Category Archives: Festival Reviews

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.

Where Yogis Come to Play: Yoga Connects Festival 2016

Yoga festivals have become hugely popular around the world in recent years, so it comes as no surprise that there are also more and more of them starting out in the UK. This summer was the second time Yoga Connects (14-17 July 2016) was held in the stunning surroundings of Stanford Hall, near Rugby, less than an hour on the train from Central London. It’s a boutique festival (only a few hundred people), which focuses on gathering yoga enthusiasts from around the UK and further afield and offers classes by top international teachers, shamanic ceremonies, a holistic area by the lake, SUP yoga (balancing on a surfboard in the water), gong baths, talks on mindfulness and wellbeing as well as live music in the evenings.

Yoga Connects yoga outside Stanford Hall

After setting up my tent, I headed straight to my first yoga session of the festival led by Emma Henry, who taught a lively jivamukti-style class with chanting elements to a live soundtrack of hypnotic grooves courtesy of Filter Coffee, it was time for the shamanic opening ceremony in the Warrior Tent led by Sally Griffin, one of the festival founders. This was followed by the most beautiful music by Peru-based healer and musician Misk’i Takiy, which I could still faintly hear when I was already snuggled up in my sleeping bag.

After a super early volunteer shift, I joined a class by London-based Anusara yoga teacher Katy Bateman in the Stanford Hall ballroom. Lying on my back, gazing at the painted ceiling of this special room made me incredibly grateful to be here this weekend. Katy’s class was really uplifting, grounding and intimate with only about 15 of us practising in the space – well, plus one adorable Jack Russell, Peaches, who had come along with one of the attending yogis.

The session which impressed me the most on Friday afternoon was by Yogi Ashokananda, an Indian-born expert yoga and meditation master. The many different breathing exercises were a timely reminder of the vast amount of knowledge passed on by our ancestors we can all build on if we are open to it. While travelling and festivals are a great adventure and outer journey which continue to inspire and energise me, the inner journey of getting to know ourselves is just as exciting a challenge and a fascinating, lifelong path to follow.

My favourite session all weekend was the charity yoga class in aid of Our Mala, a wonderful London-based non-profit founded by yoga teacher Emily Brett in 2011 and offering yoga and English classes plus additional support to refugees and asylum-seekers. The class was led by Dylan Werner, whose hang drum playing was the perfect intro to a beautifully paced and challenging class (his teaching was clear, humorous and inspiring) with a specially created soundscape by Amir of Rudimental as well some live gong playing by Martyn Cawthorne. It was one of the most peaceful yoga experiences I have had so far, surrounded by nature and practising alongside lots of friendly other yogis.

Yoga Connects Opening night music

I also joined a great Saturday morning class by Canadian-born UK-based vinyasa yoga flow specialist Mercedes Sieff and attended an inspiring mindfulness talk and guided meditation by Brett Moran in the lovely cushion-filled Zen Den tent. With so much calorie-burning and concentration-challenging activity going on, there was luckily enough veggie and vegan food to keep me going all weekend (incl. Caribbean stews, handmade sourdough pizza, brownies, smoothies and Routes Coffee with about five types of milk alternatives!) and I also made sure I had some me-time just lying in the grass with a book. The perfect yoga retreat!

Despite the fact that music was not as much of a priority as at most of the other summer festivals I usually attend, the line-up was wonderfully eclectic. Saturday night in the Warrior Tent started on a quiet note with Brooke Sharkey and Adam Beattie, whose atmospheric sound and musical storytelling had us all under their spell. They were followed by a set by talented indie four-piece Nonta and the final act of the night was 47Soul who had everyone dancing their flip-flops off with their contagious Middle Eastern sound. The following night it was time for the yoga rave! Before that, however, we got treated to an exquisite set played by Shirish Kumar on tabla and Bansuri-player Jason Kalidas and some songs by gifted spiritual singer Aiswarya. Next up were the very good Burnz, a multi-style musical project with a great vibe. Their sound also attracted a few revellers from the nearby motorcycle festival and one or two brave souls even joined in when the yoga mats got rolled out again for the yoga rave organised by Nine Lives. Way to go! As I heard some drumming from the fire circle outside, I ventured over for a bit and we sang some tribal chants dancing around the fire in the dark led by Antarma. Afterwards I returned to the Warrior Tent for another half hour of energetic dancing before retiring to the happy tent for the night.

Yoga Connects slackline fun

There were quite a few festival yogis with me on the train back to London on Sunday night and we were all in a playful, happy mood. It occurred to me then how special it is to get to spend a few days around so many positive thinkers and creative folks. The event felt very safe and relaxed, children and adults were playing and learning new things all the time (e.g. someone brought a slackline, which became the centre of all the non-scheduled activities) and many of the attendees were also yoga teachers with an enviable combined wealth of styles and knowledge. Another thing I really loved was the proximity of the camping area to the yoga tents and food stalls, so you could quickly pop back to your tent for your mat, some snacks or a little nap if needed. While a few of the organisational details (more showers, maybe creating a proper festival brochure, getting the plastic-free ethos and recycling policy across in a positive way, less gaps in the class schedule, additional food vendors etc.) may still need to be ironed out in future years, what makes a festival truly great is leaving enough space for spontaneity to unfold and just see what happens. So if you’re already a practising yogi or are new to it, it’s a great opportunity to expand your comfort zone, learn and play with some seriously inspiring people! ॐ

Myths, Music & Storytelling Magic in Wales: Beyond the Border Festival 2016

My first festival of the summer was Beyond the Border Wales International Storytelling Festival, which took place from 1-3 July 2016 in the grounds of Atlantic College and the medieval St. Donat’s Castle near Llantwit Major, in the Vale of Glamorgan. It’s a fairly small but well-established biannual festival, attracting between 2000 and 3000 visitors and many of the festival goers have been regulars for years, if not decades.

BTB programme

This year’s themes included Stories from the Celtic World, Myths of Gender/Gender in Myth, Myth and Music of India and Greece as well as Blacksmith Tales and Legends. For such a compact festival it had a whopping 9 festival areas, some in tents, some outdoors and one larger indoor venue at St. Donat’s Arts centre (which was sort of the festival hub for artists and attendees and had wifi and a café with sea views).

As it was my first storytelling festival, I had no idea who the big names were and what styles of stories I would enjoy most, so I tried a whole variety. Unlike at music festivals, where you can listen to partial sets of different bands and still get something out of it, I quickly learned that here it was best to catch the whole story from beginning to end.

Various people had recommended Ben Haggarty to me, a very accomplished storyteller who did an impressive performance of ‘The Blacksmith at The Bridge of Bones’ on Friday night. His style was a little too theatrical for me, but he seemed immensely popular and his performance was quite mesmerising and entertaining, here is a taster.

Right afterwards I caught a beautifully inventive story called ‘UniVerse’ by Irish-born and London-based storyteller Clare Murphy whose sense of humour I loved straight away (and made me a bit homesick for Ireland) and whose wonderfully original style had the audience spellbound. Read her blog post on what storytelling is and definitely check out some of her videos online (I dare you not to giggle!).

BTB Blue Garden

I started the Saturday with a yoga session in the Blue Garden led by Diana O’Reilly, with the morning sun shining down on us, which was a blessing in itself, as was the wonderful location overlooking the sea and the calm, welcoming atmosphere at the class.

As my volunteer shift happened to be in the Pavilion, I caught Jo Blake Cave and Laura Pocket (on double bass) with a reimagined version of her post-apocalyptic magical story ‘The Girl Who Became a Boy’. This was followed by travelling back in time to 14th century Venice by top Italian storyteller Paola Balbi.

I also greatly enjoyed listening to the Welsh-Indian band Tŷhai before it was time for some bilingual tales (partly in Welsh) by Dau Dafod (Jez Danks & Dafydd Davies Hughes). After grabbing a yummy veggie meal from The Parsnipship I decided to give ‘Beowulf’ a try, which was expertly and very humorously told by Jesper La Cour Andersen and Troels Kirk Ejsing. The Danes had the audience really engaged in the story (‘rowing’ a boat, being guests at a Viking party etc.) and it ended up being my favourite show of the festival, so much fun!

Later that night it was time for some music again and a very special collaboration by Mumbai singer Tauseef Akhtar and Welsh singer-songwriter Gwyneth Glyn. Ghazalaw is one of those projects which gets the balance exactly right by merging the music and song of two cultures in a very beautiful way including tabla, fiddle, harmonium, kora, harp and guitar. Their first album is fantastic and they also played some new songs for us.

BTB kids area

After another yoga morning session, which always helps to put me in a poised and happy mood for the day, I caught the first part of another brilliant Clare Murphy show, this time with Tim Ralphs and the (to a bunny person like myself) very enticing title ‘Tales of the Rabbit God’. Luckily my next volunteer shift was at the Pavilion again, so I managed to listen to Native American storyteller Dovie Thomason whose story was called ‘Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight?’. It was fantastic to learn so much about storytelling traditions of different parts of the world all in one weekend in rural Wales.

The finale of the festival on Sunday night was a wonderful parade with everyone and their handmade lanterns and costumes moving from the festival grounds to the Big Top led by the Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band. After the closing ceremony and the burning of a giant fire sculpture (created by Goffee) in a field overlooking the sea, it was time for the last act of the festival, a (mostly) Eastern-European dance party with The Turbans, which was the perfect end to a vibrant, story and music-filled weekend in Wales.

BTB fire sculpture

So if you like your festivals small and friendly where you get woken up by sheep bleating in the field next door, both old and young will have a good time and you can learn a thing or two in a relaxed atmosphere, do put Beyond the Border in your summer calendar. The nearby small town of Llantwit Major (hourly bus from near the festival grounds or a half hour walk away) is also worth exploring for an afternoon and has some very cosy cafes.

P.S. As a linguist, I’d like to give a special mention the the amazing sign language interpreters at the festival! I’ve never been at an event where they seemed more engaged and passionate than here at BTB. Find out more about sign language interpreters here.

Stretch, Breathe, Laugh, Repeat: The OM Yoga Show 2015

There are many reasons why people get into yoga. Mine was slightly different from the usual ones of finding calm or getting fit. As a festival enthusiast, I had often been enviously eyeing the many fabulous yoga festivals and had always felt a bit left out as I don’t usually enjoy most organised forms of sport and had felt too inflexible to join in. I had tried yoga a few times in the past, an open class in a museum in Australia and a small group class in New Zealand when I was travelling, but I had never really wanted to do it again until this September. Having just returned from a holiday visiting family, I decided to give yoga another go. I searched for some online classes and quickly came across Yoga with Adriene. I told myself I’m going to stick with it for just the one half hour the video lasted and if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have to do it again. Then something amazing happened. I woke up the next morning and the first thing I thought was, I must try another one of those Adriene videos (and did I mention her adorable dog Benji features in some of them, too, and she is from the live music capital of the world, Austin!). I couldn’t believe it. Trying out yoga once had pretty much instantly turned into a near daily yoga habit – thanks Adriene ;-).

Coco class

Of course one of the first things I did next was to look for nearby yoga festivals, so I came across the OM Yoga Show at Alexandra Palace in London from 23-25 October 2015 (which should really be called the OMG Yoga Show!). The organisers were so nice to give me a free ticket to the show (thanks guys!) and I decided to write a blog post on my first yoga “festival” to show other beginners that it’s all about giving it a go and facing your fears.

On the Friday morning I was super nervous. The programme looked amazing and most classes were for “all levels”, but did that really include the half an hour a day yoga for barely six weeks me? My heart was pounding when I walked through the doors until I found the aroma yoga session with Sophie Bickerdike. I looked around. The people on the mats (women and quite a few men of all ages) seemed friendly enough. Right, I thought, what have I possibly got to lose? I sat down on a mat and have not looked back since!

I ended up trying a couple more classes that day, Dru meditation, yoga for health and wellbeing (run by the British Wheel of Yoga) and Kundalini yoga. All of them were intriguing and each instructor made sure each of us felt comfortable and included. I also loved the general atmosphere at the event. Unlike at many other trade shows, it was all very friendly with lots of enthusiastic smiley people and an incredible amount of tempting colourful yoga outfits, props and retreats on offer.

The next morning I felt completely different than the day before. I couldn’t get to Ally Pally fast enough and was circling a whole number of exciting looking sessions in the programme on the bus. Alas the first class I had picked was totally oversubscribed, so a quick decision was needed and I joined a laughter yoga class with Harish Chavda. OMG! How much fun we had acting like children wearing props such as Christmas hats while actual children were looking on incredulously probably thinking, what are these adults doing?? After such a relaxing start to the day I stayed on the same mat for the Let it Flow class by Tiffany Mackenzie-Shapland. Despite some tech issues (the only downside to the show all weekend), it was a lovely, peaceful session, which left me floating for the next couple of hours. Another highlight of the weekend was the Yogabeats class with David Sye, which made me quite emotional in a good way. Their approach and projects are really well worth checking out and supporting. Beautiful stuff.

Lotus class

I also had a chat with Sirrka Fisk, who has written a lovely children’s yoga book called Ommie and the Magical Garden. The lecture stage at the show had quite a few interesting sessions as well including one by Louise Palmer-Masterson of CamYoga on running a successful ethical business whilst overcoming self-limiting beliefs, which really applies to any business, not just to teaching yoga. As the yoga for horse riders class had sadly been cancelled I headed home a little earlier. This turned out to be very lucky, as I ran into the fabulous Tara Stiles, who owns Strala Yoga in New York, at Finsbury Park station. Another one of my favourite online yoga inspirations, she was super friendly and I just couldn’t believe how much fun I was having this weekend.

There is always the dreaded last festival day and it was no different at OM Yoga Show. I absolutely tried to make the best of it though and gave quite a few different yoga styles a go. I started the day with a raw vegan chocolate making workshop (yes, there were samples and all food at the show was  vegetarian or vegan!) followed by a Dance on Your Fears class by Eleonora Zampatti, who also happens to be on the OM Yoga Magazine November cover. The description had sounded relatively general and I liked the idea of learning to deal with my fears, but had had no idea it was all about arm balances! However, once I was on the mat, there wasn’t really any way of getting out of it, so, to my utter amazement and thanks to Eleonora’s precise and encouraging instructions, I gave Crow Pose a go.  I managed to lift myself up on my beginners arms for about a second at a time and felt like this pose might become a friend much sooner than I could have ever expected. Wow!

The rest of the day was equally enlightening. I took part in a wonderful and fun Animal Asanas class with Jenny Mace, right before which I bought a fantastic t-shirt from My Mantra Activewear with “I just want to drink coffee, save animals and do yoga” written on it – I couldn’t have put it any better! Next up was Yoga Bou with Chaco from Yokohama, using a Japanese stick. I love Japan (travelled there twice) and Chaco made the class super fun while we also got a really good workout. I should have probably called it a day after this session (especially my arms were screaming ‘stop’ at this point), but couldn’t resist the Yoglow class (the only 45 minute one I did) with Michael from Yogangster. Even this early on I’m already a big fan of flow classes and despite feeling sore from three full-on yoga days in a row I managed to stick with it.

coffee animals yoga tee

Alas all festivals come to an end at some point, but luckily OM Yoga Show seems to have two sister events in Glasgow (2-3 April 2016) and Manchester (20-22 May 2016) and now that I’m completely hooked on yoga, there are so many other things out there to try. Acro yoga looked amazing for instance and I cannot wait to teach a few basic animal asanas to my little nieces during the Christmas holidays. So if you, like me not so long ago, think you’re not flexible or patient enough to give yoga a try, just give yourself half an hour or even just 15 minutes a day, do one of the Adrienne videos online and notice how you feel. I completely agree with Tiffany of Croyde Yoga, whose session I attended on Saturday, that trying out lots of styles and teachers is a great idea. You never know, yoga could become your great new passion. It has definitely already changed my life so much for the better. Namaste 🙂

Silver Celebration – Larmer Tree Festival 2015

Never underestimate the positive effect a great festival can have on your mental and physical well-being! I returned from my third Larmer Tree Festival (14-19 July 2015) – celebrating its 25 year anniversary this summer – completely refreshed and energised despite having spent four nights in a tent (hurrah for the quiet camping area). Here are the main ingredients of a relaxing and inspiring festival:

Atmosphere – the pervading tone or mood of a place, situation, or creative work
Creating just the right festival atmosphere can be a tricky and somewhat elusive goal. It requires a lot of planning, but also depends on many other factors, including people’s willingness to spontaneously participate, hard work and lots of dedication to detail by the organisers as well as some favourable weather conditions (luckily the festival was pretty much rain-free between Thursday and Sunday this year). What I really love about Larmer Tree is that you can simply be yourself, be as crazy or shy as you want, dance like a dervish or relax in the sun. Everyone is just happy to be in the moment and have a good time. Just like it should be.

Atmosphere LT

Music – vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion
I often attend festivals specifically for the music line-up, usually of the Americana and folk variety. The Larmer Tree programme always covers a wide range of genres from international headline acts (such as this year’s Rodrigo & Gabriela, Bill Bailey and Jimmy Cliff) down to some great up-and-coming artists (e.g. Megan Henwood, Ciaran Lavery, The Drystones and Jarrod Dickenson). The likes of Police Dog Hogan, Show of Hands, Raghu Dixit from India and various other LT favourites also brought their great energy to the event once again. My favourite festival discovery was Hunter and the Bear this year, Americana with a rocky edge.

Music LTCreativity – the use of imagination or original ideas to create something
Every day at Larmer Tree festival is filled with innumerable opportunities to explore your creativity as much (or as little) as you like. From starting your day with a yoga or dance class to taking part in a creative writing session in Lostwood, there are many ways to join in. As I have been volunteering with the workshop team (kids/adults) in the past few years, I cannot recommend the craft tent highly enough. From 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm Friday until Sunday, you can learn a new skill, make something amazing you can take home as a festival keepsake or help build a fantastic festival sculpture. This year it was beautiful clay flowers (later to be found adorning Lostwood) and a pair of peacocks made from recycled plastic bags plus giant decorated paper peacocks, a truly stunning display! And not to forget “dress up Saturday” (silver themed to go with the 25-year-anniversary this year) and the traditional Carnival Procession on Sunday, for which colourful and outrageous costumes were being worked on all weekend.

Creativity LT

Food – any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth
Never underestimate how much great food contributes to a feeling of well-being and happiness. Once again there was a huge choice, even for vegetarians (and to some extent for vegans). Having tried and tested Tabun Pizza (handmade pizza, quality ingredients, cheerful staff) and The Curry Shed (reliably delicious at a great price) at past festivals, this is where I headed most of the time. There were also enticing options from other cuisines (Mexican, Italian etc.) and lots of great coffee (non-dairy options too) and cake stalls to keep us festival folks going from early morning until late at night.

Food LTSmile(s) – a pleased, kind, or amused facial expression
True, Larmer Tree offers an impressive comedy line-up four nights in a row on top of the live music. But the most fun moments are usually the spontaneous ones. The noisy and quirky street theatre performances happening across the festival site every day are always a big hit with children and adults alike (e.g. the singing nun, Musical Ruth). The fact that Larmer Tree is very family-oriented does not mean the fun stops when the little ones go to bed, however. The Social (reliably fantastic programming and atmosphere again) is open until late every night, so even the most energetic revellers can party until even they finally drop. And there is a lot of dancing to be done not just late at night. One of my favourite memories from this year is dancing at the Jimmy Cliff set on Sunday night with a crowd of all ages around me, the stars above us and everyone waving their arms to “Reggae night, we’ll be jamming til the morning light”. Afterwards, we all reluctantly shuffled back to our tents or the bar and the magical world of Larmer Tree closed its doors again for another year – it sure was a beauty!

Born to Be Free Range: Larmer Tree Festival 2014

People always ask me what it’s like to be at a festival. Will there be something for everyone to enjoy? Will there be creative things to do, vegan food, kids events, relatively clean toilets and really good bands? The answer is yes, of course, and Larmer Tree Festival is a great example. Like other family-oriented festivals, it caters for all these things, which makes it the perfect break not only for families, but also for music lovers, groups of friends, individual festival goers, camping enthusiasts and day trippers.

My favourite moments this year included: sitting with a yummy pizza in my lap in the Social listening to Kidnap Alice while it was pouring down outside, discovering a fluffy pet chick that belonged to one of the traders and had been on the road for a week with them, helping to create a fantastic outdoor sculpture made from reeds and discarded plastic bottles collected on the site, hanging out with the fun volunteer team at the HQ tent (bin bag volunteer couture comes to mind), the many creative Dress up Saturday costumes (earth helmets with bobbing, glow in the dark planets, human-sized fast food etc.), the Barr Brothers set on the main stage, dancing to the awesome DJ-ing sounds of the Granthology nanamuffins (makes me laugh just thinking about it again), making a felt badger, a portaloo pomander and other little treasures at the adult workshops and listening to The Moneyless Man, Mark Boyle, who had some truly inspiring thoughts on living the good life.

Watch some Larmer Tree Festival videos on the lifeisafestivalblog youtube channel.

Life is a Festival Reach for the Stars

Here is a little Larmer Tree quiz to find out what type of festival goer you are or could be – or maybe you are a little bit of everything? See for yourself!

Frank Turner is on at the main stage, where are you?

A) Probably in Lostwood, writing a new short story or working on my costume for Dress Up Saturday

B) At the ARC listening to Cardboard Fox, of course

C) Painting my wellies so I can show them off at the Hudson Taylor set on Sunday

D) At the main stage, my husband is minding the kids right now, so it’s my turn to par-t-e-e-e!

E) Guarding the VIP area with a fellow volunteer

You come across a crying child with no parents in sight. What do you do?

A) I offer to paint a butterfly on the child’s face and hopefully the parents will have appeared by the time I’m finished.

B) I take her or him along to the Truckstop Honeymoon gig in the Social. They have children of their own, so they will know what to do and I’m not missing their set. Genius!

C) Oh no, it’s probably my little brother. I keep telling him to stay with mum and dad but he always follows me around. So annoying!

D) I take out my babywipes, some spare snack food and a blanket and make my husband play with the child while I find a steward to report it to Lost and Found

E) I take the child to Lost and Found where it can play with some friendly volunteers until the parents come to pick her or him up.

The sun is going down over Larmer Tree Gardens and you start getting hungry. Where do you eat?

A) I have very little time for eating as I’m so busy all day trying not to miss a chance to be creative, but I do love the veggie Mexican stall

B) I found someone to keep me a seat in the front row at the ARC while I’m heading to the nearest food stall for a take-away. Must. Not. Miss. Any. Music.

C) I never really liked curry, but hey, that guy is so cute, if he cooked it, it MUST be good, right?

D) As long as the kids will eat it and I won’t have the food all over my clothes I’m a happy camper.

E) I tried to get by on the free soup and toast at the Volunteer HQ at first, but I think I’m going to splurge on a really nice handmade pizza today

You had a fantastic festival weekend, what sums it all up for you?

A) What a wonderfully creative weekend, I learned so much and can’t wait to sign up for a sewing class when I get back home.

B) Wow, I found so many new amazing bands. The first thing I need to do is figure out if any of them are playing near my hometown anytime soon.

C) I got the curry stall guy’s number. Nuff said. Sigh.

D) We had a lovely time, everybody enjoyed themselves and none of the kids broke an arm or a leg. Success!

E) I have the post-festival blues, but one of my new volunteer friends just told me to sign up for a local music festival in August not far from where I live. Hurrah, life is a festival!

Larmer Tree Collage 1

If you answered…

Mostly A) You are an artsy person and like all things creative. From 10am-5pm you can be found trying out different workshops from sewing woodland creatures to making jewellery. You brought an elaborate costume for Dress Up Saturday and after dark you listen to poetry readings and try your hand at creative writing or read a free bookcrossing book you picked up on site. Keep inspiring others to get creative or why not offer a workshop yourself next year?

Your natural habitat: Adult workshop tent, Lostwood talks and workshops (The Moneyless Man, creative writing, poetry slam), Pavilion for movie screenings and talks, Dish café for refreshments, yoga class in the morning.

Mostly B) You are most likely a folkie and live music is the main reason why you attend Larmer Tree. You are a dedicated music lover and can mainly be found in the ARC (the only tent with chairs) or the Social. You know the programme inside out and plan your food breaks accordingly. You shush people who talk too loudly (usually Bs, Cs or Ds) during a set. Your signed CD collection at the end of the weekend is heavier than your tent.

Your natural music choices include: Steve Knightley, Truckstop Honeymoon, Cardboard Fox, The Barr Brothers, O’Hooley  & Tidow, The Dodge Brothers, The Perch Creek Family Jug Band, Miranda Sykes & Rex Preston, Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra.

Mostly C)  You are a teenager and it ‘s all very exciting. You are a glow-stick princess and the first thing you purchased on site was a flower hair band. You fancy the guy from the curry stall but your male friends think he ‘s uncool (what do they know?). You tell your girlfriends twenty times a day that you are having the best time of your life and can’t wait to upload your selfie of you and your bff dancing at the Hudson Taylor set to facebook.

Your natural habitat: Tom Odell, Hudson Taylor or any other bands that you can dance to while giggling with your best mates, wellie-painting and capoeira workshops

Mostly D) You are a (probably middle-class) family and have a couple of little ones in tow. You are juggling various responsibilities and are taking turns minding the kids while one of you gets to go off for some (well-deserved!) drinks. You talk the kids out of getting one of those attach-to-your-bum animal tails everyone else seems to have, but they insist on walking pet balloons instead. You can’t win.

Your natural habitat: Depending on whether you are on or off duty, on a blanket right in front of the main stage, in the toilet queue nearest the children’s cafe, at a kids workshop or at the bar (yessss…). You don’t mind what music is on as long as you can enjoy it in the sunshine without any kids screaming in your ear.

Mostly E) Congratulations! You are a natural volunteer. You are already stewarding at the festival or are signed up for doing it next year. If you would like to put all your volunteering energy to good use until then, check online for other opportunities in your area. Most festivals are very happy to have some extra helping hands even if they don’t specifically say so on their website. Volunteer by yourself and you’ll most likely make some new friends or sign up together with your own friends or family members.

Your natural habitat: Everywhere your expertise, enthusiasm and can-do attitude is appreciated. You wear your high-vis vest proudly and help with advice at the info tent, guard a venue entrance, assist at workshops, brew coffee at the volunteer HQ or stoke the fire in Lostwood.

Larmer Tree Collage 2

Coffee with a capital “C“: The London Coffee Festival 2014

With around 1.7 billion cups of coffee enjoyed by people in the UK every year it is no wonder the strong black brew has developed a following of its own. The London Coffee Festival happily caters to this ever-growing trend. Having taken place from 3-6 April 2014, the weekend before UK Coffee Week, the Old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch was transformed into a mekka for those worshipping their favourite drink. Once a year, coffee producers, suppliers, baristas and the general public are invited to explore what’s new on the coffee scene and, for a long weekend, the former factory building is transformed into a veritable labyrinth of sampling stalls and enticing smells. Over 22,000 visitors couldn’t resist the temptation and attended the fourth edition of the festival.

Barista Competition LCF 14In the Lab, visitors got a chance to practice their coffee-making skills and attend free talks on coffee-related topics, which ranged from coffee and chocolate pairing to a lot more scientific presentations on water testing and filtration and the latest market trends. Speaking of which, if there is anything I took away from a day of exploring this coffee wonderland in East London it was the focus on quality, local preferences, attention to detail and sustainability as a given rather than a USP.

Hyde Park area at LCF 1But how does this kind of event qualify as a festival you ask? The organisers had obviously thought about that as well and cleverly put a world music stage with lots of quirky bean bags to sit on right in the centre of the main exhibition area. A number of pop-up cocktails bars offered espresso mixed with a variety of alcoholic delights to fuel coffee fans all day long. Located all the way around the fair were also innumerable stalls by coffee roasters where baristas practiced their art. A coffee art exhibition and a poetry café brought out the best in caffeine-fuelled creativity while the Milk & Sugar section downstairs completed the festival with all sorts of stylish urban wares, more food and drink and even a pop-up barber shop.

LCF 14 VolunteersGood to know: the festival raised around £77,000 for Project Waterfall, supporting clean drinking water in Tanzania in partnership with WaterAid. In addition to the London event, the festival organiser, Allegra Events, also run a coffee festival in Amsterdam (2-3 May 2014), just in case you need a reason to visit one of my favourite European cities this spring.