Edinburgh’s Tradfest welcomes the summer

Performers Eilidh Munro, Alistair Cole, Sophie Stevenson, Gavin Pennycook and Davide Panzeri prepare for TradFest on Calton Hill. Picture: Greg Macvean

Performers Eilidh Munro, Alistair Cole, Sophie Stevenson, Gavin Pennycook and Davide Panzeri prepare for TradFest on Calton Hill. Picture: Greg Macvean

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THE weather may be telling a different story, but according to Celtic traditions we have officially said goodbye to winter and welcomed summer.

To celebrate, Edinburgh’s TradFest kick-starts the summer season with a feast of music, song, storytelling, dance, folk drama, literature, folk film, talks, crafts and visual arts.

Inspired by the traditions of May Day and Beltane, the annual festival showcases Celtic arts and cultural traditions with a contemporary spin.

Now in its third year, TradFest has quickly become a popular event in the Capital’s festival calendar.

“In many ways it’s just the second year because the first year was a complete pilot experiment,” says festival director Donald Smith.

“People said there should be a better folk festival in the capital city and we agreed, so we tried a pilot year and it seemed to go really well.

“Last year we thought ‘let’s try and build this into an annual event’ and this year it has really come of age.” The programme is bigger, better and bursting with variety.

Almost 100 events will take place in 25 venues across the city, including the Pleasance, Queen’s Hall, Summerhall, the Storytelling Centre and the Filmhouse.

Performers from Italy, Norway, Sweden, the US and Ireland will join top Scottish talent to create the vibrant line-up. These include Malinky, The Tannahill Weavers, Nuala Kennedy, Southern Tenant Folk Union and Rozi Plain.

Soundhouse has put together a special programme of music events at the Pleasance, which will be open every night for the duration of the festival.

Donald is quick to point out that the festival embraces the full range of arts – everything from crafts to dance. And one of the new features this year is the addition of the film festival to TradFest, which will be held in the Filmhouse.

“It’s about folk arts,” says Donald. “It’s not just a music festival. The music events take place in the bigger venues and things like storytelling take place in more intimate venues. But there’s all sorts on offer – walks, book events and this year we have the film events, too.

“It’s a bigger and better and brighter format and the programme has really gone down well. We’ve packed so much into the 12 days with over 95 events happening, it’s a great time to celebrate, enjoy and get involved with traditional arts.”

He adds: “We are offering more tours this year and new walks. There’s the Rock Opera walking tour of geology and Scotland’s Democracy Trail, which looks at the development of ideas and political activism in Scotland, which is obviously quite timely with the general election coming up.

“People can look at it either way, saying it’s a nice distraction or they can say ‘oh great, this is the way we can do our politics, let’s get on [today’s] May Day walk’.”

Other locations and venues taking part include Calton Hill, the Royal Mile, George Square Theatre and Dance Base.

One of the highlights of the festival is the TradFest Trail, which showcases craft shops, galleries, pubs, instrument makers, bookshops, restaurants and cafes that help visitors experience Scotland’s culture and the folk arts.

Visitors and residents will be guided through the Old Town, honeycombing the closes, streets and courtyards of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “precipitous city” – all of which have contributed to the contemporary “trad renaissance” in Edinburgh.

“There are strands of events running through it which celebrate different aspects of folk,” explains Donald, pictured. “There are a lot of wee special interest things which are part of the culture of Edinburgh.

“The main thing about the whole festival is that it gets going around the May Day week. The Beltane Fire Festival and May Day procession are very old traditions.”

There will also be a number of TradFest Tours taking place every day, including an exploration of the stories of Old Edinburgh and a Whisky and Tales tour.

• TradFest runs until May 10. For tickets, visit http://www.tracscotland.org/festivals or call 0131-556 9579.