THURSDAY marks the start of one of the best loved events in Essex, if not the UK - the Leigh Folk Festival.

The event attracts tens of thousands and has become the largest free festival of its kind across the country.

Southend Standard:

Handy - the Leigh Folk Festival map

More than 200 artists will appear at 25 venues over the next four days in Leigh and Southend, culminating on the evening of Sunday June 30.

Leigh Folk Festival opens tomorrow at 7:30pm with a ticketed event headlined by lauded Somerset singer-songwriter Kitty Macfarlane, who last year won the Fatea Female Artist of the Year 2018 award, at the Leigh Community Centre, in Elm Road, in Leigh. Support will come from Owen Williams and The Forward Motion, Becky Margaret and Perry Bryan.

Two more special ticketed events follow on Friday, one back at the Leigh Community Centre, hosted by Southend Who, with Longy and the Gospel Trash headlining. The other Friday night event takes place at Twenty One, Pier Approach, Western Esplanade in Southend, where writer Justin Hopper and psych folk musician Sharron Kraus will perform a rare collaborative show where Kraus’s electro-acoustic soundscapes and songs interweave with Hopper’s rich, intimate narration.

Support will be at both of the events, Beach For Tiger and Mabes at the former, while John Hannon; Ailsa Hunter and Mark Greensill and F\gurehead will be at the latter.

On Saturday some of the attractions include Melodiegroup; Famous Potatoes; Daisy Bowlers; Jason Steel; Fran Foote and Belinda Kempster; The M.G. Boulter Trio; the

Levent-Taylor World Band; Masal and Gemma Khawaja.

Saturday ends with another ticketed event - a Leigh Folk Festival double headline gig to take place in St Clements Church - to see the Ex Easter Island Head and the Diamond Family Archive.

On Sunday get ready for Granny’s Attic; Laura Cannell and André Bosman; Pica Pica; The Hut People; United Bible Studies; Trevor Watts and Veryan Weston; Purcell’s Polyphonic Party; Holy Sparks; Dark Globes; The Dials; Dusty Peddlers; Goldmaster All Stars; Petty Phase; Arfur Doo and The Toerags; Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer;

Lizzy O’Connor; Las Guadalupes; Rock Garden of Chandigarh; Grand Reunion; Kings of the South Seas; Zoe Wren; Trials of Cato; Alex Monk; Goodnight Crow and Ray Miso Trio, plus "many, many more".

Of course, aside from the wealth of musical acts, you will see dance, theatre, food, art and children's events taking place across the main two days. They take place on Saturday, with the main activity going on in Library Gardens in Leigh but also in many other venues elsewhere in Leigh [see map], and on Sunday, with the event spilling down into Leigh's Old Town.

The best thing to do to make sure you don't miss out on anything, is to pick yourself up a programme, thus supporting the finance of the Leigh Folk Festival.

Fantastic Leigh Folk Festival merchandise is also available, so look out for it amongst the many stalls, or visit the website on leighfolkfestival.com.

The Leigh Folk Festival was established in 1992, born out of National Music Day, an initiative dreamed up by Tim Renton MP and Mick Jagger, sparking a one day explosion of live music events around the UK, ranging from street corner busking to the Glastonbury Festival.

The Leigh on Sea response was to stage a day’s folk music and dancing, an occasion which proved so popular that it was repeated the following year, then the next, then the next…

Leigh Folk Festival now encompasses concerts, dance displays, ceilidhs, a centrepiece procession, workshops, open mic, kids’ activities, film, street theatre, storytelling, busking, art and plenty more besides. The team of volunteer organisers behind the event have held fast to the original grass roots, access-for-all ethos.

Today, everyone seems to have a different take on what constitutes ‘folk’, ‘roots’ or ‘acoustic’ music, and so reflecting the diversity of its audience, the Leigh Folk Festival has gained a reputation for imaginative ‘broad church’ programming, taking in "the traditional and the alternative, the local and the international, the obscure and the celebrated, then bringing together these diverse strands into a coherent whole".

Visit leighfolkfestival.com to find out more.