“As we were arranging it, the enthusiasm started to grow,” says Colin Dolton, remembering the first year of Wallingford’s music festival BunkFest in 2002. “It was probably in the back of our minds that this could become an annual event, but I never thought it would get to the size it is now.”

Colin, 71, who has helped organise every edition of BunkFest for the last 21 years, is looking back on how the end-of summer community festival grew into the biggest event in the town’s calendar.

This year, thousands of revellers will flock to Wallingford for the three-day gathering of music, dance, and poetry which starts next Friday (September 1).

Headline acts on the Main Stage in the Kinecroft include six-piece band Molotov Jukebox, guitarist Laurence Jones, and Fleetwood Mac-tribute-act Fleetwood Bac, while 30 dance teams will perform around the town.

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Oxford Mail: Members of Ellington Morris from Maidenhead take a break at Bunkfest 2016. Picture: Ric Mellis

Oxford Mail: Crowds at at Bunkfest

Oxford Mail: Louise Hilling from belly-dance group Kaleidoscope gets ready for a performance at Bunkfest

But the beloved volunteer-run event had much more humble beginnings. In fact, it wasn’t even called BunkFest when it started out as a 50th birthday party attended by 400 people in a pub garden.

In 2002, Colin was roped in by his old school friend Bob Wyatt, then-landlord of the Cross Keys pub on High Street, to help organise a small folk music festival for Bob’s birthday. The pair set up a marquee, stage, and bar in the pub garden with help from friends Dave Newson and Jo Clyde, and the impromptu festival went off without a hitch.

“Afterwards, Bob said to me and Dave and Jo, ‘let’s do it again’”, says Colin. “We told him we couldn’t celebrate his 50th birthday every year, so we needed a different focus.”

The group all shared a love of folk music, and realised there were no festivals nearby that celebrated the genre. “We decided that should be the focus of our festival,” says Colin.

The next year, the event returned with bigger crowds, different locations (a stage on the Kinecroft and camping at the Hithercroft) and a brand new name, BunkFest, named after the Wallingford Bunk - the former rail service which connected the town to the mainline at nearby Cholsey.

Oxford Mail: Six year old Henrietta Elderfield was there with her dad Alex – joining in with the Morris Dancing at Bunkfest

Oxford Mail: The Wild Hunt from Croydon scare the crowds at Bunkfest

Oxford Mail: 12 year old Ellie Bailey blowing bubbles at Bunkfest 2016.

Keen that it became more than a local event, the organisers advertised the festival nationally – sending posters to different festivals and setting up a website. “Because we had some nationally known folk bands that a lot of people wouldn’t have heard of, we went for a slightly different approach", says Colin. “We wanted to bring people to the town of Wallingford and increase trade for businesses."

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Bob had left the Cross Keys by 2008, and the new landlord wasn’t keen for the festival to continue at the pub. This shifted the focus of the festival to the Kinecroft.

In 2012, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, BunkFest let its visitors into all events for free. It was a change the organisers never reversed.

But a free festival attracts bigger crowds, and they soon had a tough decision to make about the future of their small folk festival.

“Because it became a free festival, and a lot more people came, we had to look at the music,” says Colin. “While folk is still at the heart of the festival, we introduced blues and party music, with great tunes that get people up on their feet dancing.

“It’s now a music festival rather than a folk festival, and the music we pick is consistent with a family festival where people can sit and listen and not get drowned out by one sort of music.”

Oxford Mail: Mark Goodhand (left, 07966367576) and Sam Tusk from Oxford based Horns aPlenty at Bunkfest 2016.Picture: Ric Mellis.3/9/2016 Kinecroft anf Market PlacevWallingford.Catchline: Bunkfest 2016.Requested;  Andy Ffrench.

Oxford Mail: Members of Ellington Morris from Maidenhead take a break at Bunkfest 2016

Oxford Mail: Beltane Border Morris in action at Bunkfest 2016.Picture: Ric Mellis.3/9/2016 Kinecroft anf Market PlacevWallingford.Catchline: Bunkfest 2016.Requested;  Andy Ffrench.

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But as the festival grew and grew, it was apparent that more change was needed. Wary that the crowds had grown too large, the organisers stopped advertising the festival. Directors were recruited to share the responsibilities of organising and the number of volunteers was ramped up.

There are now 10 directors, around 30 to 40 people on the management team, and up to 400 volunteers who do everything from the odd bar shift to working the entire weekend.

While Bob and Jo have passed away and Dave has moved from the town, Colin still takes a leading role in organising the festival as a director.

He says: “Sometimes I wonder how we have allowed it to grow this big. The way it’s grown has been tremendous, and when I get asked how we did it, I always say, ‘I don’t know.’

“The secret is having people at the top that the community trusts, then it just rolls on from there.”

For more information about this year’s BunkFest, visit: https://bunkfest.co.uk/