About the Festival

The 39th Festival will be held between 2nd and 5th May 2019 and is the UK's most northerly folk festival. Organised by a voluntary committee, the Festival prides itself in reaching out to even the most far flung areas of Shetland. Concerts are organised throughout the isles, consisting of some of the best International, British and Shetland music that the world has to offer.

Festival History

The Festival has always been organised by a dedicated committee of volunteers who during the festival weekend rely on an enormous pool of committed helpers that assist in making the event run smoothly. Without the families who open their homes to accommodate the Festival artistes, the voluntary stewards at the Festival Club, The Lerwick Boating Club and others who run the Club bars, the raffle and merchandise sellers at venues, the shop staff, drivers, the country hall committees and overall Shetland hospitality, the Shetland Folk Festival simply would not be the success that it is continuously famed for.

The first festival was held in 1981 and has grown steadily throughout the years. It originated with a conversation held between the late Dr Tom Anderson and Charlie Simpson who had played at several festivals on mainland Scotland with the Shetland Fiddler's Society. Why shouldn't Shetland have a festival too, they wondered, and so the planning began. This was the ideal event to celebrate Shetland's own unique fiddle tradition and rich musical heritage. The inaugural organising committee was formed and in affirming their pride in Shetland's own musical tradition, the decision was made that local performers would share the concert platforms with visiting artistes. With people like the late Willie Hunter to promote, there was no fear that local talent would be wanting. This is a formula that has continued through all 38 Festivals to date.

Among the artistes performing at the first festival in 1981 were Kathryn Tickell, the late Sean McGuire and Dick Gaughan whose verdict after the 4 day event was "This Festival requires a Government Health Warning - Nobody sleeps"

This, too, is a formula that has continued throughout the 38 years!

Festival Club

Dancing on the club stairs
Dancing on the club stairs

To witness the full Shetland Folk Festival Experience, it is a good idea to have membership for the Shetland Folk Festival Society (SFFS).  A perk of this is that only SFFS members are permitted access to the fantastic Festival Club and besides this members purchase their concert tickets at a considerably reduced rate. Early members also get priority booking of tickets. There are ticketed concerts within the festival club that require a membership also in order to purchase tickets. This is the only venue where it is necesssary to be a member however.

Where is the Festival Club?

The Festival Club is a hive of activity all weekend and situated in Islesburgh Community Centre, King Harald Street in the main town of Lerwick and is in a very central location.The Festival club is open throughout the day and late into the wee small hours throughout the festival and there is food on offer in the cafe located in Islesburgh daily  and some late night scoff. And of course there is a  well stocked bar!

It's the place to be if you are interested in meeting and greeting Festival artistes, listening to sessions or participating in the various workshops on offer. The Club is where the opening lunchtime concert is held - which gives a real taster of what's ahead.

There will also be a number of late night staged events (after the hours of the mainstream concerts)  that are simply too good to be missed! Tickets are not required for the Late sessions but you must have a membership for entry. (Each person needs their own membership also).

Entry to the Club will be restricted to 2019 wristband-wearing members. PLEASE NOTE - At certain peak times, the Festival Club may have restrictions on entry due to fire regulations. At these times, we ask you to form an orderly queue outside and you shall be permitted access once a sufficient number of people have left.


A session in the club
A session in the club

Sessions are part of the festival, with local and visiting artistes getting together to play a tune. Visitors to the festival are actively encouraged to take part in the sessions. Please don't be shy!There are four main rooms in the Club, three with pianos, plus the main concert venue (when concerts/sound checks are not being held). There are also numerous staircases, hallways and cupboards available for tunes if you so fancy!

For an idea of what the Festival Club is like, check out this amazing gallery of photos by Lieve Boussauw (including an attempt to stop a session at 5am when the Festival Club closes!)

Youth Programming and Community Projects

In addition to organising the ticketed concerts, SFFS continue to organise extra community events, many of them targeted at younger members of the Shetland populace. These include the Playgroup concert, the Additional Support Needs concert, the free Youth concert and selected school visits. We’re also keen on developing educational opportunities. In previous years this has included the “S.H.O.W” project, which showcased the talents of students and tutors from Shetland, Highland, Orkney and the Western Isles in May 2007. The 29th Festival witnessed the exciting and innovative Trans-Nordic educational project, “Nordic Tone” whereas the 2012 Festival included a collaborative project between 4 members of Treacherous Orchestra and 5 music students who formed “The Trad Seeds” in the week running up to the Festival. Projects like these are extremely valuable for the ongoing development of our prestigious event.


39th Festival merchandise will be on sale during the Festival at the Club.

Artiste's merchandise will only be sold at the venues that they are performing at.

Raffle Contributors for 2018

We are grateful for raffle donations from the following businesses for 2018:

Northlink, Loganair, Camera Centre, J G Rae (Shetland Jewellery), High Level Music, George Robertson Ltd, Shetland Times Bookshop, Scoop Whole Foods, Shetland Amenity Trust Planticrub, Joanne Riley, Intersport and RSM Chartered Accounting .

No Smoking Policy

In line with Scottish Law please remember that ALL venues used by the Festival are strictly non-smoking - this includes the Festival Club.

Selected Quotes

Here are some of the comments and remarks made about the Festival by visiting artistes:

"This Festival requires a Government Health Warning - Nobody sleeps"
Dick Gaughan, 1981
"This is not like any kind of festival we've been used to playing at; it's just like playing at one long party"
Norman from Wild Geese, 1985
"Sleep ranks low on the Shetland priority list"
Sue Wilson, music journalist, 2002
"This has been one of the best years of my life this weekend"
Brian Wicklund, Brother Mule, 2008
"A life changing experience"
Tim Hackett, Rory Ellis Duo, 2008