Over 55 years ago, the English folk music and dance scene was undergoing a revival and there were festivals celebrating the traditions in the south-west and north of England but nothing in the south-east.
The late Jack Hamilton was instrumental in the growth of the Sidmouth Folk festival over sixty years ago, but he wanted to found his own festival somewhere in the south-east so he set out to find the perfect location.
He arrived in Broadstairs and knew at once this was the place to start a folk festival in a beautiful seaside location.
The Folk Show took place twice a day in Pierremont Park, with Jack’s caravan as festival HQ. Dance sides from around the country and abroad performed on the wooden boards in front of an old WW1 tent. Then the festival expanded into some town pubs and the Retort House as a song venue.
Funding came from the District Council who provided a £100 deficit guarantee. The English Folk Dance and song society provided a £50 grant.
In the early 70’s, the festival became well known in the folk world and more workshops and dance events were added and Folk Week also laid out camping facilities at a local school. Extra grants were secured and sponsorship grew. South East Arts also recognised the festival and gave a small grant.
In 2001, Folk Week received a 3 year Regional Arts Development grant from the Arts Council to support the hire of a 500 seater marquee for festival headline acts. As a result, the turnover tripled in just a couple of years, exceeding all expectations. The challenge has always been to raise enough funds through grants, sponsorship and ticket sales to cover the expenditure of the additional infrastructure.
Folk Week has used almost every available venue in Broadstairs over the years and continues to adapt according to available funds and practical issues.
The festival benefits and always has done, from an amazing army of volunteers without whom Folk Week would not happen. They do everything from taking tickets from the door, staffing the Festival Centre, the campsite, driving minibuses – all in exchange for a season ticket.
The festival has changed over the years from being an event that was organised and catered for a core of enthusiasts and experts in English traditional folk music and dance into an event that still attracts that audience, but also involves the whole town. In 2012, Kent County Council carried out an independent survey of the Economic Benefit of Festivals in East Kent. Folk Week had by far the most significant impact with an estimated £2.3 million into the local economy.
But that’s not why people get involved with the festival – they love Folk Week, the music, the song and dance and making life-long friends.
2020 was the first year in Folk Week history that the festival did not take place. This was due to the pandemic.
There have been many reincarnations to Folk Week for all sorts of reasons, and in 2021 the festival had to change format again to ensure that it could go ahead in still uncertain times. It was only in March 2021 that the festival committee took the decision to go ahead (planning usually takes a year!)
In 2021, a new arena space ensured that we could enjoy Folk Week whilst being able to social distance and be in the fresh air.
As the government roadmap changed as the festival approached, we were able to organise more events in the local pubs, the Hobby Horse Club and a new format craft fair also took place.
In 2022, the main concert venue was a large tent in the Memorial Recreation ground, which became the Festival Arena for a week, with food stalls, a fully-stocked bar and a great musical line-up to enjoy. In 2023, Folk Week returns to the Queen’s Road Baptist Centre, the Sarah Thorne Theatre, the Sailing Club, Crampton Tower Museum, the Dane Court school campsite, the pubs, the bandstand and Victoria Gardens for the Craft and Music Fair.
Whatever the format, our aim remains the same – that everyone can enjoy the music, dance and fun that has been celebrated since the 1960s.