5 Of The Best Acoustic Festivals In The UK

5 Of The Best Acoustic Festivals In The UK

So you like acoustic festivals?

This is a list of five of the best acoustic festivals in England and the UK.

And I’m not going to tell you that the best acoustic music in the UK can be found at Glastonbury Festival or The Isle of Wight Festival, however true or untrue that may be. This blog is all about grass roots acoustic music.

Who knows, perhaps you’ll see a future Glastonbury headliner in their very early beginnings!

Wait, what’s an acoustic festival and who are you?

My name’s Chris Tavener, I am a satirical singer-songwriter. I’ve been an avid festival goer for many years, and I’ve performed at hundreds of them including The Edinburgh Fringe, Glastonbury Festival, Tramlines, Latitude Festival, The Great Escape and more. I’ve been known to perform up to 350 gigs a year so I hope some of my accumulated knowledge is of use to you.

Satirical songwriter and regular festival-goer: Chris Tavener
Satirical songwriter and regular festival-goer: Chris Tavener

An acoustic festival, in this sense, is a festival that involves more than just one pub, street or stage that focuses its primary attention on acoustic music. It’s a place for music lovers to go and enjoy the British sunshine (hopefully!) with some musical accompaniment. All styles are welcome at these festivals, whether you play blues, folk, rock or hip-hop; if you play an acoustic instrument then you’re in!

So without further ado…

The Middlewich Folk And Boat Festival – Mid-June 

Heading North on the M6, just past Sandbach you’ll find an unassuming town called Middlewich. Appropriately nestled right in the centre of Cheshire, this riverside town comes alive once a year for one of the biggest musical jamborees in the folk musician’s calendar. Frequently featured in lists of the best folk festivals anywhere in the UK, Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival is an excellent place to start this list…

The FAB Festival attracts numbers of up to 30,000 attendees a year, plus 400 boats, to this mostly-free and eclectic musical celebration. You’ll find many acoustic music fans hopping from pub stages like The King’s Lock to the Boat Yard Stage to the Main Stage and back again; trying to catch a little of every act they’d hope to see. Programmes are always on hand to make this process a lot smoother.

In the past, the festival has boasted named acts like Glen Tilbrook, Seth Lakeman, Martin Simpson and Richard Digance; while accommodating many acts like myself on their way up the precarious music business ladder. It’s this appreciation for homegrown talent mixed with the very best of the folk genre that’s kept Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival so vibrant and inspiring for over 20 years.

Official website – Click here

Positives: The choice of acoustic music is so varied in style . Every stage is a short walk away so you’ll have very few problems with acts clashing.

Negatives: It’s a small town with small pubs so sometimes the venues get a little too cosy! This may not be to everyone’s tastes but it makes for a special and sometimes interactive entertainment experience.

Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival
Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival

The Acoustic Festival Of Britain – Early June

Every year, Uttoxeter racecourse in the midlands is home to arguably the most popular festival on this list. The confidently named, THE Acoustic Festival of Britain, has a legitimate claim to its name with thousands of people in attendance each year and a main stage that looks like Glastonbury; all centred around a concrete devotion to acoustic music.

While this is not a free event, it follows the conventional model of an outdoors festival involving camping, marquee stages and food traders at every turn. Interestingly, all the stages are enclosed within the racecourse, making it easy to wander over from watching an 8-piece band on the main stage to one man stand up in the comedy tent. It’s a highly sought after festival slot for performers too.

Some of the biggest names in folk music have graced the main stage here, including: Donovan, Fairport Convention, Steve Harley and Chris Difford. However, the festival still manages to ensure that the new faces of popular acoustic music like Gaz Brookfield and Funke and The Two Tone Baby get a fair crack of the whip to ignite some young energy.

Positives: It’s the biggest Summer festival with a speciality towards acoustic music in its very name. A chance to see household names alongside fresh new talent in the same field is an exciting rarity.
Negatives: This is not a street festival so camping can play a big part in enjoying the whole weekend. If it rains then only the tent stages are protected but every festival is weather-dependent. It’s also not a free festival, the tickets aren’t cheap but it all goes towards bringing in a great lineup.
Acoustic Festival Of Britain, Uttoxeter
Acoustic Festival Of Britain, Uttoxeter

Official website – Click here

Audlem Music Festival – Late-May

From one of the country’s largest acoustic festival settings, to one of its smallest. Audlem is a rural Cheshire village bordering Shropshire and Staffordshire. It’s an idyllic place that would entice any countryside lover but pair that with the festival’s wellspring of fresh music and you’ve got the sights and sounds of an excellent long weekend.

I’ve cheated a little bit here. Acoustic music is not explicitly Audlem Festival’s emphasis, however, it is certainly one of the things it does best. Audiences gather at stages in every pub, cafe, beer garden and car park while stragglers watch from road sides, fields and even canal boats. Consequently, it makes for a memorable experience for performers, many of whom are relatively new to touring festivals. It’s just as special for the audience who get to experience new music in a very unique place.

There’s a great sense of pride in the village community here and it seems as though every member of the village is involved with the festival or is taking part. Even at 12pm on the Sunday, after four days of festival frivolities, there are roused and ready listeners raring to go. Acts and visitors travel from all over the UK to be a part of it.

Positives: It’s a festival with lots of support from the community in a picturesque part of the UK. It’s a countryside place to get yourself lost in and to experience new, alternative and unsigned music.
Negatives: Given the size and location of Audlem, getting in and out isn’t without its problems. It has maintained its dedication to supporting growing acts, so if huge names are important to you, then you won’t find them here.
Audlem Music Festival - With Jeremiah Ferrari On Stage
Audlem Music Festival – With Jeremiah Ferrari On Stage

Official website – Click here

Rustic Festival – July

In the British midsummer heat of July (we wish!), there is one acoustic music gathering that truly embodies the definition of a festival. It takes place in the middle of a field in Dutton, a safe distance from the real world with marquees full of hay bales. What some might call – a proper festival!

The aptly named, Rustic Festival, is on haitus for 2018 but in the past it’s drawn some huge acts. Lindisfarne, Mark Radcliffe’s Galleon Blast and Merry Hell have all graced its humble stage and even returned for a second innings. The variety of unsigned talent further down the bill both compliments and holds its own against the well-known talent. Local songwriting hero George Borowski (A.K.A. Dire Strait’s Guitar George) is certain to make an appearance.

This festival more than any other has an ethos of togetherness. It’s not a place to get yourself lost in a sea of people; instead Rustic offers a more intimate, friendly atmosphere. Many of the festival staff are volunteers who believe in everything the Rustic experience has to offer. Making friends is easy here and the late-night jam sessions just cement how the love of music from everyone involved, remains a central pillar of the festival. Hopefully the laid back approach isn’t lost as it inevitably continues to grow.

Positives: Boasting some of the biggest names in folk and acoustic music while maintaining an intimate festival experience. A winning combination!
Negatives: It’s a little more difficult to find if you’re unfamiliar with Dutton and Northwich. It’s also not close to many pubs, shops, eateries etc. so those with an attachment to their creature comforts should think twice.
Rustic Festival, Dutton
Rustic Festival, Dutton

Official website – Click here

Congleton Unplugged – March

It would be unbecoming of me not to tip my hat to at least one new and rising festival. My final selection goes to Congleton, where a burgeoning unplugged street festival treats the towns people to three full days of music; taking place anywhere with space for one person, a microphone and an instrument.

Congleton Unplugged is a treasure trove of some of the most unique and promising unsigned talent around. The city singers of Liverpool, Manchester and Chester come out for this festival and there’s a definite speciality towards singer-songwriters which makes the festival distinctive in itself. This is largely thanks to the music booking supremos of Music Gofer, who employ the talents of acts in Cheshire and Manchester at over 1,000 gigs a year.

Congleton’s premiere acoustic gathering takes an early bird slot in March, so if you’ve missed it for 2018, make sure to note it down for subsequent years. The cafes, small pubs and piano bars host very intimate shows where you can bear witness to some of the warmest receptions towards musicians. It’s a town ready to embrace new things and the Unplugged Festival seems set to rise in popularity.

Positives: It’s a street festival so everything you could possibly need is on hand. Unlike many festivals, this one is not particularly weather-dependent. Congleton Unplugged champions some of the best unsigned talent from the major North West cities and beyond.
Negatives: On the other side of that coin, you’re not likely to get well-known acts playing here. It’s a relatively new festival and the people of Congleton are still adjusting. A few gig-goers will just be there for a Friday night out.
Congleton Unplugged Festival - The energetic John Dhali live on stage
Congleton Unplugged Festival – The energetic John Dhali live on stage

Official website – Click here

Perhaps you disagree with my selections. Or perhaps I’ve practically planned your Summer outings this year!

Please do inform me if there are any unmissable festivals that I’ve seemingly been missing out on all this time. I know my festival experience is improperly skewed towards the North West. I plan to visit many others so that this list may become a top ten sometime in the near future.

Enjoy the festivities!

Chris

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Grab A Festival Bag For The Summer – http://www.christavener.co.uk/product/lets-all-go-to-a-festival-tote-bag/