A look ahead to Underneath the Stars, 24th-26th July

All the fun of the fair at South Yorkshires Underneath the Stars music festival

All the fun of the fair at South Yorkshires Underneath the Stars music festival - Credit: Archant

South Yorkshire’s premier acoustic music festival returns this month. Jo Haywood takes notes

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 make 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, last year 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 last 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.’

According to Emma, the festival director, last year’s debut was ‘a vertical learning curve’ for everyone involved – including the Nicholson family who own Cannon Hall Farm in Cawthorne, which hosts Underneath the Stars.

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‘I came along last year 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, last year, the sun actually did the decent thing and shone.

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

And now they’re back with an even bigger, more ambitious festival from July 24th-26th. The 2015 headliner is US song-writing legend Mary Chapin Carpenter, who’s sold more than 13 million records in her 25-year career and has received five Grammy Awards and a place in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Kate will also be performing (Emma and Joe would probably give her a Chinese burn if she didn’t) as will Scots chanteuse Eddi Reader, formerly of Fairground Attraction; Philip Selway of Radiohead in an intimate singer-songwriter setting; Molotov Jukebox with their unique tropical-gypsy-dance sound fronted by Natalia Tena of Harry Potter and Game of Thrones fame; legendary guitar maestro Martin Simpson; US old-time music genius Bruce Molsky; cheeky North East trio The Young’Uns; Bristol based vintage-swing fusion outfit Electric Swing Circus; Leeds-based eclectic six piece Hope and Social; and Galleon Blast featuring BBC Radio presenter Mark Radcliffe.

‘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).

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.

‘I love them all so please don’t make me choose my favourite,’ said Joe. ‘Our aim is to put together a programme that has a wide appeal. 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. They have a big stage to fill and they fill it with their amazing music.

‘Yes, we get folk music fans coming from all over the country but we also get a lot of South Yorkshire families just looking for a great weekend.’

So, after more than a year in the planning (they started putting together the 2015 event before the 2014 one had finished), are they almost ready to sit back with a beer and a satisfied smile?

‘To be honest, we don’t really get to enjoy the weekend as such because we’re too busy, but there is a really wonderful sense of a job well done. It’s very satisfying,’ said Emma.

‘I watched Kate on stage last year and saw how the audience reacted to her and I felt completely elated. I felt really proud of my sister and what she’s achieved. It was a real wow moment.’ w

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

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

‘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 this year, because I lost my wife five 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.