Tag Archives: festival review

Where Tradition Meets Pop Culture: Hyper Japan Festival July 2017

If the aim of Hyper Japan, which took place from 14-16 July 2017 in London, is to get you excited about Japanese culture and about visiting Japan, it definitely did a top job! I’ve been to Japan twice, once as part of a twin town exchange staying with host families and exploring cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara and then nearly a decade later visiting my friends again during a round the world trip. It’s a fascinating country with stunning scenery, super friendly people, lots of cultural events and festivals to explore and the most yummy food you can imagine.

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So I was very intrigued what Hyper Japan would be like. Most of the people I met had been a few times and I could easily see why. There was just so much on offer. They had a large live music stage, Hyper Live, where I saw some Japanese bands like electronic music outfit REOL (really loved their energy and sound, even though I normally never listen to this kind of music) and Fuku Mariwo (see pic above, who plays the traditional nagauta string instrument, but has a modern sound and also had a fantastic dancer with her). After the concerts, you could line up for a ‘meet and greet’ with your favourite artist and get CDs and other merchandise signed.

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There was also another spot where acts performed on the lower ground floor, including Tokyo Rickshaw (see pic below), a J-pop boy band outfit, who had the crowd clapping along in no time. It was really interesting getting an insight into the Japanese popular music scene and the band was a big hit with the mostly younger London festival goers. Lots of them were dressed in elaborate cosplay outfits (see pic above, a world I know nothing about, but which was fantastic to experience) and the atmosphere was generally lively, friendly and fun. I had a quick look around the gaming and anime centre as well, where you could try out lots of new games and consoles with your friends.

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A big part of Hyper Japan are the numerous stalls offering handmade or branded ‘kawaii’ (cute) products, which is a huge thing in Japan. Not having been exposed to so many pastel-coloured fluffy toys, buttons, bags, outfits and accessories of all types since my last trip there, it was great to browse the stalls and speak to some of the vendors, including Hideyuki Izumi (see pic below) who creates elaborate hand-painted resin necklaces and rings. Many of the stall holders are on Etsy and really loved their creativity and enthusiasm. There were also lots of stalls for traditional and pop-culture clothes and a Japanese pottery shop. Although I did quite well not buying a lot early on, resistance was pretty much futile once I saw a ceramic bowl with a rabbit motive and matching chopsticks and also ended up purchasing some unicorn festival earrings (a work-related expense, really!), animal stickers and other kawaii stationery.

Hyper Japan Hideyuki Izumi.jpg

It was definitely time to take a shopping break and I headed to the Hyper Theatre just in time for a fascinating talk with Japanese anime creators. Most of the people in the room knew all about the different series and films and were thrilled to be able to ask Michihiko Suwa (Detective Conan producer) and Atsushi Maekawa (screenwriter of Dragon Ball Z, Fresh Pretty Cure etc.) questions on their career and their latest releases. Afterwards I had a chat with the two interpreters, Chie Kutsuwada and Inko (see pic below), who are actually both manga artists and illustrators themselves, fantastic!

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This session was followed by a talk by travel experts from Tokyo, Wakayama and the islands of Okinawa. While I’ve been to Tokyo during my past trips (but was surprised to learn the mega city also boasts beaches and forest trails), I had not heard much about the beauty of Wakayama prefecture before, which is centrally located near Osaka and Nara and offers lots of outdoor activities, onsen (hot springs) and opportunities to stay overnight at various Buddhist shinto temples. Sadly, it is also where an annual dolphin hunt still takes place in Taiji every September (as highlighted in The Cove documentary), which I’m sure even lots of Japanese people are not aware of, so do check out The Dolphin Project. Okinawa is a group of beautiful islands with lots of historic sights and stunning beaches in the Pacific Ocean which I’d love to explore in future. On the ground floor level were also stalls from different travel providers to help you put together the perfect trip to Japan or plan a language holiday.

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This was followed by a visit to the Sake Experience, which I got to try for free, but would have been well worth the £15 as you get to try 24 (!) sake from different regions of Japan and learn lots about them from the producers. We were moving around the nine stalls in small groups and in mine (see pic below) were a Glaswegian woman, an English guy living in Japan as well as two Nepalese girls. We had so much fun trying the very different flavours and talking with the sake experts. Most of the traditional ones were a bit too strong for me, but I absolutely adored all the sparkling sake (think Prosecco) and there was even a ‘jelly sake’ to try. We got to rate them all afterwards and vote for our favourites at the end of the tour. It was just as well there was so much delicious and authentic Japanese food on offer in the food court to balance out the sake experience, and these included cooked savoury dishes, sushi, desserts and ice cream and veggie options were available, too.

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Somehow the day went by in no time and I could totally see why people would spend the whole weekend here. The 3-day programme is really varied and there were lots of tables and chairs to sit in the courtyards if you needed a break from all the shopping and excitement plus the location (Tobacco Dock, near Shadwell Station in East London) is easily accessible. There were also some great Japanese craft workshops on offer (which could have probably done with a brighter and less tucked away space) and documentary screenings, both of which I would have loved to have done as well, but simply had no time for.

I was very impressed with my first visit to Hyper Japan and am hoping to also make it to the winter edition, which will take place from 24-26 November 2017.

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.

The Transformative Power of Yoga: World Yoga Festival 2017

When I got off the train at Pangbourne, near Reading, on my way to World Yoga Festival, I noticed some graffiti on the wall opposite the station. It read “Buy More. Work Harder. Live Less.” A great reminder why it’s sometimes good to stop and think and take time out to reconsider what is important to us in life. World Yoga Festival, which took place from 6-9 July in the beautiful natural setting of Beale Park by the river Thames was the perfect place to do this. In fact, it was like a positivity boot camp.

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The festival only started last year, but it felt like it’s been around for decades. Ram and Sonali Banerjee and their team have created something very special, which in itself reflects the power of yoga as a philosophy, that oneness is not just a theoretical, hard to grasp concept, but that by doing the right actions, big and small, and working actively towards positive goals with others we can achieve something incredibly beautiful. World Yoga Festival brings together renowned masters from different yogic disciplines and embraces all eight aspects of yoga. It is yoga in practice.

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I don’t think I’ve ever been at an event where there was so much spiritual knowledge gathered in one place. I had never heard of most of the speakers and teachers before last weekend and I’ve still not been to India. But World Yoga Festival is probably the closest you can come in the UK to get a taste of spiritual India while also having a real outdoor retreat with a swimming lake, lounging in the chai tent at sundown, eating the most scrumptious vegetarian and vegan food and getting lots of healthy exercise. There were a number of gurus (removers of the darkness of ignorance) and swamis (spiritual teachers) present and every speaker I listened to (pictured above is Swami Satvananda Saraswati), had something helpful to add to our own practice, no matter where each of us currently was on our path of learning.

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In fact, the variety of festival attendees was quite astonishing. I met people from various countries, holistic practitioners, yoga teachers, lawyers, engineers, people making the most of their retirement by travelling and learning, seasoned yogis, musicians, groups of friends on a weekend away, families with little ones and older children, enjoying nature together and the craft workshops and classes on offer especially for them. All the volunteers were really into yoga and super friendly and we exchanged lots of tips about other yoga events.

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It was also really easy getting to know new people before and after classes and over some of the yummy vegetarian and vegan food, which included salads, crepes, risotto and pasta, Mexican and lots of delicious Indian food, which was my favourite (South Indian masala dosa, savoury Indian pancakes, curries and dhal). In addition, there were stalls with yoga clothing, mediation cushions, a non-alcoholic cocktail bar, fresh juices, coffee and yogi tea.

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By the lake you could learn to drum or play the didgeridoo, have a massage or simply lounge in the beautiful Earth tent, which was strewn with large cushions and little lights, which glowed beautifully in the dark. Even the toilets were amazing. I don’t often post pictures of something as basic as this, but it just underlines again how much care went into every detail of the festival. There were hardly any shower queues and it all made me feel like I’m at a holistic retreat rather than a camping festival. So nice.

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The main draw and best part of the festival, however, was of course learning from the wonderful masters and teachers, many of them from the birthplace of yoga, India. As at most festivals, there was a packed schedule divided across four stages (Space, the largest, where all the evening concerts and some ceremonies took place, Air, Fire and Water). The tents were spacious and each had a differently coloured floor with white walls and ceilings. It was a little overwhelming at first to choose between so many excellent sounding classes, workshops, gong baths (see pic further down), meditations and talks, plus a Bharatanatyam dance workshop by Ananya Chatterjee, which all seemed unmissable and to also get enough time to relax (or rather let all the teachings sink in!). So I just tried a few different ones each day.

Unlike at quite a few other yoga festivals, there was a huge emphasis on knowledge and learning. So rather than lots of physical yoga, even the asana-based classes in the water tent were often more on anatomy (e.g. by Sri Louise from the USA) or positive thinking (Neil Patel talking about yoga and cancer).

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My favourite teacher at the festival was 98-year young Tao Porchon Lynch (see pic above – the world’s oldest yoga teacher and ballroom dancer, who grew up in India, marched with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, was a resistance fighter during WWII, a top model before that term even existed, Hollywood actress, business woman etc.). I went to her first session on Friday morning and decided to go to the two other ones, too as I’ve learned from other festivals that it’s often good to stick with someone you can really relate to. Her personality, kindness, gentle sense of humour, fierce strength (shoulder stand with lotus) and resilience (three hip replacements, broken wrist etc. never stopped her) was just beautiful to witness. The first time that weekend when tears came to my eyes was when we did sun salutations with her to tango music. And she just kept reminding us that a positive mindset is everything, that she always feels every day is going to be the best day ever and nothing is impossible. How lovely that she felt grateful to be there with us this weekend just like we felt lucky to witness her boundless energy. What a role model!

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Iyengar teacher Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh’s daily 2-hour early morning and afternoon classes in the large Space tent were also a huge draw. He went into lots of detail about the poses he taught and speaking to attendees afterwards, it was a very valuable learning experience, which I’m sad to have missed (as were Dr. Bali‘s sessions, another nonagenerian yogi!). I did catch a beginners’ Iyengar class with Uday Bhosale and Mary Niker, however, who were great at assisting us with different asanas and despite the hard work, the hour and a half went by quicker than I thought. The longer session concept of the festival with various classes building on the previous ones, was a good system, so you actually felt you progressed throughout the weekend. Alternatively, you could sample lots of different styles and talks and then continue learning more about specific ones after the festival.

I also attended various talks on non-duality and yoga philosophy, which began with festival director Ram Banerjee’s sunset talk on Friday night, followed by a Ganga Arati ceremony by the lake. Throughout the weekend I listened to a number of gurus and philosophers discussing complex concepts, usually with a lot of humour, but also lots of space for serious questions. It felt very good being able to sit or lie in a sun-flooded tent with others who were all keen to soak up knowledge, respectful of the speaker, the space and each other and take it all in. This year’s masters and teachers included some of the above mentioned as well as Swami Ambikananda, Guru Dharam, Swami Brahmavidananda Saraswati and others.

The live music in the evenings was a great mix of traditional Indian musical instruments and singing blended with a more Western sound and I very much enjoyed Manish Vyas‘ quieter devotional music as well as Soumik Datta’s (see pic below) Saturday night set, which turned into a real drum and base dance party with an Indian twist at the end of the night. There were also some great outdoor lunchtime sets by Sam Garrett and Brett Randall. And how lucky (or well-planned) that Guru Purnima (homage to the gurus, i.e. our spiritual teachers) happened to be on Sunday, which was of course marked with a ceremony in the Space tent. To top everything off there was also a full moon on Saturday night, a truly auspicious weekend for a yoga festival!

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Writing this in my home in London and looking through other festival goers’ social media posts with lots of smiles and the sun shining on us all weekend long (we did have a lot of influential people praying for good weather!), I still feel buoyed by the vibrant and playful energy of World Yoga Festival. This is why this blog exists. Go out there wherever you are and find these special gatherings, be open to learning new things and you will see that the world is an amazing place!

My main take-aways from the festival weekend:

  • Meditate regularly (so please ask me next time you see me if I’m doing this as I really, really want to make it a habit, but find it even harder than my regular yoga practice)
  • Deepen my knowledge of yoga philosophy and my personal yoga practice
  • We can all achieve more than we think, if we believe in it and are open to learn (I improved my bridge, tree and dancer poses through simple but effective tips from Tao and Uday)
  • Travel to India (I’ve been wanting to go for years, but the more I learn about yoga philosophy, the more this is becoming an actual plan)
  • Remember to be more like Tao whose motto is ‘Nothing is Impossible’ as in ‘Everything is Possible’
  • Finally, return to World Yoga Festival, because it was just fantastic in every way!

WYF ganga arati.jpg

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend 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.

 

Americana Anniversary: Maverick Festival 2017

Maverick Festival, which took place from 30 June until 2 July 2017, at Easton Farm Park in beautiful Suffolk, East Anglia, was celebrating its tenth anniversary this summer and I’ve been lucky to have been to four of those in 2013, 2014, 2015 as well as this latest edition. It’s quite a special little festival and here are my top 10 reasons why I’m always enjoying it so much:

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1. Quality Line-Up: Most people who come to Maverick book their tickets without even knowing who’s on the line-up for that particular year, they just expect quality music, and the festival rarely disappoints. Paul Spencer and his team know the Americana scene well and always book a great variety of reliably excellent acts from the USA, Canada, and even as far afield as Australia as well as the best of what the ever-growing Americana scene in this country has to offer. It was great to see Police Dog Hogan, Case Hardin, Don Gallardo (see pic below), Erin Rae, Dean Owens, Hannah Rose Platt, Hannah Aldridge and Annie Keating again, make sure you give them a listen.

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2. New Discoveries: I love when I turn up at a stage not having heard of a particular musician before and then being blown away by their music and enthusiasm for their craft. This year’s favourite new finds included The Roamin Jasmine (New Orleans), Royal Jelly Jive (San Francisco), The Danberrys (Nashville) and Amy McCarley (Alabama). Two others who I regretted to have missed, but got thumbs up from various other attendees, were Tom Attah (UK) and Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes (Australia). Virtuoso US mandolin player Sierra Hull (see pic below) was also excellent, as were US duo American Young.

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3. Friendly Vibe & Hanging Out With Musicians: While headliners like two-time Grammy winning guitarist Albert Lee (great set with BJ Cole on pedal steel!) and Steve Earle’s son Justin Townes Earle were no doubt a particular attraction to some festival goers, another reason why I love this event is how relaxed and friendly the atmosphere is. It’s one of those festivals where you can just wander between the different stages and food stalls all day, sit under a tree and read a book, share a table with other music lovers or have a chat at the merch area with one of the bands playing. Despite the unrushed pace, it never gets boring because there is great music playing everywhere from late morning until about midnight every night.

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4. Idyllic Location & Great Site Layout: When I first walked through the gates of Maverick Festival a couple of years ago, I fell immediately in love with the beautiful setting of the event. Unlike other festivals held on a big field with nearly no other natural features, Easton Farm Park boasts some beautiful historic farm buildings, meadows and lots of trees and it all just looks like you’re entering a set for a Western movie – including our equivalent of mustangs, the beautiful and rare Suffolk Punch horses (pictured below). As it’s a rather boutique festival, you can easily pop back to your tent for an extra jumper or during this good weather extra sun cream as the camp ground is only a five-minute walk from the music stages. And as the music finishes quite early (around 11.30pm) there isn’t too much noise late at night (apart from the odd folky session around a fire, which actually makes for a nice lullaby). While there aren’t very many showers (I counted only a handful), there are two buildings with proper toilets and lots of additional portaloos strewn around the site.

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5. Dog-Friendly Event: The one thing I’m often missing at other outdoor festivals is the lovely presence of dogs who are often not allowed on site for all sorts of reasons. Not so at Maverick. Everywhere you go you’ll meet smiling pooches likes this happy pair below, Moss and Sky, and I loved hearing about their (rescue) stories. You can find more pictures on my Cuddle a Dog a Day Instagram account. If you have a friendly dog who doesn’t mind crowds, it’s a great festival to take it to, as a lot of the music can actually be enjoyed from outside most of the venues, so pooches can be in the shade and away from most of the noise, but you can still have a good time. Win, win.

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6. Still Kicking Against All Odds: A fascinating addition to this year’s festival was a short, and retrospectively very funny, documentary entitled ‘The Peasants Are Revolting’ charting the journey from idea to festival and the difficulties faced by festival founder Paul Spencer before being able to run Maverick for the first time in 2008. He initially encountered a lot of resistance from a number of villagers who feared there would be a noisy ‘rave’ (anti banjo protests? goats vs sheep standoff? rowdy cowboy hat throwing competitions?) threatening their otherwise peaceful lives and that their quaint Suffolk village would be overrun by all sorts of undesirable individuals. As you can see from the pictures in this post, there was clearly a lot of cause for concern ;-). Luckily, the festival founders persisted and I am now even more grateful for the festival than before I knew about all these (pretty major) teething problems. The screening was followed by a live Q&A with Paul and Tim Dowling with lots more anecdotes from the beginnings of a festival which is most definitely here to stay!

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7. Learning By Doing: I didn’t get around to any of the workshops this year, but there were a bluegrass as well as a banjo session plus a workshop on cigar box guitars and diddley bow. If you felt inspired enough to stick with your new chosen instrument, there were some music stalls with a choice of instruments to take home, including one with beautifully hand-decorated guitars and the pretty cool looking cigar box guitars (below).

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8. Plentiful Food & Drink: As with many smaller festivals, there aren’t quite as many food choices as at larger events. But I was pleased to see that the veggie options had increased since I last visited and there were also quite a few vegan dishes on offer. I had Thai street food, pizza from a wood-fired oven and a squash and feta cheese pie with mash. There were also plenty of desserts, like waffles and ice cream, and a few stalls serving cappuccinos. Plus Easton Farm Park’s café did a decent if not very exciting veggie breakfast in the mornings. Drinks (variety of beer, local cider) were not cheap, but a few freebie cocktails in cans given out by a new sponsor made up for it.

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9. Fun For All Ages: As Maverick is such a safe and friendly environment, families will have no problem finding activities to entertain the little ones. I spoke to a few whose kids were already keen to return, which is no wonder given the many cute animals to pet and feed (goats, horses, llamas, pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens) as well as an adventure playground, which even includes a mini-zipline. Nashville-based duo Chasing Summer also added to the kids entertainment by doing a lovely live show and art workshop on a new outdoor stage in the orchard, which was enthusiastically received by the children.

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10. Additional Gigs By Touring Musicians: Yes, post festival blues is a terrible thing and hits me every single time for a day or two after getting back home. Luckily, there is a silver lining as most of the overseas musicians booked for Maverick tend to also be on tour in the UK and other European countries while they are over here. So do look for their tour schedules and additional gigs the week before or after the festival. You might even end up on a train together, like I did with Royal Jelly Jive, who were on the way to their next gig in Belgium. A great way to extend the festival for another few hours.

You might not have heard of Americana as a genre of music before and be reluctant to book a weekend of bands you’ve never heard of. Don’t worry! Give a few of them a listen on Yotube before you visit and enjoy the fact that after attending Maverick you’ll be the one in the know giving your friends, who may well still be stuck in mainstream music land, the best recommendations for ‘the next big act’ like a pro!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend 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.

Community Spirit: FloVibe Festival 2017

It’s easy dreaming up an event, but actually making it happen takes a lot of courage, collaboration, resilience and many little steps towards that final goal, a beautiful new festival. It was around this time last year when FloVibe Founder Jason Pooley decided that he wanted to create another community besides the already existing one at his The House of Yoga in Putney. A year on, here we all were in a big field behind Kelmarsh Hall near Northampton, less than an hour from the bustle of London, but a world away from our hectic everyday lives. The festival site is just beautiful with large oak trees and a lake with a bridge across it leading to a hidden meadow where all the massage, reflexology and meditation sessions plus the SUP yoga took place. For a first-time event FloVibe, which took place from 2-4 June 2017, was amazingly smoothly run, which as far as I can see had both to do with the organisers successfully delegating different aspects of the event to people who knew what they were doing and trusting them to get on with it without interfering too much. As a result, and also thanks to the many fun, relaxed folks who spent the weekend there, it was one of the most chilled festivals I’ve ever been to.

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As it was my first outdoor festival of the season, I really wanted to take it easy and not cram in too much. So after the happy tent was set up beside the friendly security crew and various creative folks helping to make the festival happen, I made my way over to one of the yoga tents for the gong bath (a ‘sonic meditation’ with vibrations helping to release energy blockages and stimulate healing) led by Kwali Kumara. It sounded like a great chilled first session to do, but having only been to one or two Kundalini Yoga sessions before, it required a lot more will power to stick with it than I had initially thought. The 75 minutes consisted of a lot of chanting of sacred mantras in Sanskrit (the linguist in me tried really hard to get them right) and, towards the end, we finally got to lie on our backs (yes!) to let the sounds of two giant metal gongs wash over us. I wasn’t sure how everybody else felt about it, but being sensitive to noise definitely didn’t help to enjoy it a lot. So instead of keeping my eyes closed, I watched the quite mesmerising performance. Definitely an interesting experience, but not necessarily one I would like to do on a regular basis.

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After grabbing some veggie dinner – there were some yummy options like Indian food from the Bhangra Bus Cafe (an actual US school bus from Georgia, which functioned as a café, so cool), a burger stall and Japanese food plus lots of smoothies, coffee, cakes and brownies – I was looking forward to the live music on the main stage. All the bands were really interesting and included Lunch Money, General Skank and The Turbans, one of my favourite festival live bands as they always get everyone dancing within five seconds.

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I slept incredibly well in the happy tent, so nice to be back camping after the winter and being woken up by rays of glorious sunshine in the morning! Saturday was just wonderful. After a coffee and some interesting conversations with other festival goers in the queue, I explored the programme on offer. There was a good variety of yoga classes (lots of vinyasa/flow classes, but also acro yoga dance, yoga nidra, yin yoga and tribal yoga dance) in large tents spread around the festival site, the above-mentioned wellness and meditation area, pilates and HIIT sessions (which were popular, but more for gym and fitness fans as far as I’m concerned) plus a kids zone with crafting, a cinema tent and face painting.

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I took part in the ‘flow like water’ class before lunch, a ‘dance flow’ class (where we learned a fun dance choreography, which I really enjoyed) in the afternoon and a ‘flow to the beat’ session, which all took about 60-75 minutes. The festival had a system of splitting up available spaces into pre-booked and turn up on the day, which initially felt a bit frustrating as we had to wait for pre-bookers to get to the class before any additional spots would get released. As one of the sides of the large tents was open though, it was possible to just ad your own mat (inside the tents they were provided) in the grass outside for most workshops.

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To my utter delight, there was a silent disco just outside the bar tent in the evening, which was probably the most fun silent disco I’ve ever been to. Everybody got really into it and the youngest dancers must have been around a year old, serious fun and the beautiful weather just made it extra special. There were no classes after 7pm, so I concentrated on the music line-up again, this time featuring bands like Bamboo Smoke (their singer Lou Wellby, who I interviewed before the festival, was responsible for the terrific eclectic music line-up all weekend), MC Xander, The London Afrobeat Collective and Plump DJs. Of all the bands playing during the festival I’d only heard of one before, but I was positively surprised by the variety and quality of music throughout. One of the musicians, Paul Jackson aka Omnivibes (pic below) travelled with a 19-year-old peregrine falcon in his van, the only animal on site, so I learned a lot about birds of prey and it was fascinating to see such a stunning bird up-close.

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After we were blessed with such a sunny Saturday, Sunday turned out quite cold and windy and I spent a lot of time in the cute yellow curry bus sipping chai, reading and catching up on my journal. I also managed to persuade myself to do just the one yoga session, ‘Find Your Flow’, during which the rain really came down quite heavily. Being in downward dog pose, looking through my legs at the sky behind us, it was the first time I ever saw it raining upside down. What a simple, but fun change of perspective and the unusual weather scenario made the class all the more special. So lovely.

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There was also a speakers’ corner at FloVibe including talks on spiritual atheism, diet and quitting your job to live your dream, but while I found them interesting to some extent, it would be really great to include some more in-depth yoga philosophy, anatomy talks or even just Q&As with the visiting teachers in future to dig a bit deeper. My favourite session all weekend was a meditation and interactive workshop with festival founder Jason Pooley called ‘Attention to Intention’. After a short guided meditation, we got to explore our dreams and learned that intention needs to be accompanied by attention, so we can actually achieve our goals. If there was one take-away from this lovely weekend of yoga, music and mindfulness, it was to concentrate more on the positive, what we’d like to happen, rather than the negative, what we’re afraid of. Interestingly, it is often the simplest things which are the most difficult to achieve and at the same time the most important lessons to be learned.

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Whether you are looking for a weekend of perfecting your asanas, want to learn more about meditation, get pampered in a beautiful setting, love dancing to live music or have your kids in tow, FloVibe is a super relaxed boutique festival you should definitely add to your summer festival list!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend pass for the festival.

Where Travel Blogging Conference meets Festival: Highlights from Traverse 17

I found out about Traverse 17 at World Travel Market last November and immediately thought that their programme sounded a lot like a really tempting festival schedule: crazy golf, parties, workshops and walking tours all in the company of around 500 travel bloggers from around the world. Who wouldn’t want to sign up for that?

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Cultural Events, Fun Experiences & Networking with Travel and Lifestyle Brands

Being based in London proved a big plus for this year’s conference as I managed to attend a good few of the 40 or so events the Traverse team put on during the week. Our first meet & greet with fellow bloggers took place at Kouzu Restaurant near Victoria Station whose prosecco and delicious Japanese food was incredibly moreish. On Tuesday I gave Junkyard Golf at the Truman Brewery in East London a try and we learned all about Gran Canaria as a travel destination. My God, it was like escaping into a parallel world where dinosaurs devour pigs (eek!) and in teams of 4 or 5, colourful cocktails in hand, we fought our way through a maze of neon-lit rooms, fun slides and derelict car parts. We also got to toast our excellent choice of attending this conference on the rooftop terrace of the Expedia office near Angel station one night and at the digs of the Lonely Planet publishing team south of the River on another night where we learned about their Pathfinders programme.

team pic at Junkyard Golf

Whyte & Brown café just off Carnaby Stret welcomed us for an influencer breakfast courtesy of Carnaby followed by one of my favourite events of the week, a practical youtube skills walking tour led by Tom Hooker of Out The Box. He was so great at giving tips and sharing advice and it was super inspiring. So were a lot of the bloggers I met that day and during the whole week. I also headed to the Olympic Park for a Tea, Tour & Tech tour run by London City Steps, which included a visit to the Orbital (sadly we were too late to give the longest, highest slide in the world a go…) and the Olympics 2012 Aquatics Centre (now a really stunning looking community swimming pool) plus learning about the local history.

Tom Hooker youtube tour.jpg

The Friday night welcome party thanks to Jet2Holidays took us to Skyloft on the 28th floor of the Milbank tower with the most amazing views over night-time London. Just wow! On Saturday night we boarded a Citycruises boat for a sunset cruise on the Thames sponsored by Cheapflights and, naturally, we made the best of it with lots of social media posts, good conversations and selfie-opportunities galore. The closing party on Sunday night was held at Iberica Restaurant in Canary Wharf courtesy of the Spanish Tourist Board and their truly lovely UK team. The food, authentic tapas with some good veggie options, was absolutely gorgeous, the venue looks fantastic and is well worth a trip across town.

Traverse Thames sunset.jpg

Life and Career Advice

With all the fun events happening I tried to also make it to a few more serious workshops, both held at WeWork coworking spaces around London. At WeWork Paddington a smaller group of us worked on developing a new business concept in the ‘Half-Day Company’ session and at WeWork Moorgate we picked up time-management tips from Alice of Teacaketravels and learned about positive thinking and NLP from cognitive hypnotherapist Gemma Holmes. Of course, the real work is finding a system that works for each of us personally, but learning from the experience of others and sharing thoughts and ideas in a supportive environment was very motivating.

Traverse speaker Abi King.jpg

Learning from the experts during the conference weekend

I’m going to talk about the excellent sessions I attended during the conference weekend in a separate blog post sometime soon, as there is just not enough space to go into detail about them all here. One thing which quickly became obvious to most of us during the conference weekend, however, was that you had to pick wisely from the 50 classes and sessions on offer. I tried to attend a mix of more business-related classes as well as generally inspiring ones, all of which tended to revolve around relationship building with brands, followers, fellow bloggers, SEO, professional branding, marketing, PR, book publishing and contracts. There was also an opportunity to arrange a one-to-one pro-bar chat with conference speakers and a chance to meet the representatives from various destinations and brands, such as Spain, Ireland, Hamburg (London mini festival coming up in October 2017!), Cathay Pacific, Agoda, affilinet, Donkey Republic, Topdeck and Trip.com in the lobby area of the Ravensbourne where the conference was held.

Traverse 17 programme

Making new travel blogger friends from around the world

From the very first event on Monday night until the closing party on Sunday there were plenty of opportunities to get to know other travel bloggers (and in fact some food, fashion and lifestyle bloggers too), be it at the larger events with a couple of hundred attendees or at the smaller workshops and tours for a dozen or so people. I was amazed at the fascinating stories I heard and the things I learned just by talking to a couple of new people every day who included Anna of Would Be Traveller, Nicole of Lost in This Whole World, Tom of Spaghetti Traveller, Charlotte of A Much Prettier PuzzleIk Aldama, Gemma of Little Miss Gem Travels, Teresa of Brogan Abroad, Liza & Pepe of TripsGet, Heidi of Take Me To Sweden, Eulanda & Omo of Hey Dip Your Toes In, Alison of Up & At Em, Juuli Aschan, Corinna of Aussteigen Bitte!, Lexx of Travel Lexx, Annemarie of Travel on the Brain, Katy of Untold Morsels, Inka of Inka’s Tour, Lauren of Bon Voyage Lauren, Asma of Jet Set Chick, Sara of Speaking of Sara, Janos of Solaris Traveller, Jess of Jess In Your Ear, Becky of Munchies & Munchkins, Ant & Lou of Vanutopia, Anne-Sophie of City Cookie, Emily of London City Calling and lots of other friendly travel-crazy content creators. When I was on my way home after the closing party, a bit sad that it had all ended after such a fun week of events and meeting like-minded people, I heard a guy in one of the tube stations playing ‘What a Wonderful World’ and I thought, absolutely, thanks for summing it all up for me!

Travel bloggers Canary Wharf.jpg

A big thank you to the organisers Michael Ball, Paul Dow and their team for making this ‘conference’ so incredibly festival-like, to the speakers for their awesome advice and to all the brands and sponsors for treating us like royalty with various goody bags and competitions, but most importantly their enthusiasm for their destinations and brands, which was truly refreshing to see. More blog posts in the pipeline, watch this space.

Next year’s Traverse 18 will be held in Rotterdam where I’ve never been, so now I have the perfect excuse for a trip and I suggest you come along for the ride. I also cannot wait to find the city’s best cultural spots, veggie cafes and cuddle and snap some handsome dogs for my new Instagram project @cuddleadogaday (thanks to Heidi for the suggestion!).

Music is for Everyone: Folk Weekend Oxford 2017

Folk Weekend Oxford (21-23 April 2017) is in its 6th year this year and although it is largely volunteer-run, it punches way above its weight with a packed three-day programme for all ages. I’ve been back stewarding this year and it was great seeing some familiar faces and meeting lots of other folk music enthusiasts of all ages. The festival, whose patrons are Jackie Oates and Bellowhead’s John Spiers, has a truly inclusive ethos, believes that the arts are for everyone and most of the venues are fully accessible. At the stewards briefing we also learned some basic Makaton signs to use, my favourite being the one for cake. Ready for a weekend of music and fun!

Oxford Canal fwo2017

After leaving my bags with my Airbnb hosts on Friday afternoon and a delicious wood-fired pizza at The Rusty Bicycle off Cowley Road, I did a tour of Oxford’s charity shops and then headed to Wesley Memorial Church for my first stewarding shift at the opening concert of the festival with melodeon player and singer Ollie King, acoustic folk band with a Russian twist, KARA, and Jim Moray, who reminded me again why folk music is so relevant in today’s complex world by helping us to reflect on and make sense of what’s happening around us.

Opening Ceremony fwo2017

Saturday was a packed day which started with a performance by the festival choir (picture above) led by director Cat Kelly (read an interview with her here) on the Ashmolean Museum forecourt. All day there were morris performances in the town squares and lots of opportunities to join in, be it in the many ceilidhs (you never need to bring a partner and can learn all dances on the spot) or Scandinavian ‘bals’ or by learning a new skill, like playing the spoons, or making folk-related crafts.

I was glad that I had opted for another concert on Saturday afternoon as I caught Jackie Oates and Megan Henwood (their new EP ‘Wings’ is beautiful) who performed a stunning set of songs and harmonised perfectly, accompanied by guitar (Megan) and fiddle (Jackie). Their performance was followed by well-known Sheffield-based Melrose Quartet (picture below) showcasing their latest album ‘Dominion’. I spent the evening at St Barnabas Church in the Jericho area of Oxford stewarding at a ceilidh with musical accompaniment ably provided by The Discussion Topic (including a full drumset!). It was a lovely, energetic crowd of all ages and we got to join in a bit as well in our breaks.

Melrose Quartet fwo2017

Somehow the time always goes by way too fast on festival weekends and I decided to do my best to slow it down by attending a song writing workshop with Somerset singer-songwriter Ange Hardy (picture below) on Sunday morning. We tried our hands at different ways of approaching song writing, first using nursery rhymes as a structural starting point, then letting ourselves be guided by the memories evoked by scent and finally working with a drawing or picture. The next talk by Mike Heaney was entitled ‘The Complete and Utter History of Morris (in 60 minutes)’ and it was fascinating to learn a bit more about its origins and different morris dancing traditions from around the country.

songwriting workshop fwo2017

In the afternoon I headed back to Jericho for another ceilidh and dropped into The Quaker Meeting House on the way back into town, which was also one of the festival venues and has a fabulous flower garden – a nice spot for a break in the sun. Just like at Grinagog two weeks ago, we were lucky with the weather all weekend and I do hope this trend continues in the next few months.

stewards fwo2017

If you live in Oxford or are planning a visit, make sure you check out and support Folk Arts Oxford, the non-profit behind the festival, as they put on community events all year round. I’m already looking forward to next year’s 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.