A look ahead to the Underneath the Stars festival

PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 June 2016

All the signs are good that this year’s festival is going to be even bigger than the last

All the signs are good that this year's festival is going to be even bigger than the last

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South Yorkshire's premier - and most twinkly - acoustic music festival returns, as Jo Haywood reports

Charles Rowett, CEO of Yorkshire Cancer Research, Joe Rusby, Kate Rusby, Emma Holling, David Nicholson, Richard NicholsonCharles Rowett, CEO of Yorkshire Cancer Research, Joe Rusby, Kate Rusby, Emma Holling, David Nicholson, Richard Nicholson

It seems only right that a family-friendly music festival is organised by an extremely friendly family. Open, honest, welcoming and quick to get the teas in, Emma Holling and her brother Joe Rusby are an easy-going duo who makes what they do look effortless. But it isn’t. Staging a three-day music festival complete with camping, a fun fair, food, drink and entertainment for up to 10,000 people is a very big effort indeed, even if you do have the advantage of being related to one of the headline performers (multi award-winning singer-songwriter Kate Rusby is their sister).

They launched Underneath the Stars, a not-for-profit acoustic festival, in 2014 to great acclaim, winning heartfelt praise from audiences and artists alike for putting on a genuinely warm and welcoming event for all the family. So, where did the idea come from?

‘I’ve visited a lot of festivals as part of my sister’s crew so I’ve learned a lot over the years about what works and what doesn’t,’ said Joe, the festival’s artistic director. ‘I sort of started out thinking about my perfect fantasy festival – what I would do, what I wouldn’t do and who I’d want on – and then I couldn’t think of any reason not to make it a reality.

‘We didn’t know what to expect the first year. We knew there was an audience because of the popularity of Kate’s music, but even we were surprised when we got more than 2,000 people a day coming through the gate.’

Retail therapy is available for those who feel the need to indulgeRetail therapy is available for those who feel the need to indulge

According to Emma, the festival director, the first two years of the festival were ‘a vertical learning curve’ for everyone involved – including the Nicholson family who own Cannon Hall Farm in Cawthorne, which hosts Underneath the Stars.

‘I came along with my little boy and everything was fantastic,’ said Richard Nicholson. ‘It was well organised but everyone was also really relaxed. I couldn’t fault it and it made really good use of the wonderful site we have here.’

The artists perform in circus-style big tops, which provide top-notch acoustics and keep everyone warm and dry should the weather turn nasty. Although, occasionally, the sun actually does the decent thing and shines.

‘Standing at the top of the site looking across to Barnsley and all the surrounding countryside, it can feel like we’re in the most beautiful place in the world, which is not something that people say every day about South Yorkshire,’ said Emma.

You don’t have to dance if you don’t want to (trust us, you’ll want to)You don’t have to dance if you don’t want to (trust us, you’ll want to)

Now, they’re back for a third time with an even bigger, more ambitious festival from July 22nd-24th. The 2016 headliner is Kate herself, joined by Irish super-group Dervish; international flautist Michale McGoldrick; rising star of American roots and bluegrass Sierra Hull; and Ron Block, a long-standing member of Alison Krauss & Union Station, the most Grammy-awarded band ever.

‘This is an important date for Kate,’ said Emma. ‘In fact, it’s now the first that goes on her tour calendar. She loves to come home and play, but it can be quite scary for her because she knows the audience is full of family and friends and neighbours. It’s a very special place though – for all of us.’

To accompany the music, this year’s festival will feature a giant planetarium dome, creative crafts, storytelling and vintage fairground rides, plus music and dance workshops and artisan craft traders. Food and drink will also be provided by Yorkshire-based producers and sellers.

As if all that wasn’t enough to convince you that this isn’t your common or garden music festival, the camping and glamping facilities also include free hot showers and luxury loos stocked with hand-made Lush soap (yes, soap, at a festival).

Kate Rusby doing what she does best in the place she loves the mostKate Rusby doing what she does best in the place she loves the most

But, of course, it’s not really about fancy toiletries – Underneath the Stars is about promoting musical talent, whether it’s folk, swing, jazz, world or whatever, talent is what counts.

‘Our aim is to put together a programme that has a wide appeal,’ said Joe. ‘It’s great for people who don’t think they like folk because folk is many different things and we have many different performers and genres. The one thing they all have in common is their talent as musicians.’ w

To book tickets or find out more about Underneath the Stars, visit underthestarsfest.co.uk

Raising the roof – and money

Yorkshire Cancer Research is the official charity partner for Underneath the Stars for the second year running.

‘We’re a Yorkshire festival and will be celebrating some of the very best of Yorkshire music, food and culture, so we are very pleased to adopt such an important Yorkshire charity as our good cause,’ said festival director Emma Holling.

‘Like many families, ours has been touched by cancer and Yorkshire Cancer Research do amazing work supporting people across the region who are affected by the disease. It’s a charity that we really believe in.’

It’s also a cause that means a great deal to Richard Nicholson, whose family owns Cannon Hall Farm: ‘I’m really pleased the charity is involved again this year, because I lost my wife six years ago to lymphoma. I think it’s important to create awareness about cancer and this cause is very close to my heart.’

Yorkshire Cancer Research was founded in 1925 and is the largest independent regional cancer charity in England. Funded entirely by donations, it supports vital projects across Yorkshire helping people avoid, survive and cope with cancer.

:: To find out more or to make a donation, visit yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk

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