The Ards Guitar Festival

With an international line-up, the the Ards Guitar Festival moves into its 13th year. Check out the preview slideshow below

If you're buying a weekend ticket to the Ards International Guitar Festival, remember that it's an event that comes with strings attached. Following the first festival in 1996, the event's reputation continues to grow and the 2009 event offers another blend of blues, classical, metal, jazz , folk, and bluegrass artistry at venues throughout Newtownards.

'The festival has come a long way in its time,' says festival co-ordinator Adele Ingram-Magee. 'I was very young when it started and always wanted to come to hear the music. Now it’s great to be part of organising the event and being able to go out to the different performances.'

While there are similar festivals in Clonakility and Derry, Ingram-Magee says that Ards has a head start.

'We’ve established our reputation over a longer period of time,' she explains. 'We’re in the envious position where artists are contacting us, wanting to perform.'

This year’s lineup justifies the international label attached to the festival, with musicians from New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and the USA included in the 2009 programme.

'Owen Campbell plays raw, bluesy guitar,' says Ingam-Magee. 'Irish Music magazine says that he’s one of the best musicians to come out of Australia in a long time. We’re very excited that he’ll be here along with Kelly Joe Phelps from Virigina. Phelps began as a bass jazz guitarist and then progressed to blues and now plays lap steel.'

There’s no shortage of local talent appearing as part of the festival line-up. Lisburn teenager Nathan Smith is already building a huge reputation. The more experienced Belfast-born Robin James Hurt, who is based in Dublin, performs material from his solo album The Tallyman’s Lament. Lurgan-born jazz guitarist Mark McKnight also performs.

Ingram-Magee also takes to the stage with her group Wookalily, as part of the Chicks with Picks evening at the Ivy Bar. 'We’re a combination of accordion, lead guitar, harmonica, drums and myself on five-string banjo,' she says. 'We’re on a bill with Jackie Rainey. It will make for an interesting evening.'

The festival organizers are keen to stress that there will be something to suit everyone’s tastes, be it Paul Casey, Captain Kennedy, Patricio Zeoli, Mark McKnight, the Carrivick Sisters or the Pat McManus Band.

'It’s a long, drawn-out process to get everything together for the weekend,' says Ingram-Magee. 'But when you hear the buzz of the crowd and the first chords being played, you know it’s all been worthwhile.'

Padraig Coyle

The 13th annual Ards Guitar Festival takes place in Newtownards, County Down, October 1-4. Click here for full details.