Review: Underneath the Stars 2023

Kate Rusby signing off the festival on Sunday night.Kate Rusby signing off the festival on Sunday night.
Kate Rusby signing off the festival on Sunday night.
The Yorkshire musician Kate Rusby and friends and family and, err, 400 volunteers, have just put to bed her annual Underneath The Stars Festival, or UTS to give it short shrift.

It is on 150-acres of what starts out as fine farm grassland at Cawthorne, handy for Junction 38 off the M1 motorway. As the weekend progressed and wet weather blew in from dastardly lesser counties it became what Kate mirthfully called mud-gate when her band signed off on Sunday night with the fitting ballad Underneath the Stars. Alongside was her husband, Damien O’Kane, an off-comed ‘un from across the Irish Sea with that infectious Celtic musical joy which makes you want to go straight there.

His band’s autumn tour includes Selby on October 5, and Kate Rusby’s winter tour starts in York on December 7.

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Having said that, it’s hard to give credit to more than a few of the hundreds of entertainers at the festival.

Enjoying the festival under glowering skiesEnjoying the festival under glowering skies
Enjoying the festival under glowering skies

The Longest Johns brought rollicking Bristol sea shanties to middle Yorkshire on Friday night with their hit The Wellerman getting sonorous acclaim from a packed house. Or actually a packed marquee, one of two peaked tents which had a dozen or so alternating shows every day so you could watch them all if you had the stamina.

The highly acclaimed hit-makers Scouting For Girls ended the night, with a triple guitar attack sending us off to our beds in a happy mood. Stars counted in the sky: none. In fact, all weekend the stars were mostly at ground level, on the stages and in the workshops and entertainment spread around the site.

Cawthorne Tea Ladies were serving cake to raise money for the church and Silkstone Scouts were doing breakfasts. There was the wonderful Barnsley Youth Choir, rated fifth in the world, and Nashville’s globally renowned singer and songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman.

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I missed the session on handstands, yoga and African drumming for which the tent was full. There was clog dancing and a bootcamp, an archaeology walk, puppets, quizzes, a circus, story telling, things for all ages from mid-morning to 11pm.

Celtic folk rock group SkerryvoreCeltic folk rock group Skerryvore
Celtic folk rock group Skerryvore

We did a ceilidh, a room full of beginners in stocking feet on the dance floor: muddy boots were not welcome. This was 90 minutes of joy, learning, sometimes muddled confusion but always laughter.

Indeed laughter and joy were in abundance all weekend, from the smiling volunteer stewards in yellow tabards, always with a word of greeting, happy come mud, rain or sun.

Tent packers included The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican, gaily tank-topped festival regulars with a cutting satire on the social and musical scene. The Glasgow-based Skerryvore brought Celtic rock, with pipes, fiddle and a double bagpipe assault of sheer excitement. Introduced in boxing style, “weighing in at 642 kilograms," I counted eight sturdy Scots. There was more Highland magic with the last act of the weekend, Elephant Sessions, and a mesmerising mandolin.

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Food concessions were busy, with a majority serving vegetarian or vegan dishes which chimed with the ambitions for sustainability. Shuttle buses, low energy LED lighting and waste management did their bit for the site.

Wellies were an essential wardrobe item.Wellies were an essential wardrobe item.
Wellies were an essential wardrobe item.

And so to Monday morning, and the slippery exodus of campervans from muddy swards, with The Happy Tree Company from Hope Valley towing many of us with their Land Rover. Thank you.

The full 2023 event is on and you can make a date for August 2-4 next year. Profits go back into the organisation.

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