I took a leap of faith going to Underneath the Stars festival. For a weekend, I was a Manc in Yorkshire on my own. I’ve never done a festival solo but, after two amazing days, I’d thoroughly recommend it – Barnsley’s Underneath the Stars welcomes everyone.
From miles away, I could see the two main stages, sheltered under humongous blue tents. The sight of them came as a major relief given the forecast was 90 per cent rain for Saturday alone. Wet Wet Wet.
Close up, the venue’s attention to detail was enchanting. Before going through the gates, you’re welcomed in a walkway of beach ball-sized crochet planets, swirling on poles, and portraits of your own zodiac signs (I’m a Leo). It was also a comfort that the Portaloos never ran out of toilet roll.
With the sun failing to make an appearance until mid-Sunday, I thanked my lucky stars that I’d had the foresight to buy wellies the day before the festival. Those wellies were one of my best ever purchases (unlike my £10 second hand tent). A muddy experience for sure, the 400 volunteers dotted around the festival in high-vis yellow t-shirts were quick to accommodate to the weather, layering the mushy ground with hay. I didn’t see a single person fall or slip (impressive don’t you think?), and there was no litter in sight.
Since it was launched in 2014 by Pure Records and ‘The First Lady of Folk’, Barnsley lass Kate Rusby, Underneath the Stars has become an annual fixture. The not-for-profit music and arts festival is spread across 150 acres in the crevice of Barnsley, hidden between Cinderhill Farm and a blanket of trees. It’s a gorgeous festival, intimate and deeply personal while offering a variety of experiences that cater to all. I, for one, got to dance my first ceilidh in my woolly socks with the Penistone Folk Ensemble. I also learned how to crochet left-handed with Mother Hookers.
This year’s headliners were Scouting For Girls (Friday), The Shires (Saturday), and Rusby (Sunday). In addition, 27 incredible indie folk and country artists played across the two stages: Planets Stage and Little Lights stage. My personal highlights were Skerryvore, The Deep Blue, Elephant Sessions, and Angeline Morrison & The Sorrow Songs Band.
International talent added to the atmosphere of the three-day party with the likes of two-time Grammy nominee and Alabama Music Hall of Fame singer-songwriter Beth Nielson Chapman from Nashville, Tennessee. She performed her latest album Crazy Town, including my personal favourite Back To This Moment. I asked her if she’d brought anyone with her to the festival.
“I’m not bringing any blood relatives on this tour but the two musicians I’m travelling with, Ruth Trimble and Mia Morris, both talented songwriters, are like family,” she said.
The festival featured local talent too, including angelic harmonies from Barnsley Youth Choir and a special one-off cover of Taylor Swift’s Never Grow Up from Yorkshire’s biggest Swiftie, Shaun Dooley (you’ll know him from shows like Broadchurch, EastEnders and It’s a Sin).
And a big hats off to the lighting crew who took each performance to infinity and beyond. The lighting was a major stand-out: floodlights of warm yellow, shining into the crowd during moments of audience participation, helped to make the experience for all 4,400 festival-goers intimate, special, and so personal.
I had an absolute blast. I’ll be keeping my calendar free for August next year.
For information about next year’s Underneath the Stars, click here.