Edinburgh Tradfest announces its 2023 line-up

Edinburgh Tradfest

This week Edinburgh Tradfest launched its 2023 programme of traditional live music, storytelling, dance, workshops, talks, ceilidhs, and special events taking place at various venues across the city, thanks to continued support from The National Lottery through Creative Scotland and the William Grant Foundation.

Over the eleven days of the Festival, hundreds of artists and musicians will perform, including American folk singer, two-time winner, and six-time Grammy nominee Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi, who will kick off the festival at the Assembly Rooms on Friday 28 April supported by special guests Roo Geddes & Neil Sutcliffe.

Over the opening weekend the programme is packed with music, dance, song, and special events including a screening of award-winning documentary film Heading West: a story about a band called Shooglenifty; performances from Orcadian powerhouse FARA, legendary pipers Rona Lightfoot and Allan Macdonald, Austro-British, singer-songwriter, folk-punk musician Alicia Edelweiss; tenor banjo player Ciaran Ryan and his band; and live music (Friday-Sunday) until late at the Traverse Theatre Bar.

Plus, at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, the festival kicks off with the return of Pomegranates – a weekend of dance, performance, and workshops run by the Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland to celebrate International Dance Day (29 April); and the second North Atlantic Song Convention run by the Traditional Music Forum takes place, with delegates from around the world gathering in Edinburgh to celebrate and learn about our rich song traditions.

Unmissable highlights continue during the first week with ‘Two For Joy’, a new piece of music commissioned specifically for the festival, composed and arranged by award-winning harpist Ailie Robertson, and performed by Neil Sutcliffe, Alice Allen, Alastair Savage, Josie Duncan, and Heather Cartwright. ‘Two For Joy’ explores the use of birdsong in music and folklore, and the positive impact it can have on our mental health.

Musicians also performing during the first week are BBC Radio Scotland Young Musician of the Year 2023 Amy Laurenson with her newly formed trio; Mississippi Delta songbird Bronwynne Brent who was crowned Female Vocalist of The Year by Americana UK in 2019; Swedish nyckelharpa player Fredy Clue; America’s masters of old-time, bluegrass, classic country and Cajun music The Foghorn Stringband; trailblazing cellist Juliette Lemoine(who counts SAY-award winning pianist Fergus McCreadie among her A-list backing band); award-winning singer and composer Kim Carnie; Northumbria’s Kathryn Tickell OBE who has twice won ‘Musician of the Year’ at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, performing with her band The Darkening; and Gnawa musician Omar Afif in a collaboration with local sax wizard Steve Kettley.

At the Scottish Storytelling Centre the week one programme is packed with fantastic events including a talk on naturalist Nan Shepherd (author of The Living Mountain) conducted by Erlend Clouston; a performance by the Scots Opera Project of the acclaimed The Seal-Woman written by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser and Granville Bantock in 1924; Shapeshifters which returns with more terrifying and tragic folktales from Scotland including the Seal Killer of Duncansby Head and Saba the deer mother told by storyteller Fiona Herbert with song, harp and fiddle from Emma Durkan; open-floor storytelling at the Waverley Bar with Ailsa Dixon; and for younger audiences, folklorist Allison Galbraith will be telling stories from her latest collection Funny Folk Tales for Children. Plus, to celebrate Deaf Awareness Week, Solar Bear will present a panel discussion and a series of new films created and developed over the last three years exploring deaf folklore, deaf identity and disability.

Week two of the Festival also offers a packed programme including spring ceilidhs at the Scottish Storytelling Centre; the traditional May Day March – Fighting Back Together (6 May) which travels down the Royal Mile culminating in a rally against unjust labour laws and the cost of living crisis at The Pleasance; a performance of the ancient and much-loved border ballad of Thomas the Rhymer narrated by Julia Munrow and with music by John Sampson; tales of bees, birds, and international stories performed by Susan Strauss (Oregon, USA) chosen from her book Tree with Golden Apples; the launch of Stuart McHardy’s new book The Nine Maidens: Priestesses of the Ancient World;and Donald Smith presenting his recently published Storm and Shore a bardsaga for our times, reflecting our need for contemporary solace and sanctuary close to nature.

At the Traverse the musical talent continues with a Hands Up For Trad concert for #WorldPlayAStrathyspeyDay (6 May) with musicians Graham Mackenzie, Madeleine Stewart, Rory Matheson and Adam Sutherland performing a mix of trad strathspeys, reels, marches and the official strathspey written for the new king; a performance by Rory Matheson and Graham Rorie whose album We Have Won The Land celebrates the success of the Assynt Crofter’s Trust in buying back the North Lochinver Estate from a Swedish land speculator 30 years ago; music from daughter/father duo Dirk and Amelia Powell from Louisiana who bring their deeply rooted Cajun, Appalachian and original sounds to the festival for the first time; nu-folk singer-songwriter and ukulele musician Zoë Bestel; 2022 MG ALBA Musician of The Year nominee fiddle player Ryan Young; the Edinburgh Folk Club returning with husband and wife combo Jim and Susie Malcolm; and, to close the festival, award-winning musical geniuses Ross Ainslie (Treacherous Orchestra, Salsa Celtica) and Tim Edey (Chieftains) will raise the roof with an unmissable festival finale of foot-stomping tunes topped with great banter.

This year the festival also presents its first ETF Spotlight which will showcase some of the most exciting new performers emerging in folk and traditional music today including high energy folk band Falasgair; guitarist and singer-songwriter Heather Cartwright; folk musician and activist Maddie Morris; and the Madeleine Stewart Trio which includes Rory Matheson (piano) and Craig Baxter (bodhran). Throughout the Festival there will also be workshops for all levels including the Edinburgh Youth Gaitherin weekend for 13-18 year olds; Cajun and Appalachian tunes/songs with Dirk and Amelia Powell, fiddle tunes with Ryan Young, a Shetland tunes workshop with Amy Laurenson; and storytelling with international storyteller Susan Strauss (Oregon USA).

Finally, Edinburgh Tradfest is delighted to host this year’s Rebellious Truth lecture/recital presented in collaboration with Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, which will explore mental health issues in the music industry. Led by Gaelic singer, composer, researcher and broadcaster Mischa Macpherson who will be joined on stage by Celtic and Scottish Studies musician-in-residence Fraser Fifield. This event is free but ticketed, and will be live-streamed.

Speaking at today’s launch, Alan Morrison Head of Music at Creative Scotland said: “With its potent mix of music, dance, song and storytelling, Tradfest is a true reflection of Scottish culture – past, present and future. Newly commissioned work sits alongside favourites from the treasure trove of Scotland’s heritage, all of which is enriched by the international artists who are threaded through the programme. At a time when respect and tolerance for different cultures is under global threat, Tradfest offers a shining example of how we can celebrate both our shared humanity and our distinct traditions.”

Douglas Robertson and Jane-Ann Purdy, co-producers of Edinburgh Tradfest said:

“We are super excited about the scope of this year’s festival, not to mention the quality of the performers from Scotland and overseas: from Grammy-winners to homegrown superstars; visiting virtuosos to emerging talent; tunes with centuries of tradition to new writing. We have it all. Every day of the festival is brimming with talent and we encourage everyone to connect with their favourites and try something new. You can be assured of a warm welcome.”

Steve Byrne, Director of TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland): “TRACS is delighted to contribute a rich offering from across the traditional arts to this year’s Tradfest. The festival is a fantastic platform for singers, dancers, musicians and storytellers to follow in the great Edinburgh spring tradition of celebrating our traditional cultures both local and global.”

Daniel Abercrombie, Programme & Events Manager, Scottish Storytelling Centre:

“Tradfest is a chance for us to celebrate a range of traditional arts through live performance and participation. The Storytelling Centre’s programme has themes of nature and the environment running through it with ceilidhs, long-form storytelling, dance and song events, sitting alongside Celtic opera, BSL digital storytelling and family events. Something for everyone this spring!”

Musician Amy Laurenson said: “I’m delighted to be performing at this year’s Edinburgh Tradfest in May. It’s an absolute pleasure to be part of today’s event and to give everyone a taste of what to expect to hear from us. Winning Young Trad Musician of the Year was absolutely fantastic and I am super excited to see what the next year holds.”

Edinburgh Tradfest 2023 will run from Friday 28 April – Monday 8 May. For tickets and more information visit edinburghtradfest.com