Fly Away With Me: World Travel Market 2016

Living in London has many perks and one of them is that some of the largest events in any industry take place right here. Of course, World Travel Market, which took over the Excel from 7-9 November 2016, is not exactly a festival as such, but it comes pretty close to feeling like one if you’re a travel addict, blogger, or both. It’s a huge event and with nearly 50000 exhibitors from around the world and a long list of presentations and networking sessions on offer, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. In order to narrow it down a bit, I decided to focus on four areas this year: Travel Blogging, Creative Tourism, Responsible Tourism and Women in Travel and came away with some fascinating insights from all events I attended.

World Travel Market

Travel Blogging has become a huge growth sector in recent years with destination marketers, travel brands and influencers getting a chance to mingle and learn from each other at a lot of events – plus bloggers get access to the press lounge! On Friday, I attended at two events on mobile and live social media and video. We heard from digital communications experts like Flagship Consulting, bloggers, e.g. Niamh Shields of Eat Like A Girl,  and vloggers, such as Evan Edinger and Hannah Witton, who are using video as a blogging tool and I was impressed with their stories of how it is helping them to connect with their audiences, one video at a time. The next day the focus was on personalisation for bloggers and brands and influencer strategy with presentations from travel brands, such as  Cheapflights and Skyscanner, who work with content creators and shared some interesting details on how each of them manage those collaborations. Traverse hosted all of the above events and they are organising a blogger conference in April 2017, see you there!

World Trade Market Press Centre

Another fascinating session and the one closest to my heart was the Creative Tourism presentation on Tuesday. The title ‘Creative Tourism: A Necessary Update’ didn’t sound especially creative or promising, but the session most definitely was! Caroline Couret, the CEO of the Creative Tourism Network, based in Barcelona, presented a number of fascinating case studies on how destinations from different countries, such as Saint Jean Port Joli in Quebec as well as Ibiza Creativa, can attract creative travellers from around the world. Of course, the challenge remains for destinations and brands working in this market to stay commercially viable while providing options for a target group of highly independent and diverse travellers, an issue which I’ve also experienced in my own niche of festival travel. But how encouraging to see that this area has become such a growth market in recent years and is starting to be taken seriously around the world.

The World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016 were also announced during WTM 2016. This was probably the most inspiring event of all I attended, every single nominee sounded like an exciting forward-thinking business and the winners came from all four corners of the world. The overall winners this year were Lemon Tree Hotels in India (socially inclusive work environment and employment for people with disabilities and from disadvantaged backgrounds) and Tren Ecuador (a community-based tourism initiative supporting local people along a train route), both pictures below accepting their awards. I was particularly impressed, for instance, that all Lemon Tree Hotel supervisors are trained in Indian Sign Language and in the case of Tren Ecuador, how lots of smaller projects successfully combine to create a livelihood for many rural families. Further winners included the Sam Veasna Center in Cambodia (wildlife conservation), the Friends International ChildSafe Movement (responsible tourism campaign) and Elevate Destinations (innovation by tour operator). It was also really encouraging to see how many of the organisations and sponsors had female leaders presenting and receiving the awards.

WRTD Awards

Which also makes for a nice segway to my last focus at WTM 2016: Women in Travel. As there were too many events clashing on the Wednesday, I only made it to the last panel session of the day-long Women in Travel Meetup, but was extremely glad I had done so as it was the perfect WTM closing event for me. The discussion organised by Alessandra Alonso of Everyday Mentor focused on female ‘start-up stars’ and we heard from a diverse group of speakers about their individual projects. One of them was Carolyn Pearson, who started Maiden Voyage, a women’s business travel network out of the simple need of wanting to meet other business women travelling alone and Natalia Komis whose start-up I Am Adventures takes artists, entrepreneurs and social innovators on creative adventures around the world. The panel members reminded the attendees to always concentrate on your own business mission and to make sure to join a network. The informal networking session which followed was proof of the friendly and productive atmosphere with interesting connections made with business women from various countries (more on the blog soonish).

So if you’re an established or aspiring travel blogger, destination marketer, translator (I did meet one other linguist specialising in tourism!) or simply passionate about travelling, WTM is the event for you, see you next November!

Disclaimer: This blog claims no credit for any images used in this post. All three images are copyright to its respectful owners, in this case the the official WTM photographers.

Stillness in the Midst of Chaos: The OM Yoga Show 2016

One year ago I was a brand new yoga convert and attended the OM Yoga Show for the first time. I wrote about my experience as a yoga newbie and have since been doing my best to keep a regular practice going throughout the year. I also went to two excellent yoga festivals in the summer, Yoga Connects near Rugby, and the inaugural Soul Circus in the Cotswolds. The UK has seen a real yoga boom in recent years and the OM Yoga show, which took place from 21-13 October 2016, is always a good place to find out about new trends and take a few classes with expert teachers.

yoga-class-om-show-2016

Having been to a talk by Dan Peppiatt of Yoga Like Water at Yoga Connects in July, I was keen to try out one of his sessions and the first one I took part in was a blind-folded yoga class. Yes, I  know, sounds scary, right? We got each given an eye mask and pretty much hoped for the best! Just listening to the instructor’s voice without any visual queues required quite a bit of trust and finding balance with your eyes closed turned even the most basic asanas into a nice challenge. Do try it at home and see how you feel. Doing yoga blind-folded was definitely a real eye-opener for me!

The second session by Dan I attended was all about preparing your hands and fingers for arm balances and, phew, there weren’t actually any handstands involved in the half-hour session. Instead, Dan talked us through various muscle groups and movements, which are all essential in order to be able to balance upside down or even just for crow pose. It’s ultimately more about technique rather than strength (good to know). It was a very interesting lesson in patience and we learned that breaking any process down into individual steps is a great way of achieving a long-term goal. Something which is not only useful in the yoga world, but does also come in handy in other parts of our daily lives.

rainbow-yoga

Another workshop I really enjoyed was the Rainbow Kids Yoga class (see above) on how to get children of different ages excited about yoga. We went through a variety of ‘journeying’ and other playful sequences including taking the kids, or in our case, a bunch of adults channelling their inner child for half an hour, on a trip to New York (or wherever else takes your fancy) which included riding the ocean waves and flying across the sky. Yep, it took quite a bit of imagination, but we were all up for it and all the laughing, dancing and group bonding most certainly released a lot of happy hormones. What a lovely experience!

After having greatly enjoyed one of David Sye’s sessions last year, I was keen to do another class by the Yogabeats founder this time around too. Driven by rhythmic, fairly fast-paced music and lots of food for thought, it was another memorable workshop, the half hour it lasted flying by in no time. Do check out their classes and charity work online, if you want yoga for body and soul and not just in order to keep fit.

Something quite different, but also a nice challenge is the fairly recent trend of aerial yoga, which was a new addition to this year’s show. As was to be expected, it was incredibly popular and alas there were long queues for it on each day, but it’s  on my list to try sometime, maybe at a yoga festival next year.

Pip & Eugene of Acro Yoga Dance with were also at the show again this year. This brave little girl (see below) was definitely a step ahead of most of us, so great to see the yogis of the future!

acroyoga-om-show-2016

I also made sure I took out some time for talks on meditation and mindfulness, which are all part of a well-rounded yoga practice and something which I still find even harder to make time for than the asana-based work. The first session I attended was by Kat Farrants, founder of online yoga platform Movement for Modern Life and focused on creating a personal home practice. The other was by Neil Seligman who talked about a related topic, how to sustain a daily mindfulness practice. There were a lot of similarities between the two speakers. Both had come from a fast-paced work environment and performance-focused culture and had been keen to find a more balanced lifestyle. So both of them developed a personal approach to include yoga and mindfulness in their daily lives. The secret? Not rocket science, of course. Instead it is about breaking down your practice into bite-sized chunks, creating a dedicated mindfulness area in your home and sticking with it (the hard part, obviously)! It has definitely motivated me to keep up my own home practice, as imperfect as it often is.

In fact, the OM yoga show mirrors quite well what life is like for most of us. There is a lot of noise all around us and we are constantly being pulled in many different directions. The important part is to learn to stay centred amidst the chaos and focus on our personal goals. And just like last year, after three yoga-filled days, I came away with lots of good tips for my personal practice, a few nice product samples and some interesting new yoga contacts. Mission staying motivated for a regular yoga practice most definitely accomplished!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a one day press pass for the 2016 event in exchange for a personal review of the show and mentions on social media. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers.

A Bookish Weekend Up North: The Manchester Literature Festival 2016

manchester-literature-festival-2016-logoI really love discovering a city through its cultural venues and this October I spent a weekend in Manchester to attend a few of the Manchester Literature Festival events. Running from 7 to 23 October 2016 and in its 11th year, the city-wide festival offered over 80 readings and talks for book lovers. I managed to catch these great events:

An Evening with Jackie Kay Manchester-based writer Jackie Kay, is always a pleasure to listen to. The event at Halle St Peter’s was chaired by Rachel Cooke, who guided the conversation from Jackie’s childhood with her adoptive parents in Glasgow, to her early years as a young poet up to the present time becoming Scotland’s ‘makar’ (poet laureate) in March 2016 and planning a new project based on visiting all the Scottish islands (sounds fascinating!). There is always such an interesting contrast between Jackie’s bubbly, outgoing personality and her thoughtful, melodic poetry, often dealing with some serious subject matter. I was glad I picked up her memoir Red Dust Road, which chronicles the search for her birth parents in Scotland and Nigeria, after the reading. While the book is partly incredibly sad, it is a fascinating, multi-layered read, which is also extremely funny and honest.

Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi This event was held at the Central Library and featured one of Sudan’s best known poets who has been based in the UK since 2012. After a bilingual reading of his poetry in Arabic and English, the writer was interviewed by author Travis Elborough. I’m always interested to learn about cultures I don’t know much about and languages I don’t speak. As a translator, this often reminds me of the language barriers that need to be overcome in order for different cultures to understand each other and poetry is definitely one of the most beautiful ways to accomplish this.

ann-cleeves-event-manchester

Shetland with Ann Cleeves When I was visiting Glasgow for Celtic Connections last January someone recommended the TV series Shetland to me. Having never been a fan of crime dramas or novels, I reluctantly gave it a go, but was quickly hooked by it, like so many of us have been. So of course I jumped at the chance to see the author of the Shetland series, Ann Cleeves, in conversation with lead scriptwriter Gaby Chiappe and actor Alison O’Donnell, who plays Tosh in the series. The event (see image above) chaired by broadcaster Erica Wagner provided a fascinating insight into the writing and adaptation process and it was lovely to see how well the collaboration seems to have worked in this case.

As it was my first visit to Manchester I also tried to get a good bit of – mostly literary – sightseeing in over the weekend. Here are some of my highlights:

chethams-library-manchester-1

Literature-related museums and places: The John Rylands Library is part of the University of Manchester and the historic building dates back to 1824. I was even more impressed with a tour of Chetham’s Library (pictured above) the oldest free public reference library in the United Kingdom, which, together with the renowned school of music, was established as early as 1653. Not specifically literature-related, but well worth a visit is The People’s History Museum. It has some fascinating exhibits and brings the history of working people in Britain to life, right up to the present day. Second hand and comic bookshop Paramount Books, near the Shudehill bus station is a great place for stocking up on reading material about the city and further afield.

nexus-art-cafe-manchester

Cosy cafes & pubs (with lots of veggie options): I ate at quite a few places during the weekend, which included The Earth Café (great veggie curry and desserts) in the basement of the Manchester Buddhist Centre. Another favourite was the fairly well hidden Nexus Art Café (cakes, coffee, snacks, see their courtyard above) as well as Common (extremely yummy veggie chili cheese fries). For a coffee or tea break you can’t go wrong with a visit to North Tea Power or Home Sweet Home. On Sunday night I headed to Odd Bar for a few drinks and some (by chance excellent) live Americana with The Wicked Path. I didn’t have enough time to make it to HOME and The Deaf Institute (they apparently do a great vegan hangover all day brunch on Sundays) this time, but did take a look at The Pilcrow Pub (see below), one of Manchester’s newest community ventures, which was largely built by volunteers (how cool is that?!).

pilcrow-pub-manchester

Meet the Music Makers: Belle Roscoe

One of my favourite live music discoveries of 2016 has been Belle Roscoe, an Australian sibling duo who have recently settled in London (at least for now!). I’ve been wanting to interview Julia and Matt ever since I’ve been at a few of their fantastic live shows earlier this year and we finally got around to it. One of the most likeable bands I’ve come across in a long time, they shared some of their experiences playing gigs, recording and touring in the UK and further afield, so read on to find out more about what makes this exciting band tick.

belle-roscoe-1

Life is a Festival: I’m so glad you guys are based in the UK now and looks like moving to London was an excellent decision. Having grown up in Melbourne and lived in Paris for a while, why did you pick London and what do you love about it so far?

Belle Roscoe: Haha we’re not really sure where home is anymore!! We moved to London in March due to the great reaction and support we received from some shows we played in 2015. It felt right to be based here for the next stages for Belle Roscoe. The music industry feels strong and healthy and the energy of the city is intoxicating… We just hope we can survive it, gees it’s expensive!!

Life is a Festival: You seem to have a really good relationship with your manager Megan, how did you find each other and how has it helped shaping your musical career here in the UK and further afield?

Belle Roscoe: We met at one of our first shows in London in September 2014 … Funny enough it was a gig that we weren’t very keen to play! She was in the audience, we started talking post show and we quickly became very good friends. Meg is also an Aussie and is carving out an amazing career as a film producer in London. Quite organically, Meg started introducing us to music industry people in London… We then developed into a great team and Meg took on role as manager, though she prefers to be referred to as a facilitator! Since her involvement, she has created amazing opportunities for Belle Roscoe around the world. We’ve toured and played in Nashville & Memphis, Sweden, Croatia, Germany & all around the UK… In fact we’ve played over 100 shows since March and had an absolute ball doing it. We are super lucky to have met Meg both on a personal and business level.

Life is a Festival: Sounds just perfect! Let’s talk about your music. You’ve got a pretty unique, genre-defying sound, you’re both versatile musicians and your voices harmonise beautifully. What I’m always enjoying most at your live shows is the infectious, positive energy the whole band seems to have, it’s really inspiring! Tell me a little bit about makes you tick as a band and about the band members you’ve worked with since getting to the UK.

Belle Roscoe: Music is something quite innate in us as siblings. We have not been musically trained in any traditional way… We are self taught and as a result we just feel what we play. Sometimes not understanding every nuance of technique allows you more freedom, which in turn lets you feel and enjoy it more, rather than analysing it. We have worked on our performance over time and naturally a live performance improves if you are playing a lot. The performance energy comes from a combination of things. Family upbringing, life’s joys & struggles with the industry and personally and now it also stems from the appreciation of support we now have behind the band. Support and encouragement always helps a band lift. We hate letting anyone down, so that’s probably why get out on stage and try to give it everything we’ve got. The band is also quite international and has a unique chemistry as a consequence. We have a french drummer, an Australian guitarist and an English bass player… Touring together is bloody hilarious!

Life is a Festival: What I love about your music is that there is such a balanced focus on both intelligent lyrics and memorable melodies, which is no small feat to achieve. How do your songs come about, who writes them and how do you go from the initial idea to the final version?

Belle Roscoe: That’s a good compliment. Thank you! We labour over the lyrics so it’s nice when people notice them. The melodies come from our upbringing, we’ve been very influenced by our parents records and great musical taste. We had an intro into the best of the 50s/60s/70s… Dusting off a record and placing the needle always seemed like such an amazing experience! By osmosis we were drawn to bands that offered strong melodies both instrumentally and vocally. As far as the creation of our songs go… Sometimes we don’t even know. We just draw on our own experiences and emotions and find time to write about it. We are both song-writers and often individually come up with a melody and or chord progression and work it from there. We are very honest with one another and have learnt to trust in each other’s feedback and know when a song is working or not. When it does work, we both feel it and we finish the song no matter what… One of our songs, Mary Mary took 3 years to finish!

Life is a Festival: You’ve just been in the studio recording some new material following the release of your limited edition EP ‘Belle Roscoe’ in this country last year and are about to hit the road for your first German tour as well as some very exciting shows in Cuba. Tell me more about what’s planned for the next couple of months.

Belle Roscoe: We recently hit a couple of London studios and are tracking 3 new tracks. It feels great to be back in a studio and creating new songs. Getting in the studio and trying to create what you hear in your head is always a good experience, difficult sometimes. Only the other day we were in the studio, struggling to get a take, everyone was tired and falling apart. We pushed through and the magic happened! Germany is going to be a lot of fun. We are hitting the road with a good friend Jaimi Faulkner – hanging out with him and his band is going o be a lot of fun. We are playing 20 acoustic shows throughout Germany between the 6th and the 24th October 2016. And yes, it’s out first time to Germany! Cuba, how bloody cool is that!! It is going to be such a great way to end the year. We’ve never been there so we are going to dive in head first! Other than the gigs we have booked we plan to also write and record while we are there. We are actually running a very very cool competition for our fans to win the chance to join us in Cuba.  All they have to do is buy some merch from our website and they could win a trip of a lifetime for 2 people! They will come and hang out with Belle Roscoe – watch some shows, smoke cigars and drink rum!! Check out our website and social media for more details: www.belleroscoe.com

Thanks to Julia & Matt for taking the time to answer these questions! Keep an eye out on social media for when and where you can catch Belle Roscoe live in the near future. I highly recommend giving them a listen!

Life Ain’t No Dress Rehearsal: Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2016

It was Stephen Fearing’s song ‘No Dress Rehearsal’ (based on a Mark Twain Quote) which summed up this year’s Shrewsbury Folk Festival (26-29 August 2016) for me. Living in the moment doesn’t get much better than meeting old and making new friends in a place where the positive energy is palpable and smiling at strangers is actually ‘the done thing’. While many festivals appear to be superficial entertainment for the masses on the outside, SFF is a great example how through common interests people can create something very special, a beautiful village for folk-music lovers which gets built again every August in Shrewsbury, Shropshire.

shrewsbury sunshine

The story already begins when you set up your tent. I’ve only been coming to SFF for the past 5 years (it celebrated its 20th birthday this year, congrats!), but every time I return, within a few minutes of arriving I’m already deep in conversation with another steward (one of the nearly 500 of us) or festival goer about our favourite acts of the previous year and what we’re most looking forward to this time around. There is always someone who lends a helping hand, has a spare tent peg or a hot cup of tea just when you need it.

TequilaSunrise SFF 2016

Having joined the 2012 stewards team quite last minute helping out with the Task Force, I’ve been a part of Artist Reception for the past four years now. It’s a small but busy team checking in musicians, providing assistance and food and drink as well as guarding the artist entrance and car park. One of the main reasons why SFF has such a great reputation is its excellent organisation and the dedication of everyone involved from the festival directors to each individual steward. How lovely to see the same smiling faces every year (pictured below Judy with Gromit & Leona May), it just makes you feel instantly at home.

Judy with Gromit & Leona May

After a busy summer of travelling the Balkans and four other festivals (Beyond The Border, Yoga Connects, Cambridge Folk Festival & Soul Circus), I really wanted to have a stress-free bank holiday weekend and Shrewsbury Folk Festival is always the perfect event for it. There are plenty of food vendors on site and the town centre is only a short scenic stroll away along the River Severn. Being on the site of the West Midlands Showgrounds, it has good toilet facilities and, in the past few years, even started offering ‘shower queue entertainment’ in the form of pop-up sets by up and coming artists in the mornings.

yoga SFF 2016

There is also one yoga session a day (100+ people at every class!) in the dance tent for adults plus two shorter ones for families on three of the festival days and even though they were a tad on the early side (8.30am) I was very glad I went along. The perfect way of waking up your muscles after a night in the tent! I also made it to the beginners’ whistle and flute workshop this year and can now play a pretty decent version of Mary Had a Little Lamb and The Bear Dance, for whatever that’s worth.

Rosanne Cash SFF 2016

And now to the music! It was a great line-up again, as usual, and I particularly enjoyed seeing previous favourites Ten Strings and a Goat Skin, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (plus a great solo set by Stephen Fearing), John Jones and friends including Seth Lakeman, Raghu Dixit (sing along challenge of the weekend!) and Barnstar! again. I was also excited to catch US singer songwriter Richard Shindell, Irish musician Andy Irvine, songwriter and broadcaster Tom Robinson, London-based The Boondock Hippy, fab local band Two Blank Pages, The Kefaya Music Collective and The Urban Folk Quartet for the first time. One of my highlights of this year’s festival was the set by Rosanne Cash and her husband John Leventhal (who happens to be an excellent guitar player). Despite the early morning yoga I managed to make it to the ceilidh on Sunday night with the excellent Blackbeard’s Tea Party creating a wonderfully joyous atmosphere. Loved it!

Dulcimer Workshop SFF 2016

While it’s impossible not to have a good time at SFF, the 2016 edition was definitely one of my favourites so far. Sitting around a table in the onsite Berwick Bar on the Monday night and singing along to folk and rock favourites with everyone else with a friendly dog called Lola on my lap and a pint of Kingstone Press cider in my hand, I couldn’t believe we’d have to wait another year for this magic to happen all over again. But, as Stephen Fearing sings in his song, ‘Time doesn’t know reversal, life is no dress rehearsal’. Especially in a world so full of conflict, it really is time to ‘try and act accordingly’, to enjoy the good times while they last, to be kind to fellow strangers and grateful for those special moments. Shrewsbury Folk Festival definitely does its bit to make the world a better place (as cheesy as this may sound) and I’ve already got the 2017 festival dates firmly marked in my calendar. See you there!

Mind Over Matter: Soul Circus Yoga & Wellness Festival 2016

I started my yoga journey nearly a year ago and it must have been around the same time when the idea for Soul Circus (19 – 21 August 2016) was conceived by the festival founders, Matt, Ella and Roman. When Matt contacted me about the event earlier this year I was very impressed by their concept: a wellbeing-focused yoga festival with music and food thrown into the equation and thereby bridging the gap between the yoga, music, foodie and wellness communities. It was an experiment I was most happy to be part of.

yoga foto 3 main tent

YOGA: The top reason most of us gathered for Soul Circus in a rural part of Gloucestershire on a fairly rainy, windy weekend in August was the yoga classes with teachers from the UK and abroad. Three distinct yoga areas (Hot Tipi, Experience Tipi & Main Sail Tent) plus an arial yoga set-up offered plenty of options to choose from. As I had hurt my hand just two days before the festival and felt a bit under the weather in general, I soon realised that instead of energetically throwing myself into all sorts of exciting workshops, I’d have to adjust my expectations to match my physical and emotional state. How refreshing to then discover a class by the lovely Kate Lister whose positive energy was seriously infectious and we found ourselves giggling more than once while trying to balance in a particular pose. And there was even group singing, woohoo. Without the self-imposed pressure of having to try as many classes as possible, I opted for quite a few meditative and theory-focused sessions instead. This turned out to be an excellent choice as it not only helped me to keep my energy up throughout the weekend despite the partly adverse weather conditions, it also inspired me to focus more on the spiritual side of yoga. The mindfulness talk by Charlie Taylor Rugman in association with Warrior Wear (another inspiring yoga start-up story) in the Experience Tipi on Saturday as well as his pranayama class the next morning provided a lot of food for thought and motivated me to further improve my own home yoga and meditation practice. The only class I decided to go to despite my inclination to hang out on one of the cosy beanbags around the corner instead was a yin yoga class by Evelyn Cribbin. I know I need more yin to balance out the many yang aspects in my life, yet this has always been the most challenging part of my yoga practice. But hey, I got through it (Evelyn’s soothing voice and clear instructions were a great help) and, in time, I might even learn to enjoy it. The last session of the festival for me was a very interesting and down to earth yoga anatomy class with Emily Young. In the large Main Sail Tent we had 90 minutes to explore pretty much every muscle in our bodies, do some partner work and learn how this knowledge could benefit our posture and lives in general.

Ushti Baba Soul Circus

MUSIC: Being a big fan of quality live music I was very curious what The Fat Hat Collective from Bristol would come up with on their live music stage. Let me tell you, they didn’t disappoint! In fact, it was a great pity so many of the yoga classes overlapped with some excellent band slots, but I’ve noted all their details and they will most likely appear on another part of this blog at some stage. Their mix of dub, gypsy, folky, jazz and R&B sounds plus some spoken word and even a Mongolian acrobatics display were wonderfully eclectic and all excellent. In case you’d like a taste of the fab music we enjoyed for three days, make sure you give these guys and the rest of the collective members a listen: Lounge Cat Ideals, Mount Nakara, Snufkin, The Inexplicables (who I missed as I was already wrapped up in my sleeping bag by that time, but who come recommended), Ushti Baba & Solus. Kudos not only to the musicians but also to the stage crew who successfully battled wind and rain most of the weekend to provide us with quality sounds!

breakfast Soul Circus

FOOD: I admit I’m a big fan of burrito and wood-fired pizza stalls at festivals which would be a great addition next time around. However, the food on offer at Soul Circus was of some of the best quality I’ve ever had in a festival setting! Raw vegan chef Jay Halford and team as well as the always cheerful Asparagasm crew did a particularly good job of offering a yummy selection of breakfasts, mains and desserts all day long. In addition, there were also other options, such as a curry and salad stall, (vegan) ice cream and croquettes. Some of the festival partners, such as Plenish, Wholefoods Cheltenham (the knowledgeable local team did great wine & cheese tasting sessions), Positivitea and Rude Health also offered snacks, hot/cold drinks and breakfast items plus there was a daily gin happy hour provided by The Little Gin Company in the Kit and Ace lounge, so it is well worth upgrading to a VIP ticket. With their concept of working with select sponsors/partners who enhance the festival experience while helping to provide funding for the event, Soul Circus seems to have struck a positive balance. This might not work for every festival on the planet, but particularly in the high end sector, it can be a clever and sustainable strategy, if the partners are well-aligned with the values of the event.

Meet the Founders Talk Soul Circus

WELLNESS & LEARNING: With the weather being less than ideal, especially on the Saturday, many festival attendees took advantage of the onsite sauna, hot tubs and complimentary treatments by Liz Earle Spa, who also provided some luxurious toiletries in the showers and toilet block. I personally greatly enjoyed the ‘Food and Travel’ talk in the Kit and Ace lounge by Tom Perkins, author of ‘Spices & Spandex’, who told us of his –  sometimes very adventurous – travels, mostly by bike, around the world and the deeply inspiring encounters with locals he had had along the way. Another session hosted by Kit and Ace which proved very interesting, was the ‘Meet the Founders’ talk with Plenish founder Kara Rosen, and Soul Circus founders Matt Millar and Ella Guilding. As with so many things in life what really counts is having a good idea, finding business partners who complement your own skills, getting genuine target audience feedback, tweaking the product or service accordingly, getting influencers on board and keep working hard towards your envisaged goal.

tent village Soul Circus

All in all, a well-planned first edition of a growing event with a lot of future potential (not only) for the UK the yoga community in the years to come. I made some lovely new yogi friends (among them @76sunflowers, her own review here) from different areas of the UK and further afield and was genuinely impressed by the many friendly volunteer helpers who always seemed to have a smile on their faces. And even if you aren’t a yoga addict (just yet), with this much entertainment and pampering on offer, you could happily spend a day or too relaxing, eating nurturing food and enjoying the fantastic live music. If there is anything that could still be optimised it would probably be keeping the yoga tents and the music stage a bit further apart, so each can be enjoyed fully and separately. It would also be wonderful if bottled water used across the site could be switched to mostly tap water and the transport options for train users could be improved in order to further decrease the ecological footprint of the festival. Other than that, Ella, Roman, Matt and the rest of the team are definitely onto a successful festival format, which is bound to add greatly to the growing yoga festival circuit in the UK.

Read the Life is a Festival interview with Matt Millar, one of the Soul Circus founders, on how the inaugural festival came about here.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a VIP pass for the 2016 festival in exchange for a personal review and mentions on social media. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers.

Mind The Roundabouts: Cambridge Folk Festival 2016

While it’s exciting to be at an event for the first time and discovering all its ins and outs, I love returning to a festival and being able to look forward to what I know will be a great music-filled weekend. Cambridge Folk Festival (28-31 July 2016) is one of those examples as it’s always impeccably organised and runs like clockwork, but at the same time has a friendly, laid-back vibe.

This year’s festival started for me in a very relaxed fashion as I had plenty of time on Thursday to set up the happy tent at Coldham’s Common, head into town to get supplies and then make my way over to Cherry Hinton Hall where the festival began as usual with Stage 2 and the Club Tent plus The Den swinging into action around 6pm. I decided to start with Imar, a fab inventive Glasgow-based five piece trad band with Scottish, Irish and Manx roots. After a veggie burrito dinner I headed over to The Den, a smaller stage with a cosy living-room feel which always hosts a number of exciting not so well-known bands. The first set I caught was by Bristol-based Heg & the Wolf Chorus, who call their mesmerising musical storytelling “theatrical folk music”. This was followed by the very energetic brother duo Echo Town, made up of Richard and Robert Harrison whose rhythm-based live show included didgeridoo, djembe, a drum set and guitar. It only took a few songs for the audience to realise this was the perfect opportunity to get up from the cosy rugs spread around the tent and start dancing their socks off, which we did!

Cambridge Folk Festival 2016

After a quiet night at the campground, which again had everything one could possibly wish for, including good showers, a live music tent (more about this later) and food and drink until the early hours, I caught the official shuttle back to the festival site in the morning. I grabbed a coffee and some breakfast and started with a very relaxed songwriting workshop by Chris Wood. Then I headed over to the duck pond for a peaceful yoga and meditation session led by Teresa. A great start to the first festival day.

Although Friday had pretty mixed weather overall this didn’t dampen the spirits of the festival goers in the slightest given the enticing line-up across the three stages. This year featured a lot of excellent Irish artists, the first of which for me was Lisa O’Neill, who I’d seen in Dublin before and is one of those songwriters whose talent most definitely belies their age. The rest of the day was spent sampling the various musical offerings and finding new favourites including Americana duo The Mike + Ruthy Band, who are hailing from Upstate New York and even have their own festival, The Hoot. In the evening it was time for a set by Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall on Stage 1 and I stayed on for Gogol Bordello, whose Gypsy punk sounds were a nice contrast to the more traditional acts who were on during most of the day.

Leyla McCalla

On Saturday I started the day again with some excellent coffee and another songwriting workshop, this time by English folk revival superstar Eliza Carthy, who was just as entertaining, funny and thoughtful in a smaller setting as she was on stage with her 12-piece Wayward Band. The next highlight of the day lasted for nearly three hours as the Festival Session on Stage 2 hosted by Brian O’Neill was like a high-profile open mic with top musicians and newcomers (Le Vent du Nord, Världens Bänd, Sam Kelly, Jack Cookson, Kadia) passing the musical baton every few minutes, just fabulous! One of Saturday’s standout sets was by Leyla McCalla (formerly cellist with The Carolina Chocolate Drops) and band. Her repertoire and arrangements influenced by Cajun, Haitian and Creole music were simply beautiful. Another excellent Americana band, the Massachusetts-based all male quartet Darlingside, became one of the festival favourites over the weekend, having been given a Stage 1 slot at the last minute to replace Charles Bradley, who had sadly been taken ill. After a jam-packed day I was very excited to see Christy Moore on Stage 1. I hadn’t seen the iconic Irish singer, now in his early seventies, live since the 1990s and was pleasantly surprised that his classic songs sounded just as fresh and relevant as they had two decades ago. Ably supported by another excellent Irish musician, Declan Sinnott, as well as Seamie O’Dowd and Jimmy Higgins, it was probably my favourite set of the festival weekend. As much as I love folk music from all over the world, there is something about Irish music and voices that touch my heart in a way nothing else can.

Mary Chapin Carpenter 1

The last festival day always approaches way too fast and again I decided to take it easy and go for quality over quantity. Powerful all female five-piece Della Mae from Nashville were a must on my list and I hope they’ll bring their infectious brand of Americana back to the UK very soon. In the evening I greatly enjoyed Mary Chapin Carpenter’s set on Stage 1. It didn’t beat the singalong experience we had with Joan Baez last year, but having never seen her live before, I really enjoyed both her classic songs as well as her newer material and the stage banter in between. I then headed over to The Flower Garden to a fascinating workshop by US folk musicians Anna & Elizabeth who showcased their handmade “crankies”, miraculous scrolls either painted or sewn with fabric to illustrate the story of a sung ballad, a fascinating tradition which the duo have successfully dragged into the modern day and age. I, for one, have been inspired to give crankie-making a go myself over the winter months. Take a look at The Crankie Factory to learn more about them.

Anna & Elizabeth Crankie Workshop

After a break for wood-fired pizza another Irish favourite of mine, Imelda May, took to Stage 1. While the Cambridge audience seemed to take a little while to warm to her very danceable rock’n’roll sound, her version of U2’s “All I Want Is You” with everyone joining in was the most beautiful moment of the set. I ended the night with Hot 8 Brass Band and the musicians from New Orleans seriously blew the proverbial roof off Stage 2. Their set concluded with a parade right through the audience over to the Mojo tent with everyone whooping and clapping along, what a festival finish!

But wait, the real highlight was still to come: the bus trip over to Coldham’s Common, which traditionally leaves the drivers free to go around the three roundabouts on the way as often as they want with happy passengers cheering along like excited school kids. Ah, the simple pleasures of life! I’d also like to give an extra special shout-out to the amazing late night bar tent at the campsite. The best afterparty at the festival, which even attracted some of the official CFF bands, such as Flats & Sharps for a late night set, just added that special extra to an already successful and well-organised event. Well done everyone!