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Hebcelt the friendly festival

Hebcelt the friendly festival

It really is a magical feeling. Standing there in the midst of the festival site, the grounds still and quiet save for the clanking of stages being erected or the odd hammer on nail as wooden structures are raised.

And there, towering majestically above, the ever graceful Lews Castle framed against the July skies, a faithful backdrop to what remains one of the most beautiful and charismatic festivals in the world.

As the castle shields the grounds to the rear, Stornoway Harbour beckons to the fore as tiny yachts, fishing boats and ferries dart about the lively waters, performing their very own gig as a warm-up for what is to follow.

Flanked by trees and trails on either side, the envelope of green grass remains firm at the centre, work underway at its farthest edges to dry off any lingering affects of recent rains, aided to dry out by wind and a welcome flash of sun.

Within big stripy tent members of stage crew laugh and sing as they work away fixing up the sides, running cables and readying her to be graced by the likes of Afro Celt Sound System, Idlewild and the Treacherous Orchestra.

Already in place across the field, the inviting larger than life canopy of the Islands Stage, where Shooglenifty, the Karen Matheson Band, Niteworks and Siobhan Miller will perform. Between their vistas, the acoustic stage, soon to be home for Bella and the Bear, Josie Duncan and friends.

The festival site isn’t so much taking shape as pulling its glad rags, ready for a birthday party to remember.

And as the countdown closes in, the excitement is starting to build. The cafes are suddenly a little bit busier, the pubs too.

On each street, giant backpacks strapped to tiny framed bodies, visitors wandering around looking for food or the way to Laxdale and beyond, a ready smile and helpful point of the hand from those in the know.

Window displays around town suddenly magnificent, great toil, thought and effort from those joining in the camaraderie and fun, tents, Hebcelt bunting and instruments all collaborating into rainbows of colour.

Where streets meet, children perform Scottish dancing, old friends find and greet each other with handshakes and hugs, guitars strike up a chord and even the sun comes out to play for a time.

A tap on the shoulder and a hello as someone flashes by. It’s only when you catch a glimpse of the beard and moustache drifting away you realise that fiddler Alasdair White has just drifted by with a smile.

And as you meander past the Hebcelt shop, tempted in by the music playing from a speaker and the vivid colours from within, you feel the buzz of excitement and expectation.

Small groups of young girls, friends, giggle and whoop with delight as they leave clutching their prize tickets and skip down the street. Parents queue patiently on behalf of others as well as themselves. Business folk too.

Tourists inquire and join in the fun. Others duck by at lunchtime, some just as the doors are about to close. The shop phone rings. It rings again. And again. Each time answered with a cheery hello.

Because the one constant with this festival is the absolute pleasure those involved get from it. From the organisers and volunteers, to the guests, artists and paying public.

This isn’t any old festival. It’s unique. You sense it’s about more than just music.

It’s about community too.

Take a gathering of this year’s volunteers at the Woodlands Centre, smiles all round, a touch of Gaelic, welcome and thanks, festival t-shirts from regulars sporting dates charting the years gone by.

And then suddenly, a spontaneous chorus of Happy Birthday for one of the stalwarts, celebrating among them. Hugs and cheers and applause. Laughter filling the room.

Which sums it all up best of all. It may be among the most beautiful in the land, initiatives such as this year’s ecocups help make it among the greenest.

But it’s the people, the very special people, who come together each year, the community that rallies behind it, the local businesses that work with it, the sponsors who back it, the volunteers.

All these amazing folk who bring the whole island alive each year. Make it such a special place to be.

So yes, this is Hebcelt at 20. Two decades gone by. It really is hard to imagine it ever being any different, this crazy, cultural, community building fusion of friendships.

Which begs the question. Where else would you possibly want to be?

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Volunteers assembled before the festivalView from Castle GreenLews Castle
Main arenaCaroline and VolunteersBig Blue
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