The 18th annual Hebridean Celtic Festival opened last night with a concert by Lewis Women and Friends in An Lanntair with ticket sales for the whole weekend already overtalomg last year’s total.
The four-day event, which runs until Saturday, will be headlined by Van Morrison, Dougie MacLean, Capercaillie, The Battlefield Band and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers.
With an expected surge of ticket buying by local people still to come, organisers say the festival will better last year’s attendance of over 14,000.
Advance tickets, which went on sale in December, were quickly snapped up by fans across the UK and Ireland, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and America. An appeal for local people to make available accommodation to the influx of visitors had to be made in April – two months earlier than normal – due to demand.
Island businesses are also set for a summer boost with an independent economic impact assessment estimating HebCelt generates about £900,000 annually to the local economy and supports the equivalent of 37 full time equivalent jobs.
HebCelt director Caroline Maclennan said: “Ticket sales are going extremely well and the fact we have surpassed last year’s total already, before the local sales are added, is fantastic. The support we get locally and from fans from many parts of the world is wonderful.
“Once again we have a great line up which is attracting a lot of interest among music fans and, when you add in our wonderful and unique setting, we have a great recipe for a very successful festival.
“As well as being musically and culturally important, the festival is vital economically. Local shopkeepers even say the business they do during HebCelt week keeps them going until Christmas.”
Helping HebCelt run smoothly will be a 150-strong army of volunteers, 60 per cent of whom are from overseas, who help with everything from retailing to environmental awareness.
Among those in the team this year is Nele Putz who, for the rest of the year, is an academic, studying the history of British art at the University of Salzburg where she is about to become an assistant professor.
Nele, 28, from Munich, is volunteering at the festival which is part of her “obsession” with all things Scottish. She is a member of the Munich Scottish Association and has been holidaying here since she was a child.
“I use this time at HebCelt to re-charge my batteries. In fact this precious period of time kind of gets me through the year; it is like a second Christmas - except it’s better than Christmas for me”, she said.
The 28-hour journey to Lewis by plane, bus and ferry does not deter her: “It doesn’t put me off. I have never met so many outgoing and friendly people in one place - it never matters that I am on my own because I can be sure to be invited for a drink, spoken to at the supermarket, smiled at on the street and danced with at the dancing venues.”
This year’s volunteer army will also include Kate Fletcher, 18, from Melbourne, who is currently travelling around Europe on a gap year.
A regular attender at folk festivals at home, she is making her first visit to HebCelt: “I’m volunteering as I believe it’s a good way to really get into the action”, she said.
“Working as a part of a team forces you to meet people and gives you a goal for the experience, which in-turn makes it much more rewarding.
“I am looking forward to meeting new people, discovering great music, hopefully picking up some new tunes and experiencing more of the amazing country that is Scotland.”
HebCelt was recently selected as one of the Top 10 UK summer festivals by influential music publication Songlines for the third successive year.
The line-up for the 18th festival also includes Karine Polwart, Darrell Scott & Danny Thomson, Pete Roe, and local artists Iain Morrison, The Boy who Trapped the Sun and Face the West, as well as Dundee’s Anderson, McGinty, Webster, Ward & Fisher; Lau, voted ‘Best Group’ at this year’s Radio Two Folk Awards; Orcadian eight-piece The Chair; The Hot Seats, from Virginia; Manchester outfit The Travelling Band; Welsh band Rusty Shackle; Fatherson and The Dirty Beggars and Donald MacDonald & The Islands, from Glasgow, Rose Parade, a four-piece from Ayr and Gria, winners of this year’s One Step Further competition.
Pictured are the Lewis Women in An Lanntair last night and the Rock the Lab team in Stornoway yesterday entertaining crowds with their experiment.