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When it was officially announced that after a decade of successful festivals, Folk Weekend: Oxford was to be no more, a small group of us decided to try to carry on, despite having no funds.

We had some helpful background knowledge. We had been members of a volunteer committee that had acted as a support group for the former directors and showrunners, so we were familiar with the central locations used for performance. We also knew some of the local artists who had contributed in the past. But without access to previous records, or the funding to support a working website, posters or other publicity, it was necessary to draw on folk club contacts and to use social media to spread the word. Facebook and Instagram became our friends and we hoped to deliver a ‘bare bones’ festival this year, while we tried to secure funding to move forward more confidently in 2025.

What we were not prepared for was the extraordinary support that was given to our new Oxford Folk Festival by almost the entire local muso community. This came from all sides – traditional English and Celtic musicians, followers of Americana and blues, contemporary folk revivalists and singer-songwriters – they all rallied and volunteered to perform gratis in order to keep the festival alive. This has led us to adopt a ‘broad church’ approach to the programme, so traditionalists, blues or country enthusiasts, as well as songwriters who may be introducing a song or melody for the very first time, may all find themselves on the same schedule at one of our platforms for local performers.

Now, barely two months after the initial meeting in Gulp Fiction between Jane Bird, Jen Cox, Jack Evans and Ginnie Redston, our Facebook group page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/656708006485892) and its companion page, has over 400 members, almost all of them musos, and more people find us every day. It has become an essential means of communication within the local folk music community, enabling us to build a programme and plan a festival that has far exceeded our initial ambitions. We have been helped enormously by the good will of the organisations and individuals who provide, free of charge, the locations used by our local artists, particularly by Verity Hoper of the Covered Market, which continues to be the hub of our Festival, and this year, for the first time, Rob Cunningham and the Tap Social movement, who are helping in a number of ways, but especially by hosting fund-raiser concerts to help provide our young Oxford Folk Festival with some essential cash. We are also hugely grateful to two county councillors, Andy Graham and John Howson, who showed they had faith in our endeavour and its county-wide reach, by finding us a precious sum that, taken with what we have raised from the fundraiser concerts, will enable us to provide signage, posters and maybe – at the last minute – printed programmes for this festival.

We have now assembled a schedule which includes: events mounted by the former FWO partner sites, for whom we continue to provide publicity where we can; activities which will fill the streets, St Barnabas Church and other locations with dance and traditional music, courtesy of Oxfolk; and, scattered round the city centre, spaces which will showcase the sounds of local musicians from the city, the county and beyond. We think the number of different performers is now well over four score, and they are appearing on eight sites in total, all of which are in the heart of the city. The Covered Market, The Westgate Library, The Weston Room of the Bodleian Library, Common Ground, the Old Fire Station, the Market Tap, and two locations in Blackwells - the Norrington Room and the Upper Meeting Room - will all host local performers over the three days of the festival.

That generic term 'performer' encompasses soloists, duos, bands and four choirs - so the number of people involved is considerable AND to this number we need to add the brilliant and colourful army of morris and other dance teams who are planning to contribute their skills during the weekend. When I last heard, the number of teams planning to appear was around 35, and that is likely to go up.

So that is how things have developed since the first meeting at Gulp Fiction. Since then we have also gained a small but wonderfully dedicated band of additional volunteers without whom we wouldn’t have got this far. They deserve an article all to themselves and maybe we’ll manage that before the dust settles. Meanwhile we thank everyone for the support you are giving us – and let’s all hope the weather gods are kind to us on our Oxford Folk Festival weekend!

Ginnie Redston,
For the Oxford Folk Festival,
28-29th March 2024