Genre-Defying Live Music With A Message: Cambridge Folk Festival 2018

Unlike the very rainy 2017 edition, Cambridge Folk Festival, which took place one week later than usual from 2-5 August 2018, managed to avoid any downpours this time around. Instead, it got caught in the continuing heatwave, which made it look like we were in sunny Spain or Portugal rather than South East of England.

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The festival began with a very impressive Thursday night lineup, the lively Whiskey Shivers from Austin opening stage 2 and a fabulous set by Scottish musical collaborators Kris Drever, John McCusker, Roddy Woomble (of Idlewild) and Louis Abbott (of Admiral Fallow) followed by the fantastic all-female Kinnaris Quintet from Glasgow at the Club Tent. So far so excellent!

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When I talk to people who don’t usually listen to folk music, they often don’t realise what a wide variety of genres are represented at folk music events. A great example were Songhoy Blues (see pic above), a rock band from Mali with a seriously danceable groove, and Saturday night headliner, punk poet and feminist icon Patti Smith, who, once on stage, immediately asked for the smoke to be turned off in no uncertain terms. As a nod to the folkie audience, she included ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ by Bob Dylan in her set and seemed impressed with the audience’s singing skills. The inofficial award for the best audience participation this year went to the Pierce Brothers from Australia, however, playing a set on stage 2 on Friday night, when everyone just kept going with one of the choruses after the song had finished and the band picked it up again to huge applause.

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Rhiannon Giddens’ (see pic above) curator role this year (including booking Yola Karter, Amythyst Kiah, Kaia Kater and Peggy Seeger) was noticeable in all the right ways and it was generally great to see that the festival continues to champion female voices, including their commitment to the Keychange equality movement. Artists of all ages were speaking out about equality and about resisting a more and more selfish culture. Sister duo First Aid Kit from Sweden talked about sexual harrassment during their set on Friday saying that “the blame and shame of rape crime should always belong to the perpetrator, not the victim.” The couple of half-drunk men right behind us (who left after some of us reminded them several times that we were interested only in the music rather than their shenanigans) were proof that even at a very friendly festival like CFF, there are always the odd situations when you need to make clear that disrespectful behaviour, like shouting ‘give us a kiss’ at artists on stage or disrespecting women’s personal space in a crowd, is not acceptable.

UK singer songwriter and activist Grace Petrie, who played stage 2 on Friday night (check out her song ‘I Wish The Guardian Believed That I Exist”), Prince Edward Island-based Irish Mythen and the one and only Janis Ian all had various songs highlighting the shortcomings of today’s society and politicians, homophobia and sexism. The most poignant and outspoken of all was most likely one of Janis Ian’s newly written songs entitled ‘She Is, She Is (Resist)’, which went “when they say you don’t have a right to exist, persist, resist, persist and resist, resist resist, resist!”. Hear, hear.

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The protest song is certainly alive and well and folk festivals, such as Cambridge, continue to attract a large cross section of people from many backgrounds, ages and places. This year I spoke to festival goers from all across the UK, Ireland, Iceland, and as far as Mauritius and Australia.

On top of all the first class acts on the main stages, there are also always lots of other activities on from 10 am until late during the festival weekend. You can do yoga, willow or drawing workshops, learn to play a new instrument or listen to talks by festival artists, such as the Women in Music session in the Flower Garden on Saturday or join a songwriting workshop with Eliza Carthy in the Club Tent on Friday morning.

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My favourite events were two workshops on Sunday. The first one was a singing workshop with Nashville-based singer songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman, whose set that night on stage 2 was also fabulous. In her morning session (see pic above) she had various people come up to help them make the best of their own voice and it was incredibly fascinating what a difference ten minutes with a skilled teacher and a supportive crowd can make.

The other event was a youth singing workshop with Boston-based Americana group Darlingside, who are known for their incredible harmonies (see pic below). They certainly passed on their love for music to the youngsters attending the afternoon session in The Hub and the band singing ‘White Horses’ accompanied by a choir of young people harmonising on it was the one festival moment this year that’ll stay with me for a long time.

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Last but not least, here are a few personal festival tips: Make sure you don’t miss out on the Den stage with many amazing upcoming acts (it’s also much less crowded than the main stages), the lovely cafe and the flower garden, both in the same area by the duck pond; bring something to sit on, but ideally not a hardbacked chair as they are not allowed inside any venues; your own food and drink is OK to take along, just no glass; don’t forget the Coldham’s Common campsite has an afterhour open mic venue (until after midnight) and a free shuttle bus runs there every few minutes from Cherry Hinton Hall; a lot of the artists sign their CDS (and some do selfies with punters) at the Mojo tent near stage 2; be kind to others, don’t take up any more space than you need in the already crowded outside arena, don’t block any exits and get up from your blanket inside the tents when it gets busy; finally, be spontaneous, play along if someone starts a Mexican wave in the shuttle queue, bring your ukulele and start your own session and don’t just be a spectator – folk music is for participating and the community is only as friendly and welcoming as each one of us!

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Shining A Light on Traditional Yoga: World Yoga Festival 2018

After having had a wonderful time at World Yoga Festival when I visited for the first time in 2017 (see review), I was excited to be back this summer for the third edition of the festival, which took place from 19-22 July 2018. The traditional yoga event focusing on a holistic approach to yoga was again held at Beale Park, near Reading, easily accessible by car or train and taxi (plus a festival shuttle at peak times).

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Since last attending I’ve somewhat fallen off the yoga wagon and am still struggling with making regular meditation part of my life. So I got on the train to World Yoga Festival with somewhat mixed feelings last Thursday, even though I knew at the back of my mind that I’ll probably return home more motivated after a weekend of immersion into yoga philosophy and practice, just like I did last year. A few days away from our normal routines is often just what is needed to get a new perspective on life and World Yoga Festival has it all: a fabulous location, wonderful teachers, a health-conscious but relaxed atmosphere (alcohol and smoke-free plus lots of delicious vegetarian and vegan food) and, maybe most importantly and unlike many other festivals, it exists in order to promote the ancient wisdom associated with yoga philosophy in the UK and the world and is (as of this year) completely run as a charity, the Arsha Kula Foundation.

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When festival founder Ram Banerjee made his opening remarks during the Welcome Ceremony, the first thing he said was: ‘Welcome back, welcome home!’ This was the perfect blessing for another weekend of yogic inspiration and another impressive array of teaching, talks and concerts from Thursday evening until Sunday night. As we were also celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of BKS Iyengar, one of the highlights for many attendees was no doubt the return of Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh from Mumbai, who tought a series of six two-hour masterclasses.

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There were also several opportunities for a gong bath with sound healer Nikki Slade in the Space tent as well as kirtan and other chanting sessions. This year I gave a Sivananda yoga workshop with Laura Creswell a try, which incorporated both meditation and asanas and was a good introduction to this type of yoga. The Fire tent in particular, the smallest of the open-sided venues, was once more the hub for spiritual and philosophical talks on Understanding Reality (Ram Banerjee), Sanskrit and the Yoga Sutras (Lucy Crisfield) and many other inspiring sessions. The classes in the Air tent (see pic below), e.g. Vijay Gopala’s Yogic Science of Sun Salutations and Pt. Radheshyam Mishra offering a meditation for Emotional Balance, were also very popular often attracting more attendees than fitted into the tent.

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The evening concerts, which were scheduled every night from around 8pm until 10pm, were another highlight and, as far as I’m concerned, are much more than merely entertainment. The music especially selected for the festival included many facets of Indian and some world music, including Jyotsna Srikanth (Southin Indian Carnatic violinist) and the Odissi dance of Pracheeti Dange, Prabhat Rao and band (Hindustani Classical musicians), Shammi Pithia and band (classical Indian music with modern touches) as well as New Zealand-based Sika Deer (tribal music; who also did an experiential sound journey session one afternoon).

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In between the classes I kept returning to the Chai tent at the bottom of which was one of the coffee and juicing stalls run by nutritionist Trish Tucker, who also gave a useful talk with many practical tips on health and wellbeing. Like all the festival tents, the grassy ground was covered in coloured carpet, a different shade each symbolising the four elements. This tent (see pic below) overlooking the lake and furnished with low tables and sitting cushions was the perfect base to recharge after a more vigorous class, read a book, write in your journal or simply enjoy the first coffee of the day or a cup of tea at sunset.

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In addition, the healing village offered complimentary therapy options, such as massage, reiki and energy healing in a serene lake side setting and there were also hot tubs for weary festival bodies. The Gotra family yoga area with many classes, games and crafty fun for the little yogis seemed even more lively and popular this year and it was lovely to see so many tiny humans run wild and free across the festival site with big smiles on their faces.

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The food options this year included again South Indian food from Lalita’s, such as mandala dosa (pancakes with curry and sauces), Beleaf from Bristol providing healthy salads (see pic above) and breakfast options, two coffee and smoothie stalls, a new pizza and pasta truck plus Taste Tibet, which offered yummy vegan curries and very moreish Tibetan momos (veggie-filled dumplings, pictured below).

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The botanical cocktail bar (see pic below), which got moved closer to the main tent this year, was also popular again, mixing a range of plant-based cocktails for festival goers to enjoy.

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Here are a few things I learned or re-learned at the festival this year: expanding our comfort zone can be scary but is ultimately worth it, self care is not an indulgence but a healthy part of life and it’s never too late to change unhealthy habits, appreciating what we have is important and life is not a competition, when we face life’s challenges we need to become better rather than bitter, a single step doesn’t form a path, but continuous practice does in order to slowly transform your personality for the better, focusing on self-expression and going beyond rituals is more helpful than being action-oriented, if we hurt nature or others, we hurt ourselves, without failure we would never know what we’re really capable of, unexpected insights can happen anytime.

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Given its success so far, World Yoga Festival certainly has the potential to become a permanent fixture, but having been mostly privately financed until now, it will need the support of many individuals to continue on its path. You can help the event grow and prosper by attending a future festival and also find out more about it and the Arsha Kula Foundation as well as potential sponsorship opportunities.

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Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend pass for the 2018 festival in exchange for a preview post and 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.

Americana on the Farm: Maverick Festival 2018

Maverick Festival, which took place for the eleventh time from 6 to 8 July 2018 at Easton Farm Park in Suffolk, not far from London, is one of those rare outdoor events, where you can experience quality live music in a beautiful boutique setting. Beside the usual line-up of excellent Americana artists from the UK, the USA, Canada and Australia, the festival always has a extra few surprises in store and what a gloriously sunny weekend it was!

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After setting up the happy tent in the heat, it was definitely time for an iced coffee and a first hello to all my favourite furry farm creatures, including brand new additions Harry, the Punch horse, and Madge, the 5 day old donkey baby. In addition, there were lots of friendly dogs around again, as the festival allows them on site.

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As more and people started arriving in the course of the afternoon, I headed over to the Peacock stage for sets by Jeffrey Martin and Anna Tivel (see pic below), who have also been touring the UK together. Their music is very well matched, quiet and thoughtful with some memorable melodies, just the way I like it. Anna and Martin were some of the musicians who spent the whole weekend at Maverick, so I got to listen to them quite a bit, which was a real treat, as their songs are all well worth giving more than one listen.

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I then made my way over to the Barn for Jonathan Byrd’s only Maverick set. He is currently touring the UK with fellow ‘Pickup Cowboy’ Johnny Waken, who excelled at guitar solos and added an extra touch of humour to Byrd’s already entertaining songs. Their set also included serious touches though, such as this poignant haiku:

we are in heaven
the sky is an illusion
like any border

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Saturday at Maverick is always a busy day with the open air Southern Sounds Stage in full swing from around 11am until 6pm, including the exotic Hawaiian sounds of Kehau Kehananui with top UK pedal steel player BJ Cole. Apart from The Cordovas from Nashville, whose guitar and harmony-heavy sound I took a while to warm to at first, but whose only Maverick set I enjoyed quite a bit in the end, I spent most of my day switching between the Barn and the much smaller Moonshine stage. I’m always trying to catch as many of the overseas artists as possible, as they generally make less frequent UK appearances. So it was great to see Dylan Earl for the first time, whose online bio states that ‘I’m from where I woke up this morning’ and who, like many of the Maverick artists, plays a type of country music, which keeps things real rather than just providing sing-along fodder for the masses. I also thoroughly enjoyed dancing to the music of one of my favourite UK Americana bands, Brighton-based The Mountain Firework Company.

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However, the female musicians stole the show as is so often the case in this genre. Amelia White, Alabama native Amy McCarley and singer-songwriter Imogen Clark (mostly sharing a stage with fellow Aussies Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes as well as The Weeping Willows) were all excellent. So was Amy Lott from Meridian, Mississippi, who, as we found out during her Sunday set, had to overcome some serious health issues for a long time, but never gave up and is living proof that personal struggle can make for outstanding songwriting. Another one to watch for me was Texas-born Nashville-based Bonnie Bishop (see pic below), who is to make a welcome return to these shores in autumn.

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While the Arkansas Dave set and the Johnny Cash Tribute (with many of the festival artists contributing cover versions) took place on the Peacock stage, I decided to stick with the Barn Stage on Saturday night, where Tennessean-born, New York-baed Hans Chew and his band and female-fronted Southern Avenue (see pic below) from Memphis got the party going around 8pm. The latter’s very danceable set proved that booking a lively blues and soul outfit added just the right amount of variety to the festival.

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One of my favourite UK-based live bands, Danny and the Champions (see pic below), provided a worthy finale after a very busy and sundrenched day of music.

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Sunday is traditionally a shorter day at Maverick and after Saturday’s highlights tends to be a sort of a mellow finish to the festival weekend. This year, however, I was glad to get a second chance to see some of the festival artists who stuck around all weekend, such as Lachland Bryan and the other Aussie musicians he shared the stage with as well as UK roots band Porchlight Smoker.

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The festival weekend also included the Jimmie Rodgers Buskers stage again, which was hosted by James Hodder this year and gave up and coming talent (see pic above) a chance to shine.

With so much great live music going on, I nearly forgot to mention the yummy food on offer all weekend – from espresso to full English breakfast, wood oven pizza (including a vegan option) and my favourite, an amazing plantbased plate (see pic below) from Suffolk-based Juan Pablo Food, we were never short of great festival food and drink.

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All in all, the eleventh edition of Maverick Festival was one of the most enjoyable and relaxing ones I remember. The beautiful Suffolk farm setting, the quality music and the friendly crowd it attracts year after year make for a great recipe for enduring success. While other festivals struggle with constantly trying to upscale, Maverick seems to stay reassuringly small, but only in terms of festival size. In every other aspect it punches well above its weight and is bound to continue for many more years to come.

Meet the Festival Makers: Paula Henderson of WOMAD

WOMAD is one of those success stories most other events can only dream about. It was born in 1982 and has since expanded to about 27 countries with over 250 festivals having been held since then. The original event, now established at Charlton Park, in Wiltshire, is still going strong, too, and its 2018 edition promises to become one of the best ones yet. I interviewed festival booker Paula Henderson in order to find out a bit more about what makes WOMAD tick and you can read all about it right here!

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Life is a Festival: What is your definition of world music (if any) and what are the advantages of showcasing artists who are not all household names?

Paula: The term World Music is outdated, it was something that was created in order to give record shops a reference point to place music in their shops years ago.  One of the aims of WOMAD is to present the best music that you’ve never heard before, festivals are the perfect places to showcase new artists because a festival is a place where we should take risks.

Life is a Festival: Looking back at the first Womad in 1982, the festival has come a long way and the world has arguably become more multicultural since then. In recent years, however, there also seems to be a growing focus on nationalism. Is a concept like Womad, inclusive and outward-looking, still relevant or ist it, in fact, more relevant than ever?

Paula: The importance of WOMAD is greater than ever.  The struggles we now face to try and bring an artist into the UK because our visa system is so challenging is huge.  This year we are also facing the dilemma of artists deciding not to come to the UK because they don’t want to go through the visa process and be turned down even when they have Schengen visa and a European tour in place that would mean staying longer in the UK would be of no benefit whatsoever!  These problems actually highlight how important it is for WOMAD to carry on and highlight the importance of multi-culturalism.

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Life is a Festival: With artists from 104 countries performing this year, it must be tricky to pick personal favourites, but which artists or collaborations are you most proud of to have secured for the 2018 event or which do you consider especially unique and not to be missed?

Paula: Too many to name, but especially proud that Colectivo Danza Region are coming as this has been planned for 3 years.

Life is a Festival: WOMAD has successfully travelled from the UK to other parts of the world. Do you work with local organisers and in what way has the expansion of the festival influenced Womad UK since then?

Paula: We work with local organisers in each WOMAD Festival location around the world to establish events that are true to WOMAD’s ethos and atmosphere. These events have influenced WOMAD UK’s festival in a positive and exciting way – enabling collaborations across the continents.

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Life is a Festival: I love the idea of Taste the World and workshops on e.g. dance and music being led by festival artists and always find that festivals are great at blurring boundaries between artists and audiences due to their informal set-up. Is it a challenge to plan a more interactive programme or an opportunity?

Paula: Not challenging, we ask and if it works with their schedule they are usually happy to participate!

Life is a Festival: How were you personally inspired as a youngster and is this something you enjoy passing on through your work with the festival?

Paula: Music was all I was ever interested in, I was taught to read music at the same time as I was taught to read and played music on an amateur level… it was a natural progression that when you know you aren’t good enough to be on the stage, do the next best thing and try and discover people who are!

Life is a Festival: What advice would you give to someone attending Womad for the first time?

Paula: Every WOMAD first timer should make sure they download our free festival app and get a programme on site. This means you won’t miss a thing – you’ll be armed with lots of info about each of the artists, and everything happening at the festival!

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If you haven’t got your tickets for WOMAD yet, there is still a chance to make the best of this sunny summer and fit in a festival weekend in late July. Tickets can be purchased online and you have various choices from one day to four days. Glamping options are also available and there is a fab sounding spa area for which you can get an extra pass and get pampered all weekend long. With another excellent and diverse line-up, WOMAD 2018 will be a music party like no other!

Disclaimer: All photography used in this blog post was provided by WOMAD festival including photos by Clara Salina and Suzie Blake.

Dog Days of Summer: Dogfest Bristol 2018

After having had such a great time at Dogfest South last year (see review) and being a huge dog lover, I gave the latest addition, Dogfest West (23-24 June 2018) in Bristol, a try this time around. The location for the festival was Ashton Court Estate, a huge park area just outside Bristol and, like last year, the weather was fantastic.

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After grabbing some fresh drinking water from the Bristol Water fountain, with volunteers counting how many plastic bottles were saved by providing free filtered water, I did a quick round of the stalls before getting ready for The Great Dog Walk (see pic above). Sunday’s walk was introduced by TV presenter and dog lover Chris Packham and it took place twice a day with two route choices, 2km and 4km. Everyone can take part and the path luckily led into a foresty area with lots of shade, which I and the participating dogs were very grateful about. Unlike the one at Knebworth (Dogfest South), it is partly a little steep, so definitely wear trainers and bring a bottle of water to keep hydrated. We were back at the festival grounds after about 45 minutes (2km) and all the dogs taking part looked pleasantly tired. Right by the back entrance there were a couple of bone-shaped paddle pools for the pooches to cool off in, with some of them completely sprawled out in the water to make the best of the welcome refreshment.

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There was also a diving pool again (see pic above), where dogs who love water could take a leap from a ramp or walk into the water to retrieve a tennis ball. Some had clearly got experience and loved being in the pool, while others were hesitating at the edge of it, longingly staring at the yellow ball bobbing in the waves, but unable to decide whether it was worth getting wet in order to get their prize. It was fun to observe, just make sure you queue early as it was busy pretty much all day.

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Like at Dogfest South, all the stalls selling dog-related items, such as dog treats, harnesses, cooling blankets, dog shampoo and accessories or promoting animal charities plus all the food stalls were arranged in a large circle. The Live Stage was in the middle section of the large open field with bands entertaining dog parents and a very nice bar with deck chairs under a sprawling white canvas. This stage was also where festival founder and Channel 4 ‘Supervet’ Noel Fitzpatrick and his colleagues gave talks and advice on pet ownership and pet health (see pic below).

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The Dogfest organisers had again provided lots of fun activities for dogs to try. Fourlegged festival goers could test various fun sports, such as flyball and agility, as well as hay bale racing and resist treats in the temptation alley plus there was a school for dogs, a dog activity ring and a dog show. Of course, I was busy petting lots of friendly dogs and puppies (!) all day and also got to speak to their owners. Some pooches were rescued from as far as Serbia, elderly Reg, the sheep dog had his own ‘regmobile’ built by his dad to take him around in and one girl had borrowed her friend’s dog so it could enjoy the event.

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The food and drink village inlcuded plenty of different delicious options with pretty reasonable prices and enough veggie choices. I had a nice, large plate of Mexican food for about £7, my iced latte was £3.50. Other stalls sold wood oven pizza, fish & chips, Asian noodles, burgers, cakes and ice cream.

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Of course, there weren’t just treats for the humans attending Dogfest. The fourlegged visitors were spoiled for choice with dog ice cream, healthy looking baked treats and evend drinks for dogs. I’m not so sure about the last one, but I observed several pooches licking their bowls of dog ice cream clean with a very contented expression on their fluffy faces. As one of the England Worldcup matches was on on Sunday afternoon, there was a TV screeen conveniently installed for the football fans taking a break from all the doggy activities with a cool pint or prosecco.

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Dog welfare was a big priority at the event, with bowls filled with water available everywhere and stalls offering health checks throughout the day. If there was one thing I would suggest for future events, it would be to have more areas that provide shade, especially in these hot temperatures or also in case of more rainy weather. Make sure you bring enough sun protection, a cooling blanket or coat (see pic below) for your fluffy friend, a refillable water bottle and maybe an umbrella for some extra shade.

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If your dog gets on well with other dogs, it’s definitely a fun day out and you could even make a holiday out of it by visiting nearby Somerset attractions, such as the Glastonbury Tor (dogs allowed but mind the sheep) plus White Spring Well and Temple, the historic town of Wells with its impressive Cathredral and Vicar’s Close, claimed to be the oldest pureley residential street in Europe, or visit the beautiful Roman City of Bath and Bristol with its Clifton Suspension bridge and its lovely pubs and cafes by the harbour.

A Music Weekend in the Midlands: Gate to Southwell Festival 2018

The Gate to Southwell Festival (7-10 June 2018) was a last minute addition to my summer festival calendar this year and a really pleasant surprise! Having arrived from London via Nottingham by train it was a mere five-minute walk from Rolleston station to the festival site. Intriguingly, our designated stewards camping was located on the grounds of the Rolleston racecourse, so I set up my tent next to the parade ring and the women’s toilets had a ‘lady jockeys’ sign on it and saddle holders installed on the walls.

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As I got to Southwell (pronounced as it looks by most locals and ‘Suthel’ seemingly by anyone else) a day early I hitchhiked into town to get supplies and had a look around the Minster, whose two impressive towers also feature on the festival logo. I also came across a few of the especially decorated gates, a lovely idea to link the festival with the town through the ‘decorate your gate’ competition (see this year’s winners, sisters Sophie & Caitlin, below).

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After a relaxing morning, I was based at the box office on Thursday afternoon until the night of Blues started at the Big Top. The standout artist of the night was Li’l Jimmy Reed, a 77 year-old living breathing blues machine, who came down from the stage a few times during his set to play amongst the audience (apart from the Frontier Stage with just a few benches strewn about, all festival venues are seated). There were also some more live acts on at the same time in the Barleycorn Stage adjacent to the main festival bar and I headed over there at around 10pm for a set by Banter, a quirky ceilidh band like no other witha self-proclaimed ‘disregard for musical boundaries.’

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The main festival takes place from Friday until Sunday night, so it makes sense to stay until Monday morning, which unfortunately wasn’t possible for me this time around. Despite the festival site not being huge, the four main stages are arranged in a way that there is almost no noise interference from the other tents, which is fantastic. I was back at the box office on Friday afternoon and by the time I was finished with my shift, a lot more festival goers had started to arrive. I had really been looking forward to seeing both Blue Rose Code and Don Mescall, but both sadly had had to cancel at the last minute. Instead I gave Mongoose, a young, all female band from Ireland a try as well as East Anglian folk and Americana band The Shackleton Trio. The Friday headliner was Lindisfarne, a Newcastle folk rock band hugely popular in the 1970s, and I finished off my night with a spot of ceilidh dancing with Banter at Hoofers, an indoor venue at the race course, just a hop skip and jump away from my tent.

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After a fairly quiet first two days, Saturday was packed with a busy programme in town and at the festival site. The sun was shining and when I got into Southwell on the festival shuttle bus (ca. 3km, Friday until Sunday, £2 return) the town seemed transformed. There was a bustling market in a central square and at 11am the Morris parade started winding its way along King Street with lots of lively music and colourful costumes, including Harlequin Morris (see pic below).

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There were also a number of free events for locals to get a taste of the festival artists and I’m so glad I caught one at the Final Whistle pub, a beautiful disused train station, where Americana artists Vivian Leva from Virginia and Riley Calcagno from Seattle (see pic below) played a short but wonderful set in the courtyard. They were my favourite festival find and I’m sure they’ll be back in the UK many more times.

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After getting back to the festival site, Saturday continued with a varied programme on the four stages, which included Canadian fiddling and step dancing sensation The Fitzgeralds, celtic-inspired contemporary folk band Ranagri (Fort of the Hare), whose danceable repertoire included a ‘Brexit Charleston’, and quirky US duo Truckstop Honeymoon, who I hadn’t seen live for a couple of years and had almost forgotten how great and funny their songs were. Another Americana highlight was the evening’s headliner Gretchen Peters with some fabulous new songs and an impressive back catalogue as well.

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On Sunday morning I made one last trip into town for a latte at The Old Theatre Deli, very friendly café with delicious food right in the centre of town before enjoying the final day of the festival. There were so many acts on at roughly the same time who I had not seen before that I decided to switch between the stages, which was unproblematic as there were always some spare seats in each venue. Despite missing the Sunday headliner Cara Dillon, as I was already on my train back to London by the time she was on, I caught lots of other good acts, such as Scotsman Kris Drever, blues and roots guitarist and singer Martin Harley, Lincolnshire duo The Rye Sisters as well as Canadian songwriter James Keelaghan with Hugh McMillan.

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My favourite event of the day, if not the weekend, was the Tune & Verse & Ditty Challenge, a sort of a celebrity musical pub quiz led by Keith Donnelly on the Frontier Stage. It included questions from the world of folk and roots music and beyond and the two competing teams consisted of some of the Young ‘Uns, Rod Clements of Lindisfarne and various other musicians playing the festival this weekend. I hope it’ll continue to be part of the festival programme in future years, do not miss as it was brilliantly entertaining.

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If you like your festivals small and relaxing where you never really need to worry about getting a good seat while still seeing to top class acts from the world of folk, roots and Americana music, Gate to Southwell is a great choice. There was also plenty of food to choose from (Thai, pasta, fish & chips, wood oven pizza, Leon’s vegetarian, bubble waffles, ice cream and an espresso stall) and two bars with seating. Families with children were also well catered for with lots of entertainment, such as the hilarious Dan the Hat with his juggling and comedy acts as well as stalls with toys and a kids area with a story tent, games, a van to decorate with paint and even a petting zoo. The animals included goats, giant rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens and tortoises and were well looked after. The festival offers a range of ticket options including ‘taster tickets’, which allow you to enjoy the festival during the day with family and friends, but exclude the main evening concerts. But would want to miss those impressive evening lineups?

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Rotterdam: Your Guide to the Vibrant Dutch Harbour City With a Big Heart

I was so glad this year’s Traverse 18 travel blogger conference took place in Rotterdam, as it gave me the perfect excuse to finally visit The Netherland’s largest harbour city. I had heard lots of good things from friends who have already been there and couldn’t wait to explore it for myself. The Traverse guys had lots of fun events lined up for us, such as a chocolate tasting at Chcocafe, a walking tour with Rotterdam Pages, a visit to both the Marriott Hotel (making the best of the great views from the top with a skyline photography class from Michael of London View Points) and the Hilton Hotel (where we had an Instagram workshop by local photographer Sabine Metz, got to see the Presidential Suite and a behind the scenes tour) and a barista master class with Ketel Binkie Coffee to name just a few.

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You don’t need to be a blogger to have a brilliant time in Rotterdam though. It’s a lively city full of positive energy known for its daring architecture and you can easily see all the sights on foot or by bike.

Join a Guided Walking Tour to Get an Overview

I went on a tour by Rotterdam Pages and it was fantastic! It was really fun and personal and our guides Hassan and Ferah seemed to have endless enthusiasm for their city, which was really contagious. They showed us all the main sights like the iconic Cube Houses, the harbour, the impressive Markthal market hall (see pic below, which also houses some apartments with amazing views) and some street art and it was a great introduction for doing some more exploring on our own.

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Explore the Inside of one of the Famous Cube Houses

I returned to the Cube Houses a few day afterwards as one is set up like a museum and it’s only €3 to visit. It’s not that spectacular, but for an interior design fan like myself, it was great to see the interior and how the shape of the building influences what kind of space you have available on the inside.

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Visit the Cat Café and Other Quirky Places

I also often enjoy checking out some more unusual places, like the local cat café. This one, Pebbles Kitty Cat Café is bright and spacious and when I arrived two Dutch bloggers were busy taking pictures and videos. There is a €2.50 ‘cat tax’ but the prices for coffee, cake and sandwiches are reasonable and it’s very clean, so no worries in terms of hygiene, plus the adorable kitties will leave you smiling for sure.

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Another great spot was the ChcoCafe (see pic below) with one location in the Markthal and a sit-down café in Oude Binnenweg. Imagine choosing from over 60 types of chocolate on a stick to dissolve in hot milk, chocolates of all shapes and flavours and lots of other goodies too hard to resist. You won’t want to leave!

I also like picking interesting places for lunch or dinner and another blogger had recommended Burgertrut (‘Burger Bitch’), which serves vegan, vegetarian and organic burgers and whose profits support the local art project Roodkapje. One of their employees has a cute chihuaha, but I missed him unfortunately. I asked them whether customers are OK with a dog (I most definitely would be!) and they said, if they are not, they can go somewhere else. Rotterdam is a lot like that. Openminded and practical locals who get on with their lives and enjoy it a lot.

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Have a Pubcrawl with an International Twist at Witte de Withstraat

As far as I could see, Rotterdamers are always out and about and there is a huge café and pub scene. Some of my favourite places for going out at night was (accidentally) the street I was staying in, Oude Binnenweg, with a handful of great bars (plus the chocolate café, see above, a cheese shop, bookshop and record shop), you can’t miss the street, it’s the pedestrian area right beside the ‘Santa Claus’ sculpture.

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The other area and the main party street is Witte de Withestraat a few blocks further down. There are restaurants with food from around the world as well as lots of local dishes, such as ‘kapsalon’ (literally meaning ‘barber shop’, but now a popular local version of a layered kebab with fries on a plate, veggie options exist, too).

See the City from the Water

Watertaxis are a popular type of transport in Rotterdam and they are super fast, imagine crossing the river like James Bond, just in a slightly smaller boat! When you visit the Maritime Museum, the ticket includes access to various ships anchored right outside it, which will give you unusual viewpoints to photograph the skyline. Once you’re tired from all the sightseeing, rent a Hot Tog with some friends, it’s like a hot tub turned into a boat and apparently they are coming to London soon.

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Have Breakfast on an Island in Katendrecht

For a bit of quiet time out, head to Kopi Soe Soe on the island of Katendrecht (easy to reach from the centre on foot, by bike or public transport) and start your day with coffee and cheesecake. This former fairly industrial area is now rapidly becoming popular and the Fenix Food Factory has many food stalls and other shops with creative things to browse.

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Spend a Morning in the Pretty Town of Delft

Lots of people recommended Delft to me and the return ticket was only €7.80, so I decided to go there for breakfast on Friday morning. I found a café online that came recommended due to its appeltaart, so Kuch Café was my first choice and it was lovely eating the still warm cake and sipping my latte watching the local square wake up. I then took a walk to the windmill, the two churches and along the small canals (nothing like Amsterdam or Bruges, but more chilled) before hopping on the train back to Rotterdam.

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Stay in a Cosy Hostel

There are lots of nice options to stay in Rotterdam and anywhere central is pretty much walkable, so take your pick. I stayed at a boutique hotel above a restaurant (which was fairly noisy, but the room was so cosy and sunny I didn’t really mind). I also often like to get a single room in a nice hostels, so you get a good night’s sleep, but also have the advantage of friendly company. Ani & Haakien is such a place, including a garden with a hammock and a sweet fluffy cat. Room was a hostel I spent a lot of time in as there was live music one night and one of our workshops, a fun barista class from Ketelbinkie Coffee took place there, too. King Kong Hostel on Witte de Withstraat also looked pretty cool with wooden furnishings and a huge terrace, perfect for soaking up the sun.

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Explore the Street Art around Town

I also loved how much street art there is in Rotterdam, one piece is even climbable (the first couple of meters anyway!). You can start exploring the side streets around Witte de Withstraat, but you’ll soon notice colourful murals and quirky sculptures everywhere.

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Cultural Events and Festivals Galore

While I visited I managed to catch a brilliant contemporary dance show (Tinkling 1), which was part of the Opera Festival, and I just missed a very fun sounding festival called the Rooftop days where you get access to rooftops for the best views of the city. There was also Rotterdam’s first vegan festival on while we were in the city, but there just wasn’t enough time for everything.

Grab some brochures from the tourist office, hostels or cultural venues and, most importantly, quiz the locals about the best places to go. In the Netherlands pretty much everyone speaks English, so it’s easy to get talking to people, e.g. when I saw a guy looking at a plaque (In Dutch) on a building and asked him what it was all about, he gave me a mini lecture about the history of this part of the city, which made him a bit late for work and completely made my morning.

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Yes, I’m a little bit positively biased because I got to explore Rotterdam with a bunch of other enthusiastic intrepid travel bloggers, but seriously, now that there is a direct three-hour train link from London and good links to lots of other European cities, there really is no excuse not to visit. Whether you’re into architecture, culture, art (there is a whole museum quarter, which is already on my list for next time), are a foodie, a coffee or animal lover, this lively place has it all. Don’t be deceived by its modern, edgy exterior, Rotterdam has a big heart and will make you feel welcome from the moment you arrive.