FolkWorld Issue 40 11/2009; Article by Seán Laffey


Tønder Festival
27–30 August 2009

Brian McNeill
Hannes Wader

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Tønder 2008

Fit for the Future
Tønder Festival, 27-30 August 2009

You know something is established when it gets its own Wiki page, give a quick glance at the on line reference and there you’ll find in a nutshell what this legendary Danish festival is all about. It’s good so how do you get a gig there? Carsten Panduro tells Seán Laffey.

Bodega @ FolkWorld: FW#32, #37

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We printed the superlatives before, consistently for the past 35 years the festival has booked the best folk and trad acts on the planet, mixed in the finest local home grown Danish talent with the musicians from Ireland, the US and the UK, achieved it all through hard work, team building and a standard of volunteerism which harks back to an earlier age. In the process it has thrown up some exotic combinations for one off appearances, so expect something hot and tasty at this year’s gala concert and we just don’t mean the legendary Carsten Curry.

So important has the festival become both culturally and economically that in 2007 a conference was held to examine its success. Delegates representing trade and industry, culture and tourism met in Tønder in the south of Jutland to discuss the possibility of establishing an international meeting place for a Folk Music Forum. With typical European élan a document was produced in 2008 cataloging the influence, locally, regionally and internationally, of the present-day Tønder Festival. That analysis, by the Copenhagen Business School, showed that the Tønder Festival during its four days in August provides a primary turnover of a minimum of €10 million directly into the town and the region. Yes you say, that’s all grist for the bean counters, but there has to be more to it than that. And of course there is.

Passion and Carsten Panduro is the key here, he founded the event in 1975 and continues to steer the ship today. You may have noticed his tall figure at events in Britain and North America over the years. I first bumped into him at Strictly Mundial in Spain about 10 years ago, and found him open, enthusiastic, very helpful and funny. Now economics aside, the real reason why so Tønder is successful is that Carsten and his team are fully fledged fans of folk.

Brian McNeill & Dick Gaughan

Brian McNeill @ FolkWorld:
FW#4, #10, #10, #12, #19, #22

Dick Gaughan @ FolkWorld:
FW#9, #23, #25, #32, #36, #36

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Think of any of the big names, any A list trad act we have featured in Irish Music Magazine, guess what they’ll have played at Tønder. After 35 years Panduro still has his finger on the pulse of folk. So I posed a question or two to him, ‘suppose I had a new band over here in Ireland, how would he find out about it?’

“First of all, I have been booking for the festival since its start in 1975 and during the years I have built up an enormous net of contacts, particularly on my travels to other festivals and Music Conferences. Among festivals that share the same basic ideas and love of the music you can count Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Celtic Colours in Canada. In the US I’d have to say that Merle Watson Memorial Festival, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Telluride Bluegrass Festival among others are great for spotting who is hot in any one year.

“Of course Celtic Connections in Glasgow is to me and other festival promoters just like being in a toyshop after closing time. It is maybe the most important event in the calendar when it comes to seeing and hearing who is ready for festival work. Of course it’s a great place to meet old friends. Not only among musicians but also agents and managers too. Outside of pure festivals the most important music conferences are North American Folk Alliance, SXSW in Austin, Canadian East Coast Music Awards and Womex in Europe.”

I asked Carsten, do artists and their agents beat down the door every year to get a slot at Tønder? He thinks for a while and replies; “Yes and no, but I reckon you will say that they do because I receive approximately 15-1800 CDs and DVDs each year and of course I get tons of emails and phone calls as well. It is very seldom that I book a band or an artist because of stuff sent to the office, or because of emails or calls, but I will check up on the info if it fits in to our line up or is interesting for our programming. And in fact it is extremely seldom I book an act without have seeing a live performance. If I do it will only be because I can contact festival colleagues that have seen the act’s live performance.

Cathal Hayden, Maírtín O'Connor, Seamie O'Dowd

Hayden, O'Connor, O'Dowd @ FolkWorld:
#14, #22, #24, #26, #26, #35, #38, #39, #39

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“So yes, I see acts at other festivals, I check out You Tube videos, take in feed back from fans, and listen to albums (both the ones sent to us and those from our own Millstream Records shop. That is a very important part of our contact with our punters through out the year. Anni, my partner – who runs Millstream – is also deeply involved in booking the music together with me; having the music store as part of the festival I am better able to gauge what our audience are into and how we can best tailor the events to match their tastes).

“Music Magazines are also an import source of information, for keeping in contact with what is going on with both established artists and young up and coming and we subscribe to approximately eight magazines from Europe and North American. So to round this up for established as well as new artists I also depend a great deal on long time friends among agents, managers and most importantly on artists that know and love our festival and constantly will send emails or call and let me know when they “stumble” over new exciting acts.

“On top of that we also arrange courses during the festival to give young artists a chance to meet, to be educated by some of their heroes who are performing at the festival. As an example a few years back we had 25 young “kids” from between 18 – 25 years old from Ireland, Scotland, England and Denmark coming in a week before the festival. They stayed with us to the end for our infamous curry party we give for our 2.000 volunteers on Monday after the festival. I think they learnt a lot and I hope they caught the folk bug. “

Carsten was bitten by the folk bug 35 years and thankfully there is no sign of an antidote yet. Check out this year’s amazing Tønder line up at and if you fancy going to Tønder Ryan Air fly to Bilund from Dublin, it’s the home of Legoland, take the kids and leave them with the bricks as you head south for the best little folk festival in Europe.

Hannes Wader, Tonder 2009

Hannes Wader @ FolkWorld:

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Cathy Jordan
Cathy Jordan @ FolkWorld: FW#3,

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Rónán Ó Snodaigh
Rónán Ó Snodaigh & Kila @ Folk-
FW#4, #19 , #26, #26, #26,
#30, #32, #33, #33, #34, #34, #35
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Carsten Panduro

This article was first published in
the Irish Music Magazine, Issue 177 September 2009.

The Tønder Festival is held every
last weekend in August, that is
26-29th August in 2010.

The above-mentioned CBS report
can be down loaded @

Photo Credits: (1) Tønder Logo (by Tønder Festival); (2) Bodega, (3) Brian McNeill, & Dick Gaughan, (4) Cathal Hayden, Mairtin O'Connor, Seamus O'Dowd, (5) Hannes Wader, (6) Cathy Jordan, (7) Ronan O Snodaigh (by Walkin' Tom, Tønder Festival 2009); (8) Carsten Panduro (by The Mollis, Tønder Festival 2004).

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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 11/2009

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