The guitar cases have been packed and the dust is settling in Clonakilty. The lid has been blown on the enigmatic artists of the Secret Song Festival in Ballydehob and singers from Drimoleague and all over are resting their voices.

The last few weeks have been the perfect crescendo to a summer of fantastic music festivals and events in West Cork. The majority of which in these parts are non-profit events organised and ran entirely on a voluntary basis. An insane amount of work goes into these festivals and some are already putting things in place for next year. So i’d like to give a shout out to all of these unsung heroes (you know who you are) that have made it such a memorable summer.

With so much happening, things can easily slip by unnoticed and sometimes it may even be intentional.

In tandem to the Clonakilty International Guitar Festival this year, there was a music conference that ran in west Cork of major significance last month. Folk Alliance International (FAI) in partnership with the Guitar Festival ran a micro-conference called The Ex-Change.

This marked the first time FAI (world’s largest folk music organisation based in America) have ever hosted an event in Europe.

I witnessed their flagship conference first hand in Kansas City back in 2014, which completely takes over two of the city’s largest hotels for the best part of a week. The high-rising, dog-friendly hotels are crammed full of industry folk from all over the world and everything from the lift to the hotel room becomes a stage.

The Ex-Change was rightly labelled a micro conference, a little sister no less that was created in partnership with the Clonakilty International Guitar Festival. Despite its size it was an event of major significance that brought key delegates and talent from around the world to our parts.

Ireland was also well represented with many of the main promoters in attendance, as well as stand out performances from Wallis Bird, Lisa O’Neill, Mick Flannery and John Spillane (Fair play to him!) and of course local luminaries Sam Clague and Mide Houlihan.

Perhaps the biggest gesture happened on the final night when FAI Director, Aengus Finnan presented revered traditional artist Donal Lunny (Planxty, The Bothy Band) with a lifetime achievement award. Past recipients include Bob Dylan, Harry Belafonte Pete and Peggy Seeger  and it marked the first time the award was given to an Irish Artist.

There was a short film, which accompanied the award, celebrating Lunny’s irrefutable and inspiring contribution to music, labelling him the ‘Irish Quincy Jones’ due to his impressive list of musical credits and instrumental breakthroughs.

Lunny and longtime musical collaborator Paddy Glackin closed off the event with a series of jigs and reels – it was a master class in traditional music. There was a collective energy throughout the room that had us all nodding and tapping in our seats. Had they played for another twenty minutes, we would have all been ‘leimin’ through the ceiling.

It was the perfect way to finish and leave us all hungry for more. The conference lasted just three short days and only time will tell what will come of it. Many of the delegates I spoke to, were blown away by the beauty and the warmth they experienced here in west Cork.

As things inevitably begin to quieten down closer to winter, I think the seeds have already very much been sown for next year’s summer and I reckon we can expect plenty more musical surprises.

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