Hamnavoe Hall filled to the brim last night as crowds gathered to hear what the 33rd folk festival had to offer.
First on stage was local ensemble Haltadans, who impressed with their dynamic set of traditional Shetland tunes.
The band features high-profile musicians, such as fiddle-players Maurice Henderson, Lois Nicol and Ewen Thomson.
There were fine tunes and tales of “trowie-ness”, and the band clearly felt comfortable performing in-front of a home crowd. The gathering was impressed with their blend of Shetland reels and Scandinavian tunes.
There will be some festival old-timers who recall seeing Irish singer Kieran Goss way back. Now hailed as one of Ireland’s leading songwriters, Goss made appearances here in 1987 and, again, in 1990.
In the meantime, his music has gained a strong following, and it was good to see him work his famed stagecraft in Burra.
His guitar playing and beautiful lyrics were warm and thought-provoking, but Goss proved he hasn’t grown too big for his boots.
His tales of getting his records played by Terry Wogan as part of a seemingly futile bid to “make it big” in Britain really connected with the audience. He even made a brave attempt, still relatively early in the evening, at getting the crowd to sing along.
Perhaps it’s a real testament to Goss’s on-stage magic that one of his songs has been recorded by highly-praised folk singer Mary Black – a recognition which helped propel him from the early days of singing American Pie in Irish pubs.
Next on stage was a fine Cape Breton ensemble going by the Gaelic tag, Coig (it’s pronounced “Ko-ick”).
Their energetic fiddle set was more than enough to get the feet stomping. Special mention is due to Rachel Davis, who put down her fiddle and beautifully sang a number Spanish Bay. She confessed to being initially apprehensive about singing in English, rather than Gaelic, but she needn’t have been. The applause for her was loud, and deservedly so.
Another highlight was keyboard player Jason Roach, who was clearly having a good time. How he managed to reach those notes while never, seemingly, looking at the keys I’ll never know, but he carried the task off with aplomb.
North Carolina singer Woody Pines demonstrated his natural ability as an on-stage performer. His four-piece band provided a blend of string band, country blues and ragtime. Their so-called “community singing” was attention-grabbing and a world away from what the hall in Hamnavoe must normally be used to. Their set was intertwined with stories of long journeys in ropey old vans, and the apparently bed-bug infested Brooklyn, New York.
Highlight of the night, though, must have been the grand finale provided by the April Verch Band. The fiddler easily got the crowd behind her with old-time Canadian tunes and Appalachian ballads.
But she also provided the highlight for the evening with her mesmerising, energetic (and unexpectedly lengthy) step-dancing numbers, which provoked an impromptu applause long before she had actually finished.
There was bass music, clawhammer and banjo playing galore, and Vetch’s infectious tunes are sure to go down well. See y’all around!