Ruth Salter is going to great lengths – several thousand miles actually – to tune into the culture surrounding the numerous and varied folk festivals across Britain.
Over the summer months she is travelling almost the entire length of the country – from Orkney to Devon – soaking up the atmosphere at a number of events and finding out how they fit into each community.
This week she is one of the many volunteers at the award-winning Hebridean Celtic Festival which runs until Saturday in Stornoway and attracts about 16,000 music fans to the Outer Hebrides annually.
Already Ruth, 20, from Balquhidder in Stirling, has visited the Orkney Folk Festival in May, worked as a volunteer steward at Beverley Folk Festival in East Yorkshire last month and last week was helping at the Ely Folk Festival in Cambridgeshire.
After HebCelt she has volunteered to work at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival in Shropshire and at the Sidmouth Folk Week in East Devon during August. In all she has calculated she will have travelled about 4,000 miles attending the events.
Ruth, who is studying Scottish literature at the University of Edinburgh, said: “I’m doing this firstly because I’m a die-hard folkie and it’s a convenient way to indulge that passion.
“However, I’m also interested in how modern folk culture manifests itself; how people celebrate a folk heritage, or come together to enjoy folk events, or just the ways folk mixes with other influences and interests for a diverse audience.
“Folk festivals tend to be the pinnacle of a folkie calendar in a lot of places with active folk groups, so visiting them seems a good way to see folk culture at its most vibrant.
“The festivals have so far been really warm and inviting, but they’ve all had quite different senses of place, in terms of the artists they showcase and the people I’ve met at them. And the dancing has differed; there not really being much call for Morris Dancing on Orkney!”
It is her first visit to HebCelt and she was eager to visit the event because of its strong connection to the Gaelic language and culture.
“HebCelt has a unique place in the festivals I’m volunteering at because it’s the only one really concerned with Gaelic culture”, she said.
“Being on Lewis puts it in the heart of a traditionally Gaelic community and I’m excited to see in what ways that influences the festival.”
She has travelled between events by train, car and ferry: “I’ve managed to cadge a fair few lifts off other visitors, which seems a reflection of the general friendliness of folkies everywhere.
“Volunteering means I can keep costs down, but I am surviving on a diet of bagels and cereal bars for expense reasons.”
Ruth is among a 150-strong army of volunteers working this week at HebCelt which is headlined by Big Country, Levellers and Donnie Munro. Rachel Sermanni, Cara Dillon, Duncan Chisholm, Willie Campbell and Larkin Poe will also be among nearly 40 acts featuring over the four days.
The volunteers, 60 per cent of whom come from outside Lewis, arrive from all parts of the UK, across Europe, the US and Australia to provide vital free manpower at the festival.
Last year they contributed over 3,500 man hours over the course of the festival and this number is expected to be overtaken this year.