Staying In is the New Going Out: Free & by Donation Online Resources for Culture Lovers

Post last updated on 04 May 2020

Rainbow fairy door in forest

Life is still a festival, just in a different way

We’re all in the same boat at the moment. No one can really make any plans for the foreseeable future, in most countries we’re asked to stay at home as much as we can and travel is completely out of the question. Some of us might have holidays cancelled and, in my case, my whole calendar of festivals and cultural events has been wiped out pretty much overnight.

Yes, this can all be very frustrating and a time of heightened anxiety for many of us, but we don’t really have a choice and life is what we make it after all. Lots of fun things have recently been started by creative folks all over the world to help connecting us in these unusual times. I’m going to try and collect a good few here and update the post regularly, so do bookmark this page and check back whenever you’re in need of some positive inspiration (no mention of the c. word allowed!).

The good thing about being signed up to lots of newsletters by bands, cultural organisations, venues and other interesting creatives is that now most things have moved online, my inbox is brimming with helpful and positive tips from everyone. I’ve grouped them into a number of categories and will keep adding to them whenever I get time to do it.

One more thing: most of the things I’m listing below are free as there will be a lot of you out there who are already feeling the pressure of just keeping going at the moment. However, please also think about how you can help your local community in any way you can, which does not always have to be financially. Look around your city’s streets and pick a few independent cafes and shops you like, follow them online and ask how you can help. Buy merch by smaller, independent musicians and other artists, if you can, as birthday or Christmas presents. The options are endless and you can do all this from your own home.

Online music festivals

To my delight, within days of most of us being at home instead of out and about, a lot of smaller and larger initiatives have sprung up to either take existing cancelled events online or as fundraisers for musicians who are having a hard time at the moment. I’ve already missed a few but here are some upcoming ones:

The Folk on Foot Front Room Festival happened on Easter Monday on Youtube and Facebook and had a stellar folk music line-up with half hour sets by Karine Polwart, Kris Drever, Peggy Seeger etc.. and can still be watched online. Donations are still open, too, and will be shared between the participating musicians and the Help Musicians UK charity.

Folks at Home is another online folk music initiative. While it is not streaming live, it has over 27 hours of exclusive online content for ticket holders (proceeds to the musicians). So you can watch whenever you feel like it.

Oregon-based music festival Pickathon have decided to do online live gigs in aid of MusiCares at 1pm PCT (luckily for us 9pm UK time) on various dates starting on 8 April. Can’t wait to tune in!

There are also more and more fundraisers for independent music venues, many of which, let’s face it, are struggling to survive at the best of times. If you want them to still be there after the crisis, why not adopt your local venue, like The Greennote in London, where I used to volunteer, or The Glad Cafe in Glasgow, where I live now, and donate to them directly. A good organisation to check out for additional information is Music Venue Trust.

stay positive sticker on tree trunk in Scottish forest park

Live music streams

Live music is a big part of my life and it’s been really hard getting used to going from several gigs a week to absolutely zero. Socialising and listening to music by artists who care about other people and the world does not have to stop completely though. Like everything else, it has just gone online for now! While the time difference makes it sometimes a bit tricky to catch every event and still get enough sleep, it has the one big advantage that we are now all ONE big global audience. These musicians have been doing live streams recently, so check them out and follow them for more virtual gigs:

Peggy Seeger (Sundays at 5pm), Sierra Hull, Don Gallardo, The Barr Brothers, The Royal Jelly Jive, Dougie MacLean (every second night at 8pm), Anne McCue, Elaine Lennon, James Hodder, Andrew Combs, Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay, Cathy Jordan, Mo Kenney, Daoiri Farrell, Niamh Regan, Rachael Sage and many more. If you’re not familiar with the above artists, check them out, you might quite like them and they all have a back catalogue of fantastic music for you to get!

I recommend signing up for newsletters by the Journal of Music and Shrewsbury Folk Festival (the SFF Youtube channel is pretty awesome, too), who are doing online music listings on a regular basis now.

US radio NPR have an impressive list of daily live concerts by musicians of various genres.

Secret Sessions, London’s monthly new music night, is now also doing live stream takeovers of their Instagram account with inspiring mini gigs by talented performers, usually at 7pm.

US-based Signature Sounds have some fantastic ‘home sessions’ with Americana artists.

The Green Note in London are now offering online gigs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 8pm (suggested paypal donation for the musicians of £10 per show) with a great line-up of Americana and folk musicians.

UK folk musician John Spiers is running an #IsolationPubSession on his Youtube channel for everyone to play and sing along.

Sofar Sounds has also launched online gigs in their listening room. As with all the others, donations to the artists are encouraged.

The #Covidceilidh hashtag on Twitter (you can see the vieos without having an account) has been fun to follow with musical contributions from around the world. #LiveFromHome seems to be mostly US-based sessions of any kind of genre.

Check out the Life is a Festival Youtube channel for videos of past festival performances and plan your next festival visit from your couch!

If you’re planning on doing your own live streams from your home, The Space have a handy low-tech low-cost streaming guide for doing just that.

Author events

I need to do some more online research to find more live readings, but all the book festival websites and other organisations promoting reading are usually a good start.

BBC Arts has recently launched Culture in Quarantine, a virtual arts season, which will also include The Big Book Weekend, co-founded by authors Kit de Waal and Molly Flatt, happening 8-10 May. It will run in cooperation with MyVLF, a free global virtual literary festival holding online author events.

The Scottish Wigtown Bookfestival is doing #WigtownWednesdays with live author talks, book club sessions and literatry pub quizzes.

There is a new Scottish crime writing podcast: The Tartan Noir Show.

The Edinburgh Book Festival (one of my very favourites, see my review) has a lovely audio and video section with lots of inspiring author talks.

Cambridge Literature Festival had #thelisteningfestival 17-19 April and might do more online events.

The Hay Book Festival in Wales (have been both to the summer and the winter version, both brilliant) has a wealth of interesting material on their webiste, including films, podcasts and free resources for school children.

Poet and Scots Makar Jackie Kay seems to be doing a new poem every Sunday on her Twitter account. She is inspiring and funny, you’ll love it.

#ShelfIsolating is a fun Twitter hashtag to join other booklovers, libraries etc. who are talking about reading, authors and books

NHS rainbow sign outside a shop in Glasgow

Film screenings

There are various organisations offering a catalogue of films for free online, for instance 200 free documentaries by IDFA, the BFI’s online film collection, this year’s (sadly cancelled) SXSW latest short films, shortfilm.de (most films in English or with subtitles) and others.

Mubi also seems to currently be doing a free three month trial of their movie screening service, sign up via this Filmhouse link.

We Are One is a global free event on Youtube that brings together 20 international film festivals from 29 May until 7 June and includes fiction, documentaries, music, comedy & filmmaker conversations. 

London’s Open City Documentary Festival has a huge online film archive with many free films to watch.e

If you like adventure and outdoor films, Explorersweb has collected a list of so far 400 (!) free to watch ones: List 1 (mostly Banff Mountain Film Fest), List 2, List 3, List 4

Bertha DocHouse in London has a great online hub with recorded interviews with filmmakers and is also working on more live stream collaborations.

Other streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, NowTv or Britbox are also often offering 30 days free trials or pretty cheap monthly fees. They can be cancelled anytime, so you can mix and match to get the best new content when you want it or can afford it.

Theatre shows

The Stage has a rolling list of theatre productions, which are now available to view online, including some charity projects in support of e.g. the NHS.

The National Theatre is now screeing one of their hit shows every Thursday at 7pm online for free, so this is my new weekly theatre night! Again, please support them with a donation, if you can, any amount will help.

The Coronet Theatre in Notthing Hill has an Inside Out online content and event section with cultural content.

Other fun & social online events

One of my local Meetup groups did a pub quiz and an open mic on Zoom, which were both great fun, so I bet your local groups are doing similar things. You can usually join for free (or a small fee for admin costs) and as it’s mostly smaller groups, it is a lovely way of keeping in touch with people or even make new friends while self-isolating, especially if you live on your own.

The Edinburgh Science Festival has been cancelled, but has announced some future online happenings, so keep an eye on their website or sign up to their newsletter.

The Cosmic Shambles have started a pretty impressive Stay at Home Festival with a almost daily mix of science, book and comedy shows on their Youtube channel. Intriguing stuff! Again, donations very welcome.

The Arts Society is running online lectures on arts topics to try and promote connection through a shared love for the arts.

If you fancy brushing up on your French skills, head over to the Alliance Francaise website, which has a fantastic collection of free films and materials.

There are also quite a few online choirs, such as Sofa Singers or Gareth Malone’s #GreatBritishHomeChorus now, which you can join from anywhere in the world online. No excuse not to get singing!

Keeping active indoors (and outdoors, if you can) & beating anxiety

Yoga with Adriene has been my favourite go to channel on Youtube for taking some time out and getting a new perspective for a long time. This is what got me into yoga and you’ll get something out of it whether you’re a total beginner or a pracised yogi. Plus, there is Benji, the dog!

New York non-profit The Tricycle Foundation has started free/by donation online practise sessions with inspirational teachers, such as Pema Chödrön and Jack Kornfield. Make sure you sign up beforehand for the Zoom link. They also offer a great worldwide live online meditation calendar. One of their contributors, NY-based journalist Jihii Jolly, has also compiled her own list of useful resources & online tools, reading tips and more.

UK-based World Yoga Festival offers online yoga, meditation and cooking classes.

If you are OK to do so, it’s also a really good idea to get some fresh air outside while keeping to your location’s physical distancing rules, of course. I’m lucky to have a large park right behind my home and I try and get out there as often as I can. Even just a few minutes a day make me feel so much better.

Be kind to yourself and others

There seem to be quite a few negatives about our current situation: clearly the actual danger to people’s lives (do keep up with trustworthy news sources and avoid the scams!), anxiety because of worrying about family and friends while being separated from them, boredom, lack of money or other ways life is restricted at the moment.

But here is the good news. This crisis also brought out the best in many people and in our communities. Volunteer opportunities (e.g. NHS responders in England or Ready Scotland) and mutual aid groups have sprung up practically overnight, there is a real focus on living in the moment, minimalism and not taking anything for granted anymore. While there seems to be more tension and anxiety in the air, there is also kindness to be found wherever you look. There are so many positive things we can focus our time and energy on, including taking a little more time for ourselves.

There is a new online radio show for Scottish volunteers called Radio V with a new show every Saturday.

This brilliant online letter writing project called #DearFriend was started in Aberdeen, but anyone from around the world can write to care home residents – write your letter now!

Action for Happiness has a Coping Calendar and lots of other useful resources for staying positive.

Action for Happiness Coping Calendar April 2020

What all of us can do right now

Contact a friend, family member or neighbour and ask if they’re OK. They might have an issue you didn’t know about, maybe to do with their health or mental health, work or just not being able to cope that well with change as quickly as you might be able to.

And don’t forget to show yourself some love, too. I’ve been taking a lot more baths recently and am enjoying my favourite foods even more than usual. Sending everyone a virtual hug from my home office in Glasgow. Stay safe, look after each other and let’s keep inspiring one another!

Home office

Ringing in the New Decade with Celtic Connections 2020

Time flies when you’re having fun and so the 18 days of brilliant live music that was the 2020 edition of Celtic Connections (16 January – 2 February) went by way too quickly, as usual. The popular winter music festival with its mix of folk, celtic, trad, Americana and world music once more attracted large audiences from the UK and abroad. What’s more, there seem to be new fans joining the stalwart CCFest fans flocking to Glasgow every winter to see world class acts jam together and discover the freshest talent of young musicians from Scotland and further afield.

I managed to get quite a few good concerts in again this year starting with volunteering as an artist liaison for a fantastic double show at the Tron Theatre by US Indie-folk artist Noah Gundersen, supported by Brighton-based Bess Atwell. The event also included a short presentation by suicide prevention charity TWLOHA. The same day I witnessed the emergence of STORM, a stunning 10m tall moving puppet (see pic above) made of recycled materials to commemorate the festival’s Coastal Connections Day. The night after I headed down to St. Lukes for Kentuckian Tyler Childers, who has a strong fan base in the UK and came recommended by friends, but somehow didn’t hit the right notes for me. Iris Dement, on the other hand, who I had wanted to see for a very long time, was a real revelation. While her unusual voice might not be everyone’s cup of tea, her witty and intriguing stories and beautifully songs made me feel more like being at a house concert rather than in a large concert hall.

Probably my favourite gig this year was Canadian Frazey Ford and one of my favourite Scottish bands, Adam Holmes and the Embers from Edinburgh, at St. Lukes. Whoever booked those two as a combo should be congratulated as their unique styles complemented each other extremely well. It was a beautiful night with lots of happy people in one of the nicest venues in town. On the second Saturday I volunteered at the Drygate looking after the Folk Circle consisting of English folk singer Reg Meuross with Scottish singers Lori Watson and Kim Richards and some of their musician friends. Their melodic music would have probably been better suited to a quieter venue, but it was still a lovely concert. The night after I had been invited by a friend to join him for the Phil Cunningham 60th birthday bash at City Halls (pic below). We had pretty good seats and the line-up kept getting surprise additions, such as Eddi Reader, Karen Matheson as well as a children’s sibling duo playing traditional instruments almost like pros. The nearly three-hour show was a fun-filled celebration and a night to remember.

My third week started with the first of two Seirm recordings for BBC Alba, which this year took place at The Arches next to Central station (rumbling train sounds included!). The best thing about being part of a recording for TV is always being so up close to some of the most amazing musicians, while it also requires a lot of patience as the set-up between artists takes quite a while. On that night’s bill were Dervish (pic below), RURA, Aoife Scott (Irish singer Frances Black’s very talented daughter), the very entertaining The Poozies and Della Mae from Boston (now Nashville). I had to drag myself away just before it finished to catch the tail end of The Milk Carton Kids in the RCH, who I had never seen live before and whose harmonies and beautiful, quiet melodies were truly mesmerising.

The night after, at The Old Fruitmarket, was another one of my favourite festival shows: Brooklyn-based Anais Mitchell (pic below) and her newly formed trio Bonny Light Horseman with fantastic guitarist Josh Kaufman and singer Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats. Seven months pregnant and having recently won eight Tony awards and a Grammy for her folk opera ‘Hadestown’ a few days earlier, Mitchell was positively beaming on stage and I loved every bit of it. The last night of the festival was another highlight for me: the Translatlantic Sessions, this time featuring Tenessee mandolin virtuoso Sierra Hull (whose songwriting workshop that morning was fantastic), Dervish singer Cathy Jordan and young Edinburgh-based songwriter Rachel Sermanni as well as a host of amazing festival musicians.

While 18 days of music seem fairly long to those used to 2-3 day music events, it is somehow never long enough once the festival gets going. One thing is for sure though: Celtic Connections is a fantastic way for visitors to experience all the friendliness and hospitality Glasgow has to offer and a chance for locals to welcome the new year with a bang!

Here are my reviews of previews editions of the festival in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and some practical tips for your first visit to Glasgow during Celtic Connections.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with review tickets for some events. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

4 Reasons Why Shrewsbury Folk Festival Is Simply Unmissable (incl. 2019 Review)

Even though I only made it to two festivals this summer, I made sure one of them was Shrewsbury Folk Festival. It was my 8th time in a row and it’s always a fantastic weekend of live music, dancing and fun. This time we managed to have another heat wave coincide with the bank holiday weekend, like in 2017, which made for a completely rain-free festival, hurrah.

If you’ve never been to SFF, here are the best reasons to join us next year and the next and the one after that…

Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2019 Village Stage with audience in the sunshine.

The quality line-up

Even though there wasn’t enough Americana on the bill this time around for my liking, I’m always amazed at the great variety of brilliant musicians who play the festival. Now being based in Scotland, I was particulary excited to see the fabulous Skerryvore make a return as the Monday headliners (who just about made it from the airport coming from the US leg of a tour) as well as the always excellent Capercaillie. The festival also showcases up and coming local artists on the Launchpad stage, which this year included young guitar talent George Nash.

Mankala band from Bristol performing at Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2019

While I enjoyed the sets by US artists Amythyst Kiah, Birds of Chicago, Rev. Seckou, Cajun Country Revival and Aine Tyrell from Ireland, I was most impressed with the world music collaborations this year. These included Michael Messer’s Mitra (jazz/blues/classical Indian), AKA Trio (musicians from Brazil, Italy & Senegal) and Mankala (see pic above), all well worth checking out. I also always enjoy Kate Rusby, Oysterband and the While & Matthews duo had several sets, with guest musicians like Belinda O’Hooley, to celebrate their 25th musical anniversary. New to me Jiggy playing traditional music from Ireland with a modern twist were probably my fav new find this year, indeed I was surprised I had never heard of them before.

The additional activities

I always pick up my festival programme (one of the best ones around, really detailed and beautiful with band descriptions and everything you need to know) when I arrive on Thursday and aim to make it to a few other things than ‘just’ listening to music. But every single time I have to admit that there just isn’t enough time to get to everything – which is also a nice problem to have as it means there is so much on, you’ll absolutely never get bored. How could you?

Vegetarian food at one of the many food stalls at Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2019.

Included in your festival ticket are songwriting workshops, you can learn every instrument you can think of from scratch (incl. bodhran, mountain dulcimer, flute & ukulele), browse the market stalls, join a yoga session or spend a whole day in the dance tent. One of my favourite things this year was the children’s parade with dozens of beautiful animal paper lanterns and proud youngsters showing them off to the sound of the crowd singing ‘Yellow Submarine’ as this year it was a maritime theme – just magical!

I’m proud to say I at least managed to make it to one ceilidh (with John Spiers playing live for us, no less), which was a lot of fun. And ceilidhs are so inclusive, you don’t need to know what you’re doing or bring a dance partner, you can simply join in and that includes wheel chair users and people of all ages (the youngest dancer was probably four years old).

The historic town of Shrewsbury

The town of Shrewsbury is a shortish walk from the festival site, so I often head there along the river to stock up on food supplies, have a coffee and browse the charity shops. You can explore the town’s heritage, join a walking tour or enjoy a river cruise. They also have a number of good outdoor shops, which is handy if you’re camping. You might even bump into some festival musicians, some of whom stay in town if they don’t get put up in homestays nearby. You’ll also run into lots of other festival goers (easily recognisable by their wristbands or festival t-shirts) and everyone usually has a good story about previous years or favourite acts.

Shrewsbury library in Shropshire and statue of Charles Darwin.

The friendly atmosphere

SFF is largely staffed by (hundreds of) volunteers who tend to join the same team every year, so they really know what they’re doing. This makes for a calm, relaxed atmosphere and you’ll hardly notice the festival security team (who are really just there as a back-up). There are plenty of tables and chairs to sit and chat over a coffee, people practise their instruments in the bar, hub or outside their tents and are generally respectful of each other. I have hardly ever come across anyone drunk and/or rowdy, it’s just not that kind of place.

Bramble the spaniels helps out at artist reception at Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2019.

Having said that, the festival attracts people of absolutely all ages, from families with toddlers (the youngest I met this year was a 5-week old baby!) to retired folks and everyone in between. Compared to more crowded festivals (e.g. the also excellent Cambridge Folk Festival) there is a lot of space, almost never much mud, even if it rains persistently like in previous years, and hardly any queues (maybe apart from peak lunch & dinner times). Oh and the festival is dog-friendly of course and even the pooches like to join in like beautiful Bramble (see pic above). All of this guarantees a stress-free, super relaxing weekend of music!

George Nash playing the Launchpad stage at Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2019.

So join us, sign up as a volunteer or grab a festival ticket, bring your guitar and be prepared to talk to strangers. Like a woman I met on the train on the way home to Glasgow remarked: It’s so nice when people still talk to each other. It is, isn’t it? SFF is one of those places where you’ll get a friendly hello back when you smile at a stranger. Wouldn’t it be lovely to take this attitude back home with you, especially in these times when we seem to be sorely in need of a little more kindness?

Banjos vs Bagpipes: Oban Live 2019

I first came across Oban Live (7-8 June 2019) founders Skerryvore at Shrewsbury Folk Festival last summer and as I was moving to Scotland shortly after I was excited to hear that they had their very own festival. The sold out two day event (capacity 5000) has been taking place in the beautiful seaside town of Oban on the West Coast of Scotland since 2016 and has been going from strength to strength ever since.

Oban Live Skerryvore Stephen Lawson.jpeg
(photo courtesy of Oban Live/Stephen Lawson)

On Friday morning I hopped on a very crowded (as way too short) train from Glasgow and arrived three hours later in Oban together with lots of other excited, mostly repeat, festival goers. And yeah, despite having had some terrible weather all week, the open-air festival stayed blissfully rain-free during the whole weekend.

Oban Live train station.jpg

Oban Live takes place at Mossfield Park Stadium, a short, well-signposted walk from the town centre and unlike most of the other festivals I usually attend there is just one big stage. This meant there is no difficult choices to make or music schedules to plan. We could simply enjoy all the bands without having to worry about missing any of the live acts.

Both days’ line-ups consisted of six bands. First up on day one was young local trad musicians Argyll Ceilidh Trail, followed by JigJam from Ireland and Be Charlotte, an up and coming Dundee-based artist. After sampling the festival food on offer, which included wood-oven pizza, Asian noodles, Mexcian food, fish & chips and a stall with some traditional Scottish dishes, all of which had veggie options, plus a coffee, tea and ice cream stall, it was time for the evening acts starting with popular trad fusion band from the Highlands, Elephant Sessions.

Oban Live Stage Stephen Lawson.jpeg
(photo courtesy of Oban Live/Stephen Lawson)

My favourite set of the night was billed as Celtic Brotherhood, which in fact consisted of festival bands We Banjo 3 from Galway and Skerryvore joined by some additional local pipers for extra oomph. The Friday headliners were Red Hot Chilli Pipers with dancers of Flings & Things, an appearance by Soul Nation choir and of course bagpipes galore.

Day two started out with Edinburgh based rock band DMS followed by Scottish trad virtuosos Talisk and spirited singer songwriter Lucy Spraggan. The Caman Connection, a super group of Scottish musicians with an association with the Scottish sport of Shinty brought together by Gary Innes and included band members of Runrig, Capercaillie and Manran. The rest of the night was another energetic set by Irish ‘Celtgrass’ band We Banjo 3 and a fabulous closing set by Skerryvore, who had everyone up on their feet for the last hour and a half.

Oban Live Talisk Stephen Lawson.jpeg(photo courtesy of Oban Live/Stephen Lawson)

Besides the main event there was also a varied programme of Fringe happenings taking place from Thursday onwards and both the main festival as well as the fringe had informative little print-out programmes with all the info needed. From daytime pub sessions to a craft market and two after parties at the View Oban late into the night, there was something for everyone whether you are a morning lark or a night owl.

I was very impressed with the organisation of the festival on the whole. The security checks at the entrance were thorough but not over the top (it is OK to bring in food, just no liquids) and there were clearly layed out areas for putting up your own camping chairs with a great view of the stage, while most people opted for dancing right in front. There was also a VIP ticket option with a separately cordoned off area, their own bar and perks like food vouchers and priority entry into the after party each night. The entire festival was very relaxed and had a mixed age audience from families with children to groups of local teenagers and lots of Skerryvore fans of all ages from around Scotland and beyond.

Oban Live Crowd.jpg

As there is quite a demand for local accommodation during the festival weekend, I would highly recommend booking your hotel or B&B as early as possible. Having initially thought I would be camping (around £30 including a shuttle to and from the festival), I opted for a hostel in town instead, Oban Backpackers, which was walking distance, comfy, very clean and, of course, full of other Oban Live folks, so a very pleasant base for the weekend.

In terms of eating out, Oban has plenty of options for everyone: fresh seafood from a stall by the harbour, trying local delicacies at the Food From Argyll café in the ferry terminal or starting the day off with a sweet breakfast at the airy Chocolate Café with a waffle & ice cream special (see pic below). There are also a Tesco, Lidl & Aldi on the way to the festival for supplies and some cheap camping chairs (Tesco), which came in handy as my friend had hurt her foot just a few days earlier.

Oban Live Chocolate Cafe.jpg

During the day you can explore the town itself and for instance enjoy the fantastic view over the bay from McCaig’s Tower, hike or cycle to one of the nearby beaches (can recommend Ganavan (see pic below), about 2 kilometres along the seafront with a food stall and public toilets) or take a 1-2 hour wildlife spotting boat trip from the harbour.

Oban Live Ganavan beach.jpg

Oban really is a beautiful corner of Scotland and Oban Live a festival which is big enough to have an excellent time listening to top Scottish and international musicians while being small and friendly enough to have a relaxed holiday weekend. Best of both worlds!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend pass for the 2019 festival in exchange for a personal review of the event. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival apart from those labelled courtesy of Oban Live/Stephen Lawson.

 

City of Bridges: 24 Hours in Newcastle

After moving to Glasgow last autumn I had a long list of places to visit in Scotland, but things don’t always turn out the way you think. I have always been fascinated by the history of individual buildings and the people who lived in them. When I was watching the BBC documentary series ‘A House Through Time’ the other day, which portrayed a home in the English city of Newcastle, it seemed like an intriguing place to visit: industrial history, a vibrant cultural scene and many beautiful green spaces, very similar to Glasgow.

NC19 Bridge View.jpg

About a week before the trip I booked a train ticket and found a good hotel deal. I decided to stay one night only and see how much I would manage to discover in 24 hours just by walking a few different neighbourhoods and soaking up the local atmosphere. I made a shortlist of things I absolutely had to see and usually group those by area with spots for lunch or coffee preselected, which gives me a few things to aim for along the route without restricting me too much in terms of spontaneity. It also really helps working out beforehand when certain attractions are closed, so you don’t end up missing out on them. Here are a few of the things I especially enjoyed:

The Lit & Phil

On my travels I often visit beautiful cities and buildings, but not many have the kind of wow factor the Lit & Phil has for me. Fairly unassuming from the outside, you walk up a flight of quite dark stairs until you emerge into the most brilliantly designed (by John Green 1822-25), large yet cosy space every booklover would want to never ever leave again. Give me 180k of books to browse, a cup of coffee and a comfy chair and that’s me sorted. Apart from its undeniable instagram appeal, it was the friendliness and uncomplicated feel of the library that made it even more enjoyable. I was made feel welcome by an enthusiastic volunteer (who worked as a librarian for 40 years) and while it is an independent members library, everyone is encouraged to browse and explore the space. It has always been a place to discuss books, not just for quiet contemplation, so if you want a guaranteed good experience on your visit, even just 10 minutes in here will lift your spirits. The Lit & Phil is a mere 5 minute walk from central station, so no excuse, plus they have lovely souvenirs to take home to those unfortunate ones who missed out on experiencing this amazing library in person.

NC19 Lit & Phil

The Bridge Views

Even if you only have an hour in Newcastle, walk down to any of the bridges and look across the river Tyne and you won’t regret it. The city’s 7 stunningly different bridges spanning the Newcastle Northern side of the river and the Gateshead side on the south are a sight to behold and you’ll never get tired of those fabulous views. In fact, I dare you to walk across any of them and not feel like wanting to take hundreds of pictures from the many possible angles. Once you’ve crisscrossed them to your heart’s content, grab a sandwich, take a seat somewhere by the Quayside and indulge in some people watching. Newcastle is a lively city with a large student population and as I was lucky to have excellent weather during my visit, everyone was out and about enjoying the rays and a relaxed drink by the water. Bliss.

NC19 Quayside.jpg

The Ouseburn Valley

I often find the best places to visit by simply opening Google Maps and zooming in on individual neighbourhoods. When you type in things you enjoy doing or spending time in like (in my case) vegan cafes or charity shops, you often find the best places for a nice walk. I therefore quickly worked out that the Ouseburn Valley (once the cradle of the city’s industrial revolution) east of the city centre would be a fun place to explore and I wasn’t disappointed. After enjoying the views over the city centre from the top floor of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art I crossed the river and walked east along the water until I got to the Cycle Hub (bicycle repair and great coffee with a view). I then followed a footpath next to the Ouseburn (pronounced ‘use-burn’, a small tributary to the Tyne), which took me past Seven Stories and to Ouseburn City Farm. There is even a horseriding centre just up the road. The Cluny pub right opposite and the Tyne Bar (a bit further south) are both great for live music, so I guess I’ll just have to come back another time. It’s an area that won’t appeal to every first time visitor with its rough charm and mix of old and new, but to me it’s just perfect.

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Green Spaces & Cosy Cafes

City trips don’t need to exclude spending time in nature. On the contrary, many modern cities have a wealth of green spaces, which are well worth enjoying, promoting and saving for future generations. On my second day I walked from the city centre north towards Jesmond, turned right on Osborne Avenue and continued north along the river for a little while, then turned around and walked south on a forest path to Heaton Park, ending up on Heaton Road. I had a chat with dog walkers, European visitors who used to live in the city and locals along the way and one of them recommended The Butterfly Cabinet for brunch. It turned out to be a good tip. After a morning’s brisk walking, I enoyed tucking into a yummy veggie burger and then still had some time left for more sightseeing in the city centre, including the intriguing historic Bessie Surtees House. The day before I found Super Natural Vegan Cafe (see their amazing food below), which I managed to visit twice, as there always needs to be time made for cake.

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The Sage Gateshead

The large and modern Sage Gateshead music centre and concert hall on the South Side of the Tyne (easily walkable from city centre accommodation) was designed by Norman Foster and opened in 2004. I had been aware of it for a while as they run a fabulous sounding Americana festival ‘Summertyne’ in July (on my list!). So it was very lucky that the one night I happend to be in town an absolutely wonderful special event was taking place. ‘Modern Fairies’ an enchanted mix of folk myths, ancient and modern instruments, storytelling, illustration and film making was simply beautiful and it somehow summed up my whole Newcastle experience for me: it’s a city that manages to marry the old with the new in a vibrant, down to earth way, which is really inspiring. Having scribbled down the dates of lots of upcoming festivals and other cultural events in my notebook, I’m certainly planning to be back fairly soon. I hope the above gives you a few additional reasons to visit this Northern City with its friendly vibe.

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P.S. If you’re a bunny lover like me or even if you’re not, don’t miss the Vampire Rabbit, you’ll have fun hunting down this bizarre over a century-old gargoyle with a mysterious history in the city centre.

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Booklovers Unite: Aye Write Festival 2019

When I talk to people who have never been to a book festival about what an exciting experience it is, they often don’t believe me. The truth is, however, that literature festivals capture the experience of any topic worth writing about, which means there is a huge array of events on offer from nature writing to politics, fiction to poetry, geography, history, travel and many, many more.

Aye Write (14-31 March 2019) was founded in 2005 and has since grown steadily as more and more people flock to the festival year after year to meet their favourite authors and to find some exciting new reading material. The two main venues used are the iconic Mitchell Library, one of Europe’s largest reference libraries, and the Royal Concert Hall, both in the city centre of Glasgow. This means that you can easily attend a few events in a row with a nice coffee break in the library or concert hall cafes in between.

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Apart from the main venues the festival also offers free events in the community and a special mini festival for younger readers called Wee Write, including an exciting family day on 2 March at the Mitchell Library packed with fun activities and appearances by much-loved authors for all age groups. Workshops for budding writers were also worth signing up for, a series of creative writing workshops from creating believable characters for your first novel to learning how to write poetry. Alas, as is usually the case with larger festivals, there were several events on in both venues at any given time, so it was partly quite tricky to decide which events to go for.

After attending just a handful Aye Write 2018 events last year when I wasn’t living in Glagow yet, I managed to fit in four volunteer shifts beside my day job this time around. One was the opening night of the festival with one of my favourite sessions this year: a sold out reading and talk by Gina Miller, which took place in the RCH (see pic above). While her appearances on TV and radio tend to be on serious political topics, the festival talk was a chance to meet the person behind the news. We learned that death threats and racial and sexual abuse are sadly not uncommon when you stand up for what you believe in. However, having been inspired early on by her solicitor father her memoir ‘Rise’ is an inspiring account of how overcoming obstacles definitely makes us stronger.

On Sunday 17 March I was scheduled for helping out in the Green Room, welcoming authors and making sure they had everything they needed. While I only managed to attend one event that afternoon, it was a pretty intriguing one. Writer Stephen Millar and photographer Allan McCreadie set out to portray the ‘Tribes of Glasgow’ and came across many subcultures I had no idea existed in my new home city, including pagans, cosplayers and many other colourful groups and clubs.

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My next time at the festival was on 30 March, the last weekend with another bumper list of happenings. I was back at the Mitchell Library and the first event sounded interesting as psychoanalyst and professor of modern literary at Goldsmiths University spoke about his book ‘Not Working: Why We Have to Stop’. Alas, with only an hour available, we hardly got past hearing about his main theory about the reasons for burnout and giving inactivity a higher value in order to live a more fulfilled existence. But I guess taking that one hour out of a busy schedule for such an event already constitutes a healthy awareness on the advantages of taking stock of our wellbeing.

I also dropped into two other events that day, one was an illustrated talk by photographer Alex Boyd on his book ‘St Kilda: The Silent Islands’ a 21st century perspective on past and present in such a beautiful and remote place with dramatic landscapes. Another was a talk by nuclear submarine officer Eric Thompson giving a first-hand experience of working on a British nuclear submarine in his book ‘On Her Majesty’s Nuclear Service’. The event was well attended by both female and male festival goers, and, speaking to a few of them, most had a personal connection to the topic through family members working in the field or simply an interest in British history. My last event that day was the first fiction reading for me this year. Irish author Donal Ryan spoke eloquently and humorously about his experience writing ‘From a Low and Quiet Sea’, a story both set in war-torn Syria and small-town Ireland.

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31 March was the last day of the festival and I was based at the RCH for it. STV news correspondent Mike Edwards discussed his book ‘The Road Home’ an unusual road trip visiting five places named Inverness in the USA, who were all very different in size and character. The other event had an even more local connection. Emily Cutts, a Glasgow campaigner telling us of her lengthy but eventually successful struggle against a housing development in North Kelvin Meadow, known as ‘The Children’s Wood’. The book is called ‘The Dear Wild Place’ and I’m looking forward to reading it. I was amazed at the resilience, positivity and sheer determination of her and the entire community who managed to save this green space through strategic collaboration with other local organisations, businesses and individuals in a constructive way, which is truly inspiring.

If you’d like to volunteer for Aye Write in the future, keep an eye on their website a couple of months before the next festival happens. The shifts I did were between 4 and 6 hours long, which covered about two to three events. You work along other motivated booklovers and we were provided with some coffee and sandwich vouchers to keep us going throughout a busy day.

Arab & North African Womxn’s Arts in Glasgow: Dardishi Festival 2019

I first came across Dardishi (8-11 March 2019) when I attended Document Human Rights Film Festival in Glasgow last October. Having been looking forward to it for months, it was a shame I only managed to make it to two sessions on one day, but it still left a big impression.

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My first event on Saturday afternoon was called ‘Diasporic Daydreams: Storytelling, Solidarity and Survival in our films.’ It was a wonderful collection of short films by Arab and North African female filmmakers living in diaspora creatively and positively dealing with ways how to overcome trauma. The showcase included documentary, animation, fiction and interview and my favourite was probably an animated short film movingly chronicling a displaced young Syrian woman’s dilemma of having to bridge two very different worlds. The pleasure of being at smaller, more grassroots festivals is getting a unique chance to discover cultural jems such as these, which highlight shared human experience and bring us closer together rather than divide us. Even better if a festival champions womxn filmmakers and artists who are still underrepresented in almost all walks of life. The curator of this event, researcher Sumaya Kassim, led an audience discussion after the screenings and empathised the importance of solidarity across cultures and genders in times of rising fascism and xenophobia.

The second event was a screening of Mai Masri’s award-winning feature in Arabic with English subtitles called ‘3000 Nights’. Its female protagonist, a pregnant Palestinian schoolteacher serving time in an Israeli prison, took us into a world that is as cruel as it is intriguing. This film definitely didn’t make for easy viewing, but another example of how such stories can help cross cultural barriers and remind us of our shared humanity where mainstream media or politics often fail.

Other events included a creative writing event, a children’s art and activism workshop and even a session on learning to DJ all of which gave anyone identifying as a girl or womxn plenty of opportunities to express themselves creatively in a welcoming and safe environment. For those of you not from Glasgow, the venue, the CCA right in the centre of Glasgow (including a veggie cafe), is a wonderful incubator of cultural events and there is guaranteed to be something interesting on if you are visiting.

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Apart from film screenings (including a queer movie night), music and talks, there was also a lovely quiet space to hang out in between events, which required no ticket, was open to all and provided a respite away from the noisier aspects of the festival. A real effort had also been made to make the festival accessible in various ways: financially via sliding scale ticket options as well as in a physical sense to people of all abilities, including providing sign language interpreters.

I was delighted to hear that the volunteer-run festival has secured further funding for events throughout the year. You can also support Dardishi by getting on their mailing list, attend events and purchase some of their lovely and creative merch and zines, all created by womxn. Oh and if, like me, you had never heard of the Glasgow Zine Library before, do check out their events as well as the fabulous Glasgow Women’s Library.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with tickets for the 2019 festival in exchange for a personal review of the event. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

Transcending Traditions: Celtic Connections 2019

I’ve been coming to Glasgow for Celtic Connections every January since 2016 and ever since first arriving in the city I felt it might be a good place for me to live. So last autumn I finally made the move from London and it was fantastic to be in town for the whole 18 days of the festival (17 Jan – 3 Feb 2019) for the first time!

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Being the largest winter music festival in Europe, the event has been a success story for many years now. It not only attracts a huge number of locals who enjoy outstanding music from different parts of the world, it has also become a magnet for visitors from other countries who brave the winter weather in order to experience the unique atmosphere of Glasgow city.

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This year was no different and the festival boasted a bumper programme of acts from the worlds of folk, Americana, classical, Indie, roc & blues, spoken word and many exciting cross-over collaborations.

Week 1

The festival started for me with a celebration of Tiree music festival (see pic above) at the Old Fruitmarket including Trail West and Skerryvore. On Saturday I was looking after two very different bands as a volunteer artist rep, May Erlewine, melodic Americana from Michigan, and the Como Mamas, three fabulous gospel singers from Mississippi, at Mackintosh Church (one of my new favourite buildings in the city, well worth a visit). On Sunday I was at King Tuts for the first time for an afternoon session of up an coming artists part of Hazy Recollections. Later that night I popped into a couple of gigs that were happening around the corner from each other: Irish trad musician Daoiri Farrell and friends playing ‘The Dublin Session’, Charles Esten of the Nashville series fame, sold out, but alas not my kind of thing and a bit of The Roaming Roots Revue at the Royal Concert Hall including the always excellent KT Tunstall. After taking a much needed break for two nights I was back on Wednesday with a session of lovely Welsh music including songwriter Gwyneth Glyn in the Strathclyde Suite of the RCH. On Thursday I very much enjoyed seeing Americana artist Caroline Spence again who supported US musician Steve Forbert at St. Andrews.

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Week 2

My second festival Friday was a night of old-time and more modern Appalachian tunes and songs with Canadian trio The Lonesome Ace Stringband. On Saturday I was looking after two more bands for the day: Andrew Combs & Charlie Whitten from Nashville and Amy Helm from New York. They played Oran Mor and both were excellent, Andrew & Charlie complemented each other perfectly while Amy and band played an energetic set for an enthusiastic audience. The day after I went to see Madison Violet form Canada at the Fruitmarket and then headed over to St. Luke’s for Tennessean Ashley Monroe. On Monday I was at the Rhiannon Giddens show at the RCH (with surprise support by Kaia Kater). With such an outstanding voice she can really sing anything well, but although the orchestra arrangement was fascinating, it didn’t touch me as much as her other work usually does. Midweek I caught Canadian Leeroy Stagger at King’s Theatre (a new venue for both the festival and me) and then headed over to the Mitchell Theatre for Emily Smith and her husband Jamie McClennan, who I hadn’t seen for years and who was as good as I had remembered, a more Americana sound this time around. I only caught one of the BBC Seirm recordings at Hillhead Bookclub this year, but it was again a wonderful line-up including Tim O’Brien and Blue Rose Code, one of my Scottish favourites of recent years.

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Week 3

The third Friday of the festival I was so tired after a long week at work and constant concert going that I just wanted to get some sleep, but a friend abroad messaged me to say check out the line-up at St. Luke’s tonight. So I reluctantly ventured out into the cold and was pleasantly surprised the venue was seated for the night, hurrah. The first band up, Pretty Archie from Cape Breton pretty much woke me up within five seconds and I also really enjoyed Chance McCoy’s first solo set at the festival. Nashville-based headliner Nicki Bluhm and her band were excellent, but I was too sleepy by then to really appreciate it. Saturday was my last time looking after festival bands this year and I was at the Old Fruitmarket (see pic above) again for a very exciting collaboration by Karine Polwart and a selection of other musicians (Shetlander Inge Thomson, Graeme Smilie, Louis Abbott of Admiral Fallow etc.). Her ‘Scottish Songbook’ consisted of a diverse selection of popular songs by Scottish bands of the past and present from Annie Lennox to Frightened Rabbit with a lot of humorous banter thrown in. My final gig of the festival was at the O2 Academy across the river, another great listed building and impressive former cinema. The show started with Canadians Pretty Archie (see pic below), followed by the very rocky Hooten Hallers from Missouri (both bands’ first visit to Scotland) and the popular The Dead South, Canadian bluegrass with an edge.

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You might be reading this and wonder if you have been to a completely different festival. Around a dozen different musical offerings on many nights make it a tough choice for festival goers. This year I often simply went by what hadn’t been sold out yet or was easy to get to if the weather was particularly adverse (it was in fact, fairly OK for this time of the year, phew). I also tried to make it to a few venues I had never been to in the years before.

You don’t need to move here like I did to enjoy what Glasgow has to offer, but this exciting Scottish city is definitely worth a visit, especially during Celtic Connections. Read more about previous editions of the festival (2016, 2017, 2018) and a guide to Glasgow during Celtic Connections. Hope you’ll join us next year!

Shared Experience: Document Human Rights Film Festival 2018

With all the political upheaval going on in the UK at the moment, it is tempting to want to just hide under a duvet and sleep throught it all. However, once we look outward and explore people’s lives outside our own living environment, we will often find astonishing parallels and might discover a shared human experience we didn’t realise existed.

Document Human Rights Film Festival Glasgow has been around for a decade and a half and this year’s edition took place from 30 November until 2 December 2018 at the Scottish Youth Theatre in the heart of Merchant City. The festival presented 40 feature length and short documentaries – many prize-winning and all inspirational – from around the world plus a number of intriguing discussions with international filmmakers. As every film was only shown once, it was a tough choice, but I still managed to make it to a good range of screenings, which were all fascinating in their own way.

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On Friday night I picked a special screening curated by Creative Interruptions of restored films from the time of the Palestinian revolution, which was followed by a Q&A with Iraqi filmmaker Kassem Hawal. My own knowledge of this part of the world is fairly limited and it was interesting to see that the PLO with their generally military approach to conflict also worked on preserving the local culture, which included a filmmaking unit, aiming to keep alive a collective memory, so important to the survival of any culture. It was a glimpse into a world which the other side tried their best to hide from the people and the wider world. Listening to Hawal talk about his own experience trying to make and distribute films about difficult or controversial topics and a limited budget reminded me how little we really know about non-Western cultures unless we really do our own research. Document Film Festival was therefore a welcome window into an often hidden, multifaceted world.

My first film on day two was a nearly 2.5 hour long meditative piece by experimental American filmmaker Ben Russell entitled ‘Good Luck’, which explores the differences and similarities of two groups of men working in the mining trade in vastly different conditions in Serbia and Suriname and was shot on Super 16mm film. As there were some tech problems (later resolved) and as I was feeling pretty rotten because of a cold, I decided to leave after about half an hour, but sincerely hope there will be another chance to see this film. It was received very well at the festival.

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I returned to the Scottish Youth Theatre later that night for a screening of Chaos by Syrian filmmaker Sarah Fattahi, who is currently based in Vienna. The film portrays three Syrian women living in exile with very different stories but united in their experience of trauma and all the complexity it involves. Sadly, a workshop with the filmmaker scheduled for the same day had to be cancelled, but we were lucky to have a skype Q&A with Fattahi touching on the topics covered in the film. I was really impressed by Fattahi’s work and approach and will definitely keep an eye out for any future films.

The last film I saw was probably my favourite and was very moving from start to finish. In ‘A Woman Captured’ filmmaker Bernadett Tuza-Ritter had unprecedented access to the life of Hungarian woman Marish for a year and a half and followed her from a situation of what can only be described as modern slavery (like an estimated 45 million people worldwide!) to standing on her own two feet and forging a positive future for herself and her family. I was close to tears several times when I saw Marish getting treated literally worse than any animal and the difficulties she faced escaping this terrible situation. In times where cuts to social budgets are the norm in this country, too, it begs the question what we are doing in our own communities to avoid such terrible abuse. Not easy viewing, but with (luckily) a hopeful ending, it motivated me to keep fighting against injustice. There are certainly plenty of opportunities for all of us to do so.

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After an empowering weekend of films and discussions I highly recommend checking out this small but important film festival, which boasted an incredibly dense programme of brilliant documentaries you won’t see in your local Cineworld. Yes, it can be difficult to take a closer look at issues around the world most of us are lucky not to have to deal with on a daily basis. However, those you care about human rights will instantly find their tribe at events like Document. It was easy to get talking to other attendees and the dedicated and friendly festival producers and volunteers (see pic above), many of them students of human rights and similar degrees. I had never been to the venue before, but will definitely look out for future events there as it is in such a central location and had a nice vibe about it.

I’m already looking forward to Dardishi Festival, a new feminist zine and arts festival happening in Glasgow from 8-10 March 2019. Their fundraising booklet with women’s writing and art (see below) is really beautiful and partnering with Document was a great idea. It’s so good to see smaller festivals supporting each other. They often get less press than bigger events with larger marketing budgets, but like with Document, the programme quality is often at least as high. In fact, finding local festivals and helping them thrive could be your new year’s resolution, how about that?!

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A Honky Tonkin’ Great Time at The Long Road Festival 2018

It’s always exciting to be there for the first ever edition of a new festival and I’m very glad I made it to the inaugural The Long Road Festival (7-9 September 2018) at Stanford Hall, near Rugby. After having been led down the wrong motorway by our Satnav on Friday afternoon and arriving a bit later than anticipated we were joking that the seemingly never-ending road we followed to get to the festival location was surely what it was named after!

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We missed a few of Friday night’s acts, but got there just in time for rocky UK Americana outfit Case Hardin on the Front Porch stage (which looked like a wood cabin including smoke coming out of the chimney!), who I hadn’t seen for way too long. I then headed over to the Interstate stage for London-based country music quartet The Wandering Hearts and finished up inside the Honky Tonk venue for a set by Northerner Twinnie, who I had never heard of before, but who impressed with her voice and positive energy. It had gotten quite cold by then and I decided to call it a night in order to get the best out of the rest of the weekend.

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Saturday started with a real bang as it was time for the Women in Country in the Round slot in the Honky Tonk bar (inside the ‘building’ on the right in the pic below), one of the best festival sessions all weekend. It featured Irish-born but now London-based Megan O’Neill, UK country singer Laura Oakes and Texan country artist and a former ‘The Voice’ winner Danielle Bradbery. Luckily, most of my favourite artists were scheduled inside the cosy Honky Tonk, a brilliantly designed nod to Nashville music city, which just felt like actually being in the States! So while it wasn’t the best of festival weather outside, we had a front row table for a long list of absolutely superb acts, most of whom I’d seen separately on various occasions and are all well worth a listen.

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The Loose Music takeover really made my Saturday with my only complaint being the disappointingly short half hour sets for most artists. We spent most of the afternoon happily cooped up inside the Honky Tonk listening to hours and hours of brilliant live music courtesy of Yola Carter (UK), Caroline Spence (USA), Erin Rae (USA), William The Conquerer (UK), Frontier Ruckus (USA) and Danny and the Champions. I also managed to catch the always amazing Angaleena Presley earlier that day and, to top it all off, listened to a fabulous set by Lee Ann Womack (see pic below), who should have really been one of the headliners, my first time seeing her live.

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Sunday was the only really sunny day and by that time all of us knew the venues inside and out and were just enjoying moving between the different areas. There was again a packed programme from around lunchtime until late. I saw blues duo Andrew Alli & Josh Small (USA), UK Americana artist Danni Nicholls, New Orleans-based Luke Winslow-King (with fab Italian guitarist Roberto Luti) and Ashley Campbell (see pic below), who had some very witty songs and sounded a lot more Americana than I had thought.

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I also caught Dori Freeman (USA), Charlie Worsham (USA), who made some lovely comments on how appreciative UK audiences are, Emily Barker’s more Americana side, some of Elizabeth Cook’s (USA) set, who was very popular with some of my friends and UK country duo The Shires closing the main stage that night. My favourite set all weekend though, has got to be The Lone Bellow (USA) on the Interstate Stage (see pic below) It never ceases to amaze me with how much energy and fun these guys perform and cannot imagine anyone not getting blown away by their beautiful songs and great stage presence.

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Apart from the live music, there was also a film screening, ‘ Born in Bristol’ on the birth of country music, dance classes, stunning vintage cars on display, the family area Possum County with games and music, wild swimming (though with the temperatures we had, I doubt many braved the cold water) and a good selection of food and drink stalls. The veggie and vegan options included burritos (my fav that weekend), pizza, burgers, sweet potato fries and buddha bowls and there were also various breakfast choices and hot drinks until the evening.

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If there was anything the organisers might reconsider for next year it would be the very strict checks at entering the arena. I don’t usually attend festivals where the camping is fenced off and it made it feel a bit impersonal and unnecessary for the kind of crowd this festival attracted. Any kind of food, alcohol and even umbrellas were officially banned, while security searches were minimal. On the plus side, I was delighted to see that dogs, like sweet Roxy below, were allowed (this year only as day visitors, in future, hopefully overnight, just like at e.g. Maverick Festival and Shrewsbury Folk Festival). As far as I’m concerned, four-legged festival attendees always add to a relaxed atmosphere and it was so great to meet so many festival first timers.

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What really made the first The Long Road festival stand out was the excellent line-up from the Country, Americana and Roots music scenes, well done Baylen Leonard and team. Yes, it was a little sad that long-anticipated headliner Carrie Underwood had to pull out at the last minute for health reasons, but the huge range of quality acts, great sound on most stages and the beautifully designed festival venue all made for an outstanding event, which is most definitely here to stay! Better get next year’s tickets as soon as you can.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend pass for the 2018 festival in exchange for a personal review of the event. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.