Scotland’s 10 best early summer music festivals

If you’ve been missing the thrill of live music in recent years, check out our list of the premier music festivals of the summer.

The UK’s most northerly folk festival returns after a pandemic-enforced two-year hiatus and will no doubt be looking to live up to Dick Gaughan’s legendary description, uttered in the festival’s inaugural year in 1981: ‘This festival requires a government health warning – no one is sleeping’. Anyone who has visited Shetland when the nights are long will know the truth of this statement in general. There is a host of local talent on display in various venues – such as everyone knows Shetland is the hotbed of traditional music – and guest artists include Dougie MacLean, Heidi Talbot, The Poozies, Quebec luminaries Le Vent Du Nord and the deliciously named Frigg, a Finnish septet mixing Nordic folk and bluegrass.

April 28-May 1

The traditional folk festival of Girvan

Alasdair Roberts (pictured below), whose career has spanned traditional songs as well as collaborations with visual artists and more independent alternative folk fare, is the headline act at this year’s gathering in the Ayrshire port town Other extras include storyteller and musician Heather Yule, Dublin-based multi-instrumentalist Eithne Ní Chatháin, who plays Inni-K, poet and performer Stuart A Paterson and the three traditional Irish musicians. Airghiolla. It all starts with a Ceilidh Festival Friday in the Catholic Hall and you can catch Roberts at the Milestone concert at the same venue (Sunday May 1) as he previews work from his new album alongside Dumfries-based instrumentalists and Galloway Gavin Marwick and Ruth Morris among others. Tickets start at £10 or there is a £60 weekend festival ticket which allows entry to all events other than workshops. There is also free camping available and paid sites available for RVs and RVs.

April 29-May 1

Folksinger Alasdair Roberts

Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival

One of Europe’s biggest jazz festivals, Edinburgh’s annual jazz and blues fixture tends towards the more traditional end of the musical spectrum, so it’s no surprise that one of its headliners are Jools Holland, a regular with the crowds, who performs here with his Rhythm And Blues Orchestra. Also on the bill, saxophonist and jazz singer Curtis Stigers. These two acts perform at the Festival Theater in Edinburgh on July 15 and 16 respectively.

July 15-24

Arran Folk Festival

Another festival hoping to come back strong after an enforced hiatus, Arran’s annual folk gathering has a lineup that includes Orkney guitar legend Ivan Drever (father of Lau’s Kris Drever), the Lauren Collier Band, the multi -instrumentalist and vocalist Tim Edey, and harmonica and guitar duo Will Pound and Jenn Butterworth. It begins with an open Friday afternoon session at Brodick’s Douglas Hotel, continues with the evening concert at Brodick Hall and, of course, there’s also a late-night session to look forward to. Head to Brodick Bar on Alma Road for this one. It works in the wee hours.

June 10-12

East Neuk Festival

Spread across multiple venues in Anstruther, St Monans, Crail, Cellardyke and Kilrenny, and bringing together musicians and sounds from Austria to Syria, the unsung gem that is the East Neuk Festival returns to Fife this summer. Acclaimed pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja (pictured below) will perform Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas, there’s more modern fare in the form of Sally Beamish’s Reed Stanzas, performed by the Elias String Quartet, there’s jazz improvisational cellist Shirley Smart, music by Kenyan multi-instrumentalist Rapasa Otieno and a mix of oud and experimental electronics courtesy of Rihab Azar and Luke Daniels. Elsewhere, don’t miss Thunderplump, in which composer and broadcaster Neil Brand, presenter of BBC Four’s Sound Of Cinema series, hosts a season of Scottish weather-themed music and film. Finally, the Bowhouse at St Monans hosts Light The Lights, a daring collaboration between Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe, violinist Benjamin Baker and Gandini Juggling, a sextet of contemporary circus specialists whose past performances include a production by the English National Opera of Akhnaten by Philip Glass. .

June 29-July 3


Acclaimed concert pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja


AC/DC love is probably a prerequisite for this one as it celebrates the late legendary Australian rocker frontman Bon Scott, who was born in the Angus town of Kirriemuir and lived there until his family emigrated to Fremantle in 1952. He later met the Glasgow-born Young Brothers, Sydney and the rest is rock and roll history. Today Kirriemuir is the proud owner of a statue of Bon Scott and every spring the proud host of Bonfest. This year’s lineup includes The Dust Coda, Florence Black, Burnt Out Wreck, Massive Wagon and Bad Actress. And of course there are AC/DC tribute bands such as Bon ACDC Show, Thunderstruck and Bon UK. There is also a Bonfest campsite if you want to make a weekend of it.

April 29-May 1

Cantilena Festival

Promising a week of chamber music across Islay, the Cantilena Festival brings together the six professional musicians of the Cantilena Players, led by violinist Angus Ramsay, with students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. Together they stage interpretations of works by acclaimed composers such as Bach, Vivaldi, Beethoven and Schubert.

July 3-8

Dandelion Festivals

Organized in collaboration with Celtic Connections, commissioned by Event Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government, The Dandelion Festivals is on a mission to inspire people to ‘sow, grow and share’ food, music and ideas. The first of the two festivals takes place at Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow in June, the second at Northern Meeting Park in Inverness in September. Over the two weekends, the two parks will be transformed into a live music venue that doubles as an interactive theater space that “dares to reinvent our relationship with food and the planet.” At the heart of the festival is the Pavilion of Perpetual Light, a 10-meter high art installation. And there are some big names to match the big goals: Newton Faulkner, indie-folk favorites This Is The Kit, Les Amazones d’Afrique and local talents such as Karine Polwart, Suse Bear, former Delgados singer Emma Pollock appearing as part of The Hen Hoose Collective (pictured below) and Admiral Fallow. Better yet, it might be free.

June 17-19 (Glasgow)

2-4 September (Inverness)


The Hen Hoose collective with Signy, Emma Pollock and Jayda

fly in the open air

The surroundings of the splendid and sculptural Grade A-listed Hopetoun House near Edinburgh provide the unlikely (if very grand) setting for this celebration of DJ culture and dance music. Big draws include Berlin-based South Korean Peggy Gou, author of 2019 club hit It Makes You Forget, London-based producer Elkka, Little Gay Brother and (your correspondent’s favourite) Barry Can’t Swim. Weekend tickets are available for £95 or £60 per day, and transport to and from the Glasgow and Edinburgh venue is available.

May 21-22

Tartan Heart Festival

The scenic and historic Belladrum estate, near Inverness, is the site of this well-established festival which features indie, rock, blues and roots music alongside street theatre, cabaret, film screenings and therapy alternatives. Headlining this year are two big names from the 1970s, Van Morrison and Nile Rodgers (pictured below), appearing here with Chic. Further down the lineup are indie favorites of the 1990s and 2000s in the form of Shed Seven and The Magic Numbers, winning dance beats from Ibibio Sound Machine, local heroes such as Emeli Sande, The Fratellis, Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and Admiral Fallow and – because it always takes a heritage punk band to pogo grandpa – Belfast’s best, Stiff Little Fingers.

July 28-30


Funk legend Niles Rodgers

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