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Festivals! How do we choose them? What is most important? Well, entertainment would seem to be number one - the chance to hear good music from your favourite artistes and, if you’re lucky, see them up close and even talk to them. But that’s by no means the only reason and, for some, it’s not even the best reason. There are many more, such as timing, venue, accommodation, accessibility, food, cost, “singing sites”, fringe, people and so on. A good festival has a large combination of these and the ShantyUK Easter Festival is a very good festival.

The timing of the actual festival is predictable. It is an Easter Festival and almost everybody’s diaries will show when Easter is for the current and for successive years, so planning ahead is easy. When you are at the festival there are half hour singing slots, on the hour and the half through the day, at each of the five main venues, and the artistes circulate around so you can either sit in the spot and listen to a wide spectrum of performers or follow your favourites (or a bit of both). The programme almost encourages you to chop and change during performances, as long as you don’t actually walk in and out whilst someone is singing, but rather wait for the applause.

The venue at Ellesmere Port is easy to get to, standing less than half a mile from the motorway exit. That means it’s easy for day trippers and weekenders both. There is hotel accommodation within walking distance and space for caravans and campervans. Also the motorway provides reasonable access not just to Ellesmere Port but to local towns and villages where accommodation of all sorts is available. There is a permanent on site café at the venue and there are food stalls too. There is a whole town full of eateries and takeaways about half a mile away, with cuisine to suit everyone’s taste and pockets.

All the day time music events were free and the two prime concerts over the weekend were only £11 each. Compare that to the prices that some festivals charge for fewer performers and performances - even factoring the £6.30 cost of admission to the Boat Museum, a four day festival works out at under £30!

The people at this festival are a varied cross section of ages from babes in arms to nonagenarians. There are singletons, couples, families (even a few pets). Most importantly, they are friendly - whether they are performers, staff, volunteers, guides or paying guests, it is one of the friendliest places I go to around the country.

The fringe is there too. Food stalls, clothing stalls and music stalls are all present. There is a real ale bar that also serves tea and coffee for the drivers and doubles as an almost continuous singaround venue that attracts both booked artistes, club performers and once-a-year singers (and listeners) in goodly numbers. There is a spacious classroom for the workshops and specials. Then there is the museum itself - boats and boaters, locks and water, real working workshops and tableau displays, demonstration spots, pictures and people - just as you would expect, including a souvenir shop and all with the added bonus of a canal boat trip.

However what about the actual performers? The mix of well established acts with an international reputation, local acts with a proven track record and up-and-coming acts that are all proving themselves popular on the folk and maritime scene, is outstanding. They may be all volunteers, but some are the sort of artistes who command good fees at festivals both here and abroad and some who will command big fees in the near future. They choose to freely volunteer their support for this festival because of its reputation and because they too get the chance to see top flight artistes who they rarely see elsewhere. These professional singers and musicians will put on maybe seven or eight varied performances over the four days, but in between are usually to be found chatting in the café or in the bar, and will often join in the sing-a-rounds taking their turn with the rest. There are no special ‘meets’ because the whole event is one big ‘meet’.

With the vast majority of events under a proper roof and the site being compact enough to walk between even the ‘distant’ venues quickly, even inclement weather can’t and didn’t put the damper on ShantyUK 2016 and, like all its predecessors, it was a great event. Watch out for details of next year’s festival as well as many other maritime events on the website.

Jim Saville