followed by the legendary broadcaster and foreign correspondent Andy Kershaw who gave an interesting insight into his career in broadcasting and as a war correspondent. The afternoon continued with performances from the likes of Martha Tilston with her beautiful crystal clear vocals, the outstanding banjos of Ron Block and Damien O’Kane: energetic bluegrass from Midnight Skyracer, and the almost other worldy musical creations of Lau.

The ‘main event of the evening was the acclaimed Ukelele Band of Great Britain who never cease to entertain an audience with their own arrangements of famous pieces of music and their tongue in cheek humour. The night ended noisily with the blast of energy from Honeyfeet delivering their typical folk hop, blues, pop jazz combo.
On Sunday Amethyst Kiah, gave a commanding performance of Southern US songs of unrest, the past and a touch of gospel. Followed by Joanne Harris, the acclaimed author of Cholcolat, who transported the audience to magical worlds through her story telling which was interwoven by the accompaniment of the Storytime Band.

The afternoon brought us the local Yorkshire charm of Jack Rutter, a truly captivating singer of traditional songs; the Stables duo – easy to listen to with harmonies reminiscent of the Everley Brothers and then the unfamiliar yet challenging offerings of L-R from Northern Spain and Maya Youssef an accomplished musician and songwriter of the Qanun, a trapezoid shaped plucked zither.

The legendary Yves Lambert Trio brought the characteristic Quebecoise folk music to life opening the evening with a full blown ceilidh. The talented string quartet Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards gave an homogenous mix of Cajun, folk and blue grass numbers while in contrast The Californian Feetwarmers recreated the 1920’s New Orleans Dixieland/Ragtime jazzy stuff.

Finally, and on the main stage (of course) came the gal who everyone had come to see – Kate Rusby. Everything that can be said, has been said about this amazing women. Her supreme songwriting talent and honey drenched vocal style, together with a virtuoso backing group (not forgetting her husband Damien O’Kane on guitar), again enthralled what appeared to be mostly regular followers. Her routine was familiar, sad songs (the Bitter Boy) happy songs (Sailor Boy), funny songs (Big Brave Bill) – all put there to ensure maximum happiness and enjoyment for her audience, with whom she so easily engaged in her familiar, friendly way. If that wasn’t enough, her mate Kate came on stage again to show us that she really could play the tin whistle properly, and finally the entire Rusby family came on stage to add clout to the final song which of course we all sang. What an end to a perfect Sunday evening and, in fact, a perfect little festival. Go next year – you’ll love it!

Photo credit: Bryan Ledgard