Tag Archives: arts festival

Sea, Sun & Fun: Grinagog Festival 2017

Officially billed as a ‘weekend of mudless mischief by the sea’, the brand new Grinagog Festival, which took place from 7-9 April 2017 in Torquay, Devon, had a pretty enviable start. Most summer festivals in the UK would have been thrilled with three days in a row of sunshine and temperatures of around 20 degrees, never mind a location right by the sea – and it was only the beginning of April. I travelled down to Torquay on the train (3 hr journey for less than £40 return and a direct connection from London) and combined my festival experience with exploring the nearby attractions.

Torre Abbey Grinagog

Most of the festival venues were located in and around historic Torre Abbey (originally founded as a monastery in 1196) and the Riviera Centre right next to it. With a family day taking place on Saturday (graffiti workshops, crazy golf, family rave, storytelling, the lot) and most headliners (Akala, Rat Boy, Congo Natty) having been scheduled for way after midnight for the younger party crowd, the event catered for distinct groups of festival goers while also allowing everyone to get a taster of music they might not have heard of, but might well enjoy. I also managed to catch the world premiere of a documentary on the rise and fall of ‘The Lost Vagueness’, a quirky part of Glastonbury for many years. On Saturday afternoon, everyone gathered on the lawn beside the RICC and followed the giant Grinagog paper mache puppet (lovingly made by Egg Shed Arts) and the Grinagog Carnival & Samba Band down to the sea.

Saturday was also my favourite day music-wise as the London-based The Nest Collective put on a great selection of well-known and up-and-coming folky acts in the chapel, the ballroom and the undercroft downstairs. These included Miranda Sykes & Rex Preston (who apparently won’t be together as a duo for that much longer, what a pity), The Carrivick Sisters (who play about five different instruments each), Cynefin (singing in Welsh), folk duo Phil & Hannah and The Ceilidh Liberation Front, who put on a great ceilidh in the Spanish Barn. There were also lots of opportunities for local music acts to show off their skills on the Soundlaunch Buskers Stage outside Torre Abbey and some of the other tents.

Grinagog Puppet

Fair play to the organisers (including DJ Chris Tofu of Contintental Drifts) for putting on such a huge variety of live music plus talks, films and lots of side activities, such as a roller disco, paddle boarding, trapeze workshops, swimming pool parties etc. Personally, I found the huge line-up a little overwhelming and due to the great weather a lot of the acts scheduled in the many indoor venues earlier in the day were playing mostly to only a handful of people. I trust, however, that once the festival has established itself on the event calendar, many of those details (maybe a few additional food vendors including more veggie options, more site art/themed decorations, less noise interruption by drop-in visitors at quieter gigs) will be ironed out eventually. The main question a new festival like Grinagog needs to ask itself is what kind of event it wants to be and what it wants to achieve. I’m a big fan of specialised festivals (one genre of music, documentaries etc.) as the attendees tend to just have more in common and it’s often still possible to make them accessible to a wider audience by offering a taster day/sessions. Having said that, more general, but uniquely branded festivals, such as End of the Road or Larmer Tree, which appeal to families as well as other groups of festival goers and attract repeat customers by offering an escape from everyday life with well-known music acts as well as quality arts and culture programming, can also be hugely popular. While the possibilities are endless, the financial aspects of running a festival successfully, especially in today’s economic climate and such a crowded market, cannot be overestimated, and are a big factor for survival.

The best part of the weekend, as always, were the passionate people making it happen and the friendly punters. I met a couple with a toddler who’d just returned to Devon after living in Japan, two visiting yoga teachers, a local financial advisor and part-time musician and lots of other locals, many of them with adorable dogs of all shapes and sizes. Especially the younger ones were thrilled to have this new kind of event in a traditional English seaside town where chippies, souvenir shops and bars putting on cover bands tend to dominate the main street. There is definitely a great potential for more collaborations with local businesses to further bridge the divide between traditional and new and creative in future. It will be exciting to see what a big smiling beast of a festival Grinagog develops into in the coming years. I, for one, was chuffed to have been invited to its first birthday bash and hope it will be with us for many more years to come!

Torquay harbour sunset

P.S. If you’re visiting Torquay or one of the nearby towns I can recommend a walk to Cockington Village with its thatched cottages, less than half an hour on foot from Torquay train station and a stop at The Blue Walnut Café along the way (it even boasts a tiny cinema). From Cockington take the path down to the sea, it’s idyllic. I also really enjoyed a return ferry trip (30 mins each way, £3 return) to Brixham, strolling along the fishing harbour and watching kids catching crabs as well as walks to Baddacombe beach and Anstey Cove, which has a basic but friendly café right by the sea, well worth the 15-minute detour on foot.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a press pass for the 2017 festival in exchange for a personal review of the event 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. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

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Meet the Festival Makers: DJ Chris Tofu of Grinagog Festival

Grinagog 2017 logoIt’s really heartening to see that no matter how crowded the UK festival market seems, there are always new and exciting events getting started and Grinagog Festival looks like one of the most promising this year. Plus, it’s probably the first proper chance for you to party for a whole weekend without getting muddy in the process. What’s not to love?! I spoke to the festival curator of the inaugural event, DJ Chris Tofu, who has been creating festival experiences all over the country at Glasto, Boomtown, Bestival and many more.

Life is a Festival: The ‘English Riviera’ is traditionally known for its charming seaside towns and Devonshire cream teas. This year, however, Grinagog will bring a whole new cultural venture to Torquay. With your track record of running cultural projects at some of the most well-known UK events, it promises to be a weekend party like no other. Who is it aimed at and what makes Grinagog unique?

Chris: What makes it so unique is Torquay is a perfectly formed festival site with amazing buildings and venues and the beach right there, with hotels costing less than a Halfords tent. The place is like the ultimate festival venue, and I should know because I’ve started loads of festivals. I’m putting everything I possibly can into making an extremely diverse, cultural offering for young people in Torquay. We’re bringing together all the amazing promoters and cultural workers who are in the town and the surrounding area already into one big pot to create a cultural explosion that we hope can really be a place maker for this town.

Life is a Festival: I’m a real fan of festivals taking place in different venues around a city or town as it’s a great way for visitors to get to know a destination and to meet the locals rather than just be in their own bubble during their stay. It will be my first time in Torquay, is there anything off the beaten track I definitely need to see or do?

Chris: Inside the festival we have ska venues in small hotels and these shell sound systems we‘re pushing around with Mixmaster Morris and a medieval monastery full of stuff, but Torquay is rich in trails that lead to lovely places from prehistoric caves to full on massive cliffs etc. The Blue Walnut Café hidden near the festival, is run by a quirky American who used to hang with Miles Davis and has a cinema for 20 people. Ultimately we want this whole festival to be about going and finding quirky culture as you go around. The acts can sell themselves but finding a mad play in a prehistoric cave.

Life is a Festival: You are offering bus shuttles to travel from nearby towns to the festival venues and back, which is a great idea, so people can leave their cars at home. How about the accessibility of the venues, are they wheelchair-friendly?

Chris: Yes, I‘m pretty sure all of the event is wheelchair friendly. [Note: please confirm this with the individual venues before you’re heading to the festival]

Life is a Festival: Having had a look at the diverse programme, I can’t wait to explore the festival! Have you got any personal recommendations or are there any special highlights created just for the event?

Chris: Well, Shaka did one of his first out of London gigs like 45 years ago in Torquay, so I’m looking forward to that. Friday‘s line up is off the scale if you love Bass Funk and BoomTown style music. There is Son Of Dave on Sunday…actually there are vast and always different musical offers. Check out the brass bands!

Sounds exciting! And besides the multi-genre music line-up, there are also all sorts of other fun stuff to try out, including pool parties, roller discos, paddle boarding, spoken word events and short film screenings. A weekend ticket is only £35, so there is really no excuse not to be at the first ever Grinagog Festival from 7-9 April 2017. Line-up preview below, see you there!

Grinagog 2017 lineup

Meet the Festival Makers: Matthew Miller of Soul Circus Yoga Festival

There’s a new festival on the block and it promises to be one to watch on the UK summer festival circuit. Soul Circus is a boutique yoga and wellness festival in the beautiful Cotswolds, an intimate ‘immersive escape’ for about 500 lucky folks who will spend an August weekend doing yoga in three themed tents (ambient, party, experiential), getting pampered plus enjoying quality local street food and live music every night.

Sounds awesome, right? I spoke to Soul Circus’ creative and media director (and Broga founder) Matthew Miller to find out more about the upcoming festival.

Life is a Festival: How was the idea for Soul Circus born and what makes it unique?

Matt: This past year, my business partners Roman and his wife Ella had what was billed as a ‘festival wedding’ over the course of three days in the Cotswolds. It was to date the most amazing wedding I have ever attended. Ever since I first moved to the UK from California a few years ago, I was totally enamoured with the idea of the British festival. We have loads of summer music festivals and concerts in the States but nothing, (besides Burning Man), that is an immersive escape from the world we know everyday and a chance to escape through nature back to a simpler, carefree and more joyful life, like when we were kids. We love the smaller UK festivals and thought, what if instead of having the wellbeing as a sideshow to accompany the music, we flipped it around and made the focus the wellbeing, and had the music as the add-on extra? A whole weekend of just being good to yourself and enjoying nature with a little bit of raucous fun instead of debauchery with a bit of detox rehab served on the side. Soul Circus was born.

Life is a Festival: The festival seems incredibly well thought out (stunning location, specifically designed yoga practice areas, posh toilets, health-conscious food offerings), how are you making this happen?

Matt: We threw our idea on Stunning Tents, who supplied the Cirque de Soleil quality tents and glamping accommodations for the wedding, and they loved the idea of hosting a luxury wellness and yoga festival. We have also kept it local in terms of catering. The spa treatment tent is hosted by the Holistic partner from the South West and the organic food and artisanal drink is coming from home-grown upstarts like The Core Cheltenham and The Little Gin Company.

Life is a Festival: Looking at the (very tempting!) Soul Circus website, you managed to get a number of amazing teachers on board, what sort of different sessions can festivalgoers expect?

Matt: Wherever you are on your yogic journey, we want you to have an ideal weekend. With 18 classes a day, guests can fill their days with vinyasa flow and relaxing yin classes, or branch out and try circus aerial or body painting yoga. Whichever way you flow, you’ll learn from the UK’s best teachers who are coming from far and wide to host creative workshops and classes. Not to mention there will be three distinct environments you will never get at your gym or studio at home: a party tent featuring DJ’s, live music and rave lighting; an ambient tent that will host both open air and steaming hot classes and an experiential tent with visual video projections on the walls to transport you to a different land.

Life is a Festival: What about the music, can’t have a festival without music, right?

Matt: Music is the heartbeat of Soul Circus. Our experiences range from DJ-powered yoga classes to acoustic musical meditations to the electric main stage performances. Whatever your taste, you’ll enjoy artists all day and into the secret woodland rave at night. You may even discover your next musical crush.

Life is a Festival: How about kids, is Soul Circus suitable for families too?

Matt: Don’t worry, we didn’t forget about the kids! Soul Circus is totally family-friendly with dedicated kids activities and an on-site spa for some alone time as well.

Thanks Matt! So if you haven’t got any plans for 19-21 August 2016 yet, get your hands on the coveted Soul Circus tickets and join the yoga party. I, for one, am already super excited to add the festival to my packed summer schedule!

Sounds of the West: The CelticFest Vancouver 2011

When I was browsing festival listings for Vancouver before moving here I was pleased to see that they have their very own St. Patrick’s Day Parade! CelticFest Vancouver got started in 2004 and has meanwhile turned into a several day long party of all things Celtic which is celebrated in March each year, this time from 16 til 20 March 2011. It is also one of the festivals that looks after their volunteers extremely well, we got invited to a volunteer drinks night before the festival had even started.


The hub of the festival operation was the Scotia Bank Dance Centre where we all signed in and out for our shifts and hung out with coffee and snacks in between racing from the Celtic Village on Granville Street to some of the other venues. Most volunteers were needed for the actual parade to ensure that audiences and performers had a safe and fun day. I was a team leader for a group of volunteers stationed alongside the parade route and we were a very international bunch representing about five countries, from Korea to Belgium.

A few of us volunteers also went to a gig by The Starbirds and Spirit of the West at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver. Both excellent live bands who had the audience dancing in front of the stage within minutes. As with most festivals, am still in touch with a handful of people who I had most fun with and am already looking forward to the volunteer BBQ in the summer!