Fantastic return for family-friendly Yorkshire festival as it goes Underneath the Stars for first time

An audience of more than 3,000 ‘stargazers’ enjoyed a packed three days (and nights) of outstanding music from leading folk, rock, and indie musicians.

Friday, 6th August 2021, 10:14 pm
Updated Friday, 6th August 2021, 10:16 pm
Pictures by Brian Legard

Performances from poets, authors and broadcasters, came together with family-friendly fun, full of craft tents, storytelling, street artists and circus treats at the 2021 Underneath the Stars Festival, Cinderhill Farm, Barnsley (30th July - 1st August).

It was a fantastic return for the family-friendly festival after a year away due to the pandemic, and what a wonderful weekend of live performance for artists and audience alike. Despite the official relaxation of covid restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ the festival organisers’ approach throughout has been to put the safety of customers, crew, artists and wider community first. They took the decision to operate a reduced capacity event, incorporating the principles of social distancing and various Covid protocols.

In a change to previous festivals, the usual two stages, under marquee cover were switched for a single large outdoor stage, literally underneath the stars, with wide access lanes and zones, so that the audience could choose their own space to view performances. Everyone working for the festival, from artists to volunteers and on-site caterers, was required to follow Covid protocols and take lateral flow tests before arriving on site.

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Pictures by Brian Legard

Emma Holling, Festival Director, said: “This year’s Underneath the Stars festival has been quite amazing and the feedback from customers wonderful. We’re still on site with campers leaving, but there is already and an overwhelming sense that the team have managed to pull off something quite special. We’ve received a lot of thanks from workers who have been able to practice their trade and musicians able to perform in front of an audience, for the first time in a very long time, and audiences hungry for entertainment and a sense of community.

“We faced a number of challenges over the actual weekend. We had been prepared for volunteers to drop out and the rate was quite significant; we had made some advance contingencies and were able to manage this. We also knew we were likely to lose artists, and we lost four in total at around 24 hrs notice each. However, thanks to some advance thought and a good contact list, we were able to replace artists at even the highest levels, with names that delighted and did not disappoint. We’ve received a lot of praise from our customers or “stargazers” for this.”

The star-studded line-up kicked off on Friday with Grammy nominated, singer songwriter Paul Carrack. Celebrating 20 years of phenomenal output as an independent artist, the Sheffield born artist has carved a niche for himself where blue-eyed soul and pop rock collide, promising a formidable live experience. Sadly, Saving Grace (ft Robert Plant and Suzi Dian) pulled out, but stunning band The Staves, stepped in, as did Ward Thomas in lieu of Honeyfeet and festival favourites, Cut Capers provided an exceptional last-minute stand-in for Lanterns on the Lake.

Barnsley’s own nightingale, Kate Rusby, took to the stage on Sunday evening, performing traditional folk and stunning self-penned songs. Yorkshire born and bred, Kate is known for her wistfully pure singing voice, good humour, and the down-to-earth warmth of her live performances. In recognition of her outstanding contributions to folk music, dance and song, Kate was honoured with the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) Gold Badge in 2019.

Pictures by Brian Legard

Other major highlights over the weekend included a magnificent set and storytelling from Eddi Reader, one of Scotland’s greatest living female voices; LYR, short for Land Yacht Regatta, a genre-splicing supergroup of sorts, comprised of author and current British poet laureate Simon Armitage, musician Richard Walters and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Pearson; multi-award winning duo the Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita the Senegalese Kora virtuoso; Breabach; the much beloved and acclaimed Admiral Fallow; the unique and utterly compelling live solo performer and singer-songwriter Martyn Joseph; UTSf favourite, Irish musician and singer Damien O’Kane & guests; Barnsley’s finest and the greatest show in knitted tank tops, The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican; an audience with the acclaimed broadcaster Mark Radcliffe; drawing on the traditional music styles of the Balkans and North America, Dallahan; fierce, fragile and euphoric songs from Welsh Music Prize nominee Bryde; Anglo-Irish all-female bluegrass quintet Midnight Skyracer; powerhouse Americana-twinged singer and songwriter, from Yorkshire, Lauren Housley; deeply rooted English folk singer Nick Hart; Americana influenced trio Jaywalkers. You only had to see the queue for the signing tent to gauge the love for last minute surprise guest, Dawn French, who regaled the audience with anecdotes and stories from her illustrious career as one of the nation’s favourite actors, broadcaster, comedian and writer.

Festival organisers acknowledged it had been a challenging time but had managed to pull together a fantastic three-day event, full of wonderful live music, after a 15-month break, some great raconteurs and lots of family entertainment. Organisers proffered special thanks to its army of loyal volunteers who helped to keep the site Covid safe and financial support from the Community Recovery Fund (CRF), that allowed the event to go ahead.

Emma Holling says: “We are hugely endebted to our wonderful team of volunteers without whom we could never have staged the festival. It’s hard to single out individuals who helped us to make this year’s event happen, however, big thanks to my fellow director and the Festival’s Production Manager, Pete Sharman, from Isophase Audio, who kept the whole show running to the highest of standards in all weathers.”

Underneath the Stars festival is a community interest venture with inclusivity and community at its heart. The team recently enjoyed a week of celebrations as they won Small Festival of the Year and took home the prestigious Judge’s Award at the National Outdoor Events Association’s (NOEA) Awards ceremony on Wednesday 28th November 2019.

Pictures by Brian Legard

They also gained an Attitude is Everything Silver Charter Award. AIE is a disability-led charity supporting non-profit and commercial organisations to make what they do more accessible and inclusive for Deaf and disabled people. Its Charter improves Deaf and disabled people’s access to live music by working in partnership with audiences, artists, and the music industry.