For a 25-year-old Orcadian, it's a shameful boast. To be fair though, I left the isles when I was 13, with no interest in folk music, but I didn't escape without traces of its DNA, spattered on me like a crime scene.
Traditional music is imprinted in pretty much every islander in some way, whether you like it or not. From the awkward barn dances we used to have in PE come Christmas time, to the old accordion tapes stacked in front of my gran's kitchen radio, to the endless pub sessions and pipe band marches that regularly tore through town; try as I might to drown it out, I got my fair share, and that's coming from a family that didn't play fiddle.
The Orkney folk festival celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Its appeal, its reach and its roster has grown exponentially over three decades and it won the award for best event at last year's Scots Trad Music awards.
Cut to 25 years old, and I find myself mellow, more mature (ahem) but most importantly, more open to the idea of spending four days immersed in folk and traditional music, excited by it even. I still have relatives in the harbour town of Stromness, the festival's home and main hub, so last May I embarked on a familiar trip to unfamiliar territory; consumed with visions of elderly locals in flat caps banging out reels in a pub lounge as visitors and neighbours alike shared a nip by the harbour.
It took all of 10 minutes from leaving the mainland before shades of my utopian folk fantasy came to life in the plush lounge of the northbound ferry. An unusually calm crossing was punctuated early on by the soft strum of guitars, ably played by a couple of grizzled, middle-aged gentlemen. Travelling musicians? Visitors? Homebound Orcadians who like to entertain? Whatever their story, they were soon joined by a fellow on squeezebox and a brother and sister, barely the height of the bar, who whipped out their fiddles and gave them a run for their money. As we coasted by the familiar Old Man of Hoy, a 450ft sea stack jutting out from the south island cliffs, the warm mix of music and the oncoming sunset couldn't have set a better tone.
The idea of giving someone a tune, whether it's on stage, in the pub, or in a ferry lounge, is an integral part of the festival atmosphere and one that runs deep throughout Orkney tradition. So much so that the festival incorporates time within its programme for regular sessions which take place in some of the key Stromness venues such as the Royal Hotel, the Stromness Hotel and the Ferry Inn.
Beyond assigning time slots, there is little outside organisation involved, and instead these sessions are freely dictated by the bands chosen to lead each one. You'll find local folk and tourists chipping in, and it's that community feel and the boiling down of a performance to a simple exchanging of ideas that really celebrates the power and freedom of music and also the welcoming nature of the festival-goers.
In terms of the line-up at my first festival, I had little to no prior knowledge of many of the acts, which meant I could view them, unbiased, in these unusual backdrops – be it a community hall, the unglamorous upstairs function room of a hotel, or in the school lecture theatre of the nearby academy.
It's this mix of unconventional venues, intimate performances, and the stream of visitors, locals, musicians and crew all mingling together, that gives the weekend a bustling but cosy atmosphere. Artists play several shows over the space of a few days including ceilidhs, multi-band bills and festival club sessions and, much like the attendees – some of whom make the pilgrimage from as far afield as North America and Scandinavia – they have plenty of time to settle in. And it shows.
The programme also casts its net wide to include remote isles and parishes, offering attendees the chance to explore the less obvious nooks and crannies of the islands, each with their own subtle, beautiful scenery.
I had the privilege of heading out to Harray, one of the smallest and barest parishes in the west mainland, for a ceilidh. There was something beautifully low-rent and personal about the set-up in the community hall – from the makeshift bar laid out on trestle tables, with impossibly cheap drinks – £1.50 for a nip of Highland Park? – to the dry Orcadian wit of the elderly compere and the homely tea and buffet trolleys rolled out in the interval.
After being mesmerised by harpists, fiddlers and traditional singers of all ages, I found myself taken in and lovingly force-fed scones and potfuls of tea by a couple of sweet ex-primary school teachers. That same night I swapped stories with a family from Australia, got invited to two other folk festivals by travelling enthusiasts and later, holed myself up in the function room of the Stromness Hotel for a late- night knees-up at the festival club.
With the sheer number of daily events, shows and activities, it feels like there's no limit to the number of ways you can tailor the festival experience to suit your own interests. But perhaps more affecting are the vast, unspoilt surrounds of the isles and the friendly nature of everybody you're likely to encounter. For lovers of honest, old-fashioned socialising, and appreciators of a good tune, the festival is a fantastic way to welcome in the summer. And for me, it was a successful maiden voyage.
The 30th annual Orkney Folk Festival takes place across the isles and runs from May 31 to June 3. Go to orkneyfolkfestival.com