Festival Q&A:

Jon Whitley, one half of the BBC Radio 2 folk award-nominated duo, chats as they gear up to play Beverley Folk Fesvital (16-18 June)

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Who else are you excited to see?
Gosh, that’s what I love about festivals: getting to see stacks of fantastic musicians on tap. There’s a few at Beverley this year that I haven’t managed to catch yet too. We’re playing Sunday, but hoping to catch a few bands on Saturday if we can race up the A1 fast enough from our gig the night before. Lau, and also Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman, are two acts that I’ve wanted to see for years and just haven’t managed to. So hopefully, traffic allowing, we’ll be able to catch those guys.

What’s your best festival memory?
My best festival memory has to be the first festival Ninebarrow ever played: Larmer Tree 2013. We had managed to win their breakthrough music award to secure a set on one of their main stages. It was gloriously hot and there was just this amazing hustle and bustle everywhere – palpable excitement in the air, everyone ready to share in this amazing collective experience but not knowing exactly what direction their weekend was about to take. I, on the other hand, was unbelievably nervous. But it really was an amazing experience.

What are your festival essentials?
Well, I’m a big fan of my German army issue poncho. Let’s face it: the British summer isn’t always as balmy as we’d like. It’s totally waterproof, rugged, you can use it to sit on and you can just about fit two people under it if it really decides to chuck it down. Probably available at your local army surplus store.

How does playing a festival differ from playing your own gig?
Well, it’s interesting. As an “emerging act” we quite often find ourselves playing at festivals where a decent chunk of the audience might not have seen us before. Sometimes people just stumble in and you can see them making a snap decision at the back of the room: “Should I stay, or go?” When you play your own concerts, you’re generally playing to people who’ve already made the decision to come and spend an evening listening to you. When there’s so much on offer at a festival, you sometimes feel as a performer that you’ve got to hook your audience and keep them hooked. It’s always nice at a festival when you see your audience swell during a set. It certainly gives you the impression you must be doing something right. Or, that it’s raining outside and people are just looking for shelter. Let’s be positive and say it’s the music though.

What’s your favourite part of playing a festival?
My favourite and also, in some ways, my least favourite – those five minutes before walking out on stage. Those final few moments seem to really drag on sometimes. You’ve done your line-check, you’ve tuned your instruments, done your vocal warm-up and now you’ve just got to wait. I tend to try and ease the tension by jumping up and down or doing John Cleese-style funny walks in the green room, but ultimately it seems to be where time slows down, and then, before you know it the gig’s over. Hitting the real ale bar afterwards is pretty good too, though.

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