Girvan Folk Festival, 2020   Notice of Cancellation

We are sad to release news that Girvan Folk Festival, 2020 has had to be cancelled owing to the situation with the coronavirus. We are still trying to be positive, initially trying to not use the CANCELLED word, rather saying that Girvan Folk Festival is EXTENDED to 2021. But whilst being positive, we didn’t want to be confusing.  To be absolutely clear – Girvan Festival Girvan Folk Festival 2020, which had been scheduled for 1st to 3rd May 2020, will not now take place.

The reason we considered using the word EXTENDED, was to reflect the fact that in several ways Girvan Folk Festival extends beyond the narrow confines of the May Bank Holiday Weekend.  We have had some local outreach concerts throughout the year; last year we introduced a ‘Linger Longer’ strategy and had a concert in Culzean Castle in the week following the festival; this year we planned to initiate a three-year rolling project with local schools involving storytelling; we chose two themes – Travellers and The Musical links between Scotland and Ireland – anticipating some longer-term collaborations arising from these.  All these plans are impacted by the uncertainty because of coronavirus, but these plans are still very much on the table and we have to believe that we can come out of this stronger for 2021 and beyond.

We also have fledgling twinning relationships with Bromyard Folk Festival and the Johnny Doherty Festival. These take place later in the year and hopefully by that time things will be back to normal. Nothing has yet been arranged, but there might be an opportunity to add a ‘Girvan Flavour’ to those events, with a few more people from Scotland heading south and west.


We had a committee meeting just over a week ago and among other things discussed the coronavirus situation.  The decision taken then was to NOT to cancel the festival at that point, although we anticipated that cancellation might be forced on us by regulations, advice etc.  Even in those very few days since our meeting, the situation was changing rapidly. We used that time to consult with our Guests, Stewards etc., so that they were involved in our decision making. This delayed this now inevitable formal announcement.  Girvan Folk Festival 2020, which had been scheduled for 1st to 3rd May will not now take place. 

As the situation unfolded the festival committee was aware of the need to be prudent and to try to act in the best interests of all our participants.  The festival is strong enough to come through this. We are a creative bunch and our view is that we should focus on coming out of this stronger for 2021, whilst dealing with this year as best we can. There will be issues to deal with and we will act responsibly. All pre-purchased tickets will be refunded.

Our earlier thinking was that something less formal might have happened over the planned festival weekend as many people book their accommodation for Girvan a year in advance and some might have decided that a weekend in Girvan is what they wanted, irrespective of our decision.  Given the way the situation is developing, it seems unlikely that even that will happen. Advice generally is that we are in this for a relatively long haul, longer than the now roughly six weeks to when the festival was due to take place.

Some people have suggested postponement, to a date later in this year, or to roll Guest bookings forward to 2021. Girvan isn’t one of those festivals which books guests a year ahead, so leaving the door open for a similar programme next year is quite possible. For various reasons we don’t think that a date later in the year for the Festival would work, but if we were creative, there might be ways of continuing our relationships. 

Our minds are straying to HOW we come out of this stronger rather than IF. As responsible organisers, we need to focus on longer term funding applications and planning, so that the actual weekend, although important, is not seen as the whole event.  There might be opportunities to use technology, and although live streaming and other such technologies can never really rival a live event, should this period of social isolation go on for an extended period of time, the idea of a ‘virtual Girvan’ may not be as far fetched as it might initially sound.

As far as the impact of this situation on the town of Girvan and its people and businesses – we have been floating the idea for some time of the benefits should Girvan decide to invent itself as a ‘Festival Town’, encouraging various small festivals throughout the year.  Our twinned Festival, the Johnny Doherty Festival comes from a small town that does just that – Ardara in Donegal. Although our organising group would naturally want to focus on our own specific aims in relation to traditional music in this context, it could be that Girvan Folk Festival, given its expertise, could take a leading role in encouraging other organisers to curate their own event. Ultimately, a strong local core facilitating group serving both the Folk Festival and any others who wanted to put on events, might make it easier for a new generation of organisers to take the Festival forward in the future.

On a more personal basis, I, Pete Heywood, (I’m writing this communication on behalf of the committee), had my own plan for succession which has been interrupted by these coronavirus related issues. 2020 was to be the second of two years of responsibility as artistic director before a ‘mentored handover’ to a younger generation.  Our aim was to put the festival on a sound financial footing in order to facilitate a practical handover.  Although cancellation this year came out of the blue, I feel that we need to take this as an opportunity to put the Festival in an even stronger position for 2021 and beyond. That mentored handover may now take place before that second year in 2021.

Our currents plans included stretching our wings a bit. Last year we explored links with the Girvan Writers Group, who had expressed ambitions to create some form of literary event in future years.  This year our plan was to develop that relationship. We had a launch of a documentary film about Walter McCorrisken lined up. Walter billed himself as Scotland’s Worst Poet but in reality was very much part of a strong Scottish tradition of humour. Alongside this, we had plans to look at some of the Ayrshire dialect poets. So much of this is now on the back burner, yet ready to pick up on.

It is too early to predict what is likely to happen later in the year.  We have a twinning relationship with Bromyard Folk Festival in England and the Johnny Doherty Festival in Ireland. These take place later in the year and hopefully by that time things may be back to normal. Nothing has yet been arranged, but there might be an opportunity to add a ‘Girvan Flavour’ to those events with a few more people from Scotland heading south and west.

We have to believe that there WILL be silver linings and we look forward to encouragement, ideas and support from all those people for whom Girvan has been a big part of their lives.

If you want to discuss anything directly with me, my mobile is 0784 332 8739.  My phone is almost always on silent, but if I miss your call, I’ll get back to you. – Pete Heywood