Visiting acts impressed by first Shetland Reel Festival

The feeling of performing with an old friend at the inaugural Shetland Reel Music Festival was as gratifying as playing in front of thousands in some of the world’s biggest cities.

That is according to guitarist and singer James Salestrom. He is one of the headline American acts who have travelled to Unst for the festival at the former RAF Saxa Vord base.

James Saelstrom performs on the Shetland Reel stage at Saxa Vord in Unst. Photo: Adam Civico
James Saelstrom performs on the Shetland Reel stage at Saxa Vord in Unst. Photo: Adam Civico

Salestrom has toured the world with household names including Dolly Parton and John Denver. But he said the excitement of playing in Unst alongside Livingston Taylor last night matched anything he had done with the country legends.

During his set on the opening night, Salestrom told the story of how he had performed  the same song with Parton in a sold out arena in Melbourne, Australia.

The performance, featuring his son, also called James, and Taylor was on the main Shetland Reel stage. Seattle-based group Marley’s Ghost played a set later in the Crew Room Stage, which was said to have gone down well with festival goers.

This morning Salestrom told The Shetland Times he was soaking up the atmosphere and loving Unst – including a walk he had done around Hermaness Nature Reserve. But the highlight, he said, was being surrounded by so many talented musicians.

He went as far as comparing the thrill of the experience to playing at the Hydro Arena in Glasgow a couple of years ago. On that occasion he was accompanying Parton.

The musician said: “It is amazing to be around someone that talented, that beautiful and that popular.  But…  to play here with Livingston last night is the same feeling. Livingston is so talented and such a great person.”

The festival, organised by Debbie and Frank Strang who own the Saxa Vord resort, began yesterday afternoon and continues over the weekend.

As well as the visiting musicians a wealth of local talent, ranging from emerging bands to seasoned performers, has been entertaining the crowds across the different stages.

Salestrom said the Strangs, who he has known for many years, deserve great credit for having the vision, and taking the risk, to get the festival up and running. And, although the crowds this year have been relatively small, he said there was no way it would be a one-off because too much time, effort and money had already been invested in setting it up.

He suggested there was interest from other musicians, and music lovers, who would jump at the chance of travelling to Unst in other years. “It is something that we hope will grow. We think that because it is so far north and so special [a place] we think we can really stimulate people to come here…

“It has been a joy to be able to come and be part of the first one. I’m really proud to be able to help Frank and Debbie get this first one off the ground.”

Livingston Taylor has been impressed by the music, the scenery and the people. Photo: Adam Civico
Livingston Taylor has been impressed by the music, the scenery and the people. Photo: Adam Civico

Boston-based guitarist Taylor has certainly enjoyed the experience and said the notion of the festival came as a “God send” and gave him the perfect reason to travel to Shetland.

Speaking on a typically dreich afternoon, he said: “I’m having great fun … Shetland is what I expected it to be. I expected it to be open and windy and wild and I have not been disappointed by the weather or the scenery which is spectacular.

“What has surprised me is the warmth and beauty of the people who live here.” He added that he had been made so welcome that he felt like he had “been here forever.”


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