Folk Weekend Oxford is approaching, promising three jam-packed days of music, dancing, talks, sessions and more, brought straight into your home via streaming on 16th-18th April. Who better to tell us what to expect than the festival's Creative Director, Jim Driscoll?
Daily Info: What does your role as Creative Director entail? How did you come to get involved?
Jim Driscoll: We are a small team at Folk Weekend Oxford, so it is very much all hands on deck and we all end up doing a little bit of everything. And collective decision making is really important. I suppose as Creative Director I have overall responsibility for the musical direction of the festival. But that is much more about enabling rather than dictating, an approach the previous director Cat McGill took and which I am trying to follow.
On moving back to Oxford in 2017, I jumped right back into the folk scene. And when I saw this job advertised, I thought I could bring something useful to the role. Fortunately for me, the rest of the FWO team agreed!
DI: What are you most looking forward to this year?
JD: Everyone on the bill is great, and I’m looking forward to seeing them all of course (although I will be working too and might not be able to see as much as I would like). But personally I am most looking forward to hearing Peggy Seeger in conversation - a genuine folk legend and absolutely central to the folk scene in the UK and the US for over sixty years. Also Bow Selecta, our fiddle showcase, which features three of the best fiddle players I know: Josh Newman from Oxford, Mr Moon, usually based in Berlin but currently holed up in Kent, and Eddie Dickerson from Virginia. English, Irish, and Appalachian fiddle styles are distinct but related and it will be fascinating to hear top-notch practitioners of the three styles on the same bill.
DI: What's your favourite thing about Oxford's folk scene?
JD: The sessions! There are so many great sessions that happen all over Oxford and the surrounding area (pre-covid at least). And so many different styles and approaches: English, Irish, Scandinavian, tune-based, song-based, etc. You could go out to something completely different every night of the week (and I frequently did). There are so many great musicians writing new stuff as well as playing the old, and so keeping the tradition alive. Mahler said that a living tradition is about feeding the fire not raking the ashes and I am pleased to say there are no ashes whatsoever being raked in Oxford!
DI: Folk Weekend is usually famous for bringing people together, which can't quite happen in its usual form this year. Are there up-sides to an online-only format?
JD: Yes, Folk Weekend is usually focused very much on the community aspects of folk music, and we can't do that (for the second year running) in quite the way we have in the past. But we are trying our best to preserve that sense of community involvement, through the virtual choir and our online session room, for example. It will keep us going until in-person music making can happen again. But the upside to an online-only format is that we can potentially reach more people than we could before. An online gig is more accessible for some people, with mobility issues or childcare commitments for example. And we have been able to feature some international musicians in a way we couldn’t really do when the festival was in-person. For those reasons, we will be looking to include an on-line element in our future festivals and hopefully have the best of both worlds!
DI: Which acts would you recommend for people who haven't attended for or who are unfamiliar with the genre?
JD: The Sunday evening headliners, Mad Dog Mcrea, are a wonderful introduction to the genre, just rollicking upbeat good-time music, as far away from the wooly jumper, finger-in-the-ear image some people still have of folk music as it is possible to get. And Jackie Oates and Megan Henwood (streaming live from the North Wall Arts Centre at 4pm Saturday 17th) are a great example of where folk music is right now, combining elements of the tradition with modern concerns to sing meaningful songs about the lives people are living today.