Tag Archives: festival

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

Need Some Travel Inspiration? Why Not Try One Of These 11 Diverse Festivals From Around The World

Now is the best time to plan your adventures for the rest of the year and travel shows like Destinations (2-5 February 2017) in London are a great way to get a good overview on what’s on offer. At the show you can listen to travel experts, adventurers and journalists, such as John Simpson, Simon Reeve or Phoebe Smith, talk about anything from travel safety to trending travel destinations and get your most burning travel questions answered. Of course, the main question I had for the exhibitors was what fabulous festivals from around the world they loved best and, after doing all the legwork, I put together the below list for you to add to your schedule for the coming year and beyond. Here we go!

travel-panel-destinations-2017

February: Sami National Day Celebrations, Lapland

Sami National Day is on 6 February, it’s celebrated in most of the Nordic countries and is a great way to get acquainted with the age-old traditions of the Sami people. It includes reindeer sprint racing, learning about the Sami language as well as live music. Cities like Tromso, Jokkmukk, Oulu and Murmansk are good places to visit at this time of the year as they have some of the largest celebrations.

May: Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, Morocco

This Moroccan gathering of high-profile musicians from around the world is an event which has long been on my to visit list and looks like a magical experience, even if festivals are normally not your kind of thing. You can stay in a traditional Riad, visit the sights during the day and immerse yourself in the most beautiful music from around the world at night. Unmissable!

May: Teheran Book Fair, Iran

Iran has a rich cultural and historic heritage and the fact that TIBF had around 5 million visitors in 2016 proves its importance for publishing in the Middle East. Of course, you’ll need to look into visas and other formalities in order to be able to visit, but the fair has around 600 foreign exhibitors and offers an enticing roster of cultural activities (author talks, writing workshops) to boot.

June: Transilvania International Film Festival, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

While you might be more familiar with the novel about Count Dracula, TIFF is a popular film festival taking place annually in one of the most beautiful areas of Romania. In addition, Cluj boasts a vibrant cultural scene and no less than nine universities. If you’re visiting a country where English isn’t the main language, international film festivals are a great time to travel there as they are geared towards visitors from abroad and often offer fun side events like director Q&As and parties. Just make sure you book your accommodation ahead of time, as it will be super busy.

July: Tibetan Hemis Festival, Northern India

This recommendation came from my friends at Earthbound Expeditions and looks fantastic. Hemis Gompa, the largest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, is hosting this annual event, which is also a state holiday, and remembers the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan buddhism. There will be traditional costumes to admire and the sacred masked dances (‘Chaam’) by the Lamas are the highlight of the celebrations.

August: Garlic Festival, Isle of Wight, UK

Interestingly, the soil on the Isle of Wight is apparently so good for growing garlic, the island used to even export it to France. With their motto of ‘In Garlic We Trust’ you get to try unusual delicacies like garlic beer (not so sure about that one) and garlic fudge and an learn cooking with garlic with some experts.

August: Udaya Live Yoga and Music Festival, Bulgaria

Yoga festivals have been taking most of Europe by storm in the past few years and having been to Yoga Connects and Soul Circus in the UK last year, I started noticing lots of other wellness-oriented festivals, including Udaya Live in the Rila mountains of Bulgaria. Imagine spending a few days in stunning natural surroundings letting go of your everyday worries, doing workshops with world-class yoga instructors and learning about anatomy, nutrition and spirituality.

August: Sziget – The Island of Freedom, Budapest, Hungary

Sziget (which means ‘island’ in Hungarian) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and seems to get ever more popular. Taking place on an island in the Danube, it’s a week-long party of concerts, theatrical acts and other creative fun where you can see well-known headline acts alongside lots of quirky other entertainment. Interestingly, you can bring ‘peaceful pets’, like your dog or even a ferret, along, but not so sure if they’d enjoy the loud music as much as you will.

September: Lake of Stars Festival, Malawi

This was one of the most intriguing recommendations I got, but alas, like quite a few other festivals this year, they are taking a break and will be back in 2018. So plenty of time to plan your visit. The arts festival offers live concerts, children’s activities and other creative events. It has established links with the UK and is also planning some cultural events in Scotland and London for this year, so keep an eye on their website.

November: Kona Coffee Festival, Hawaii

What better combination than sunny beaches and a festival that celebrates the local coffee culture? Welcome to Kona and its coffee culture festival, which is Hawaii’s oldest food festival and revolves around the history of coffee in the coffee-growing Kona region. The yearly harvest is celebrated with tasting events by artisans, farm tours and coffee art exhibitions.

November: Uppsala Light Festival, Sweden

Scandinavia has long been one of my favourite destinations and while there are lots of festivals in Sweden around Midsummer, our Northern neighbours also know how to celebrate the darker time of the year. Head to the fourth-largest city in Sweden for a winter weekend break and experience the magic of ‘Allt Ljus’ – squares and buildings illuminated at night-time. How much more ‘hygge’ can you possibly get?

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a press pass for the Destinatons Show 2017. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers.

End of Year Soul, Funk & Jazz Party: The Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg 2016

So, here’s a first: before this winter I’d never been to a festival which stretches across two different years. The long-established Smooth Jazz Festival in the Bavarian tow of Augsburg, Germany, ran from 29 December 2016 until 1 January 2017 and I had discovered it only recently as I was heading back to my hometown for the Christmas holidays. It was also a first as I’d never been to a smooth jazz event before. It turns out, just like in the Americana and folk music scene, which I usually write about, there are excellent performers and dedicated followers in this genre, too, and I met lots of super friendly folks.

smooth-jazz-1

The first gig I attended was held at the impressive Kurhaus Parkheater in the suburb of Göggingen. Originally built in 1886, it almost completely burned down in 1972 and was largely forgotten until it was restored to its former glory and reopened in 1996. Hailing from Fresno, California, and trained at the renowned Berklee College of Music, saxophonist Jeanette Harris treated us to favourites from her two recent albums ‘Chocolate Vibez’ and ‘Summer Rain’, among other compositions. I have to admit that purely instrumental music is normally not so much my thing, but listening to any musician who is a master of their chosen instrument is always a treat and this set as well as the acoustics in the venue were pitch-perfect. I would have loved to stay for the next act, UK smooth jazz veterans Shakatak, which I later heard did a great show, but I was feeling really under the weather with a bad cold and annoyingly had to call it a night at that point. Oh, well.

Sadly, the cold also made me miss Brian Bromberg, Oli Silk and JJ Sansaverino the following night, but I was all the more excited for the concert at the Dorint Hotel on New Year’s Day. Another first, as I’d never been at a festival on the first day of a new year. The lunchtime concert opened with US jazz, soul and R&B singer Lindsey Webster supported by her husband Keith Slattery on keys and joined by the excellent smooth jazz ‘house band’ with Heiko Braun on drums, Mark Jaimes on guitar and Marius Goldhammer on bass (Lutz Deterra, on keyboard, completed the band for the second part of the afternoon). Lindsey has a lovely, natural way of performing and gave it her all (including her hit single ‘Fool Me Once’ and a beautiful cover of the Prince song ‘Call My Name’), which was greatly appreciated by the festival audience, who loved every minute of it, myself included.

smooth-jazz-elan-trotman

The final act of the festival, after a short coffee break, was also yet another highlight: saxophonist extraordinaire Elan Trotman, born and raised in sunny Barbados and another Berklee graduate, whose first-rate performance was as infectious as music can possibly get. He took his saxophone off the stage several times during his set and played right in the middle of the assembled audience, which quickly broke the ice. From the Caribbean flavoured ‘Tradewinds’ to a lovely rendition of Chick Corea’s ‘Spain’, it was definitely time for a dance together with a room full of jazz fans who’d already partied their socks off at the New Year’s celebration the night before. I certainly didn’t expect a fully seated daytime festival gig to be this lively and felt really uplifted for the rest of the day!

Apart from the outstanding quality of performers, Smooth Jazz organisers Christian Bößner and Sandra Hoffman also did an excellent job in terms of the organisation and friendliness of the event. I chatted with attendees from as far as Mallorca, the US as well as other German cities most of whom were regulars at the festival. If smooth jazz is your kind of thing or if you’re keen to give it a try, make sure you check out their yearly festival roster, they also run popular smooth jazz festivals in Mallorca (May) and the Algarve (September). I certainly had a great time at the 17th Smooth Jazz Festival.

augsburg-christkindlesmarkt-2016

In case the above has whetted your appetite and you’re visiting Augsburg with its 2000 years of history for the first time, here are a few travel tips. Don’t miss the Fuggerei (supposedly the oldest social housing estate in the world, but instead of stark architecture, it’s rather quaint), the Goldener Saal in the City Hall, the Perlach tower (which you can climb for panoramic views), the Cathedral, the many fountains and a stroll in the old town. For those with a sweet tooth, Café Dichtl and Café Eber are good bakeries to try, so is Bäckerei Wolf (a few outlets around the city centre). If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll be pleased to know that there are many veggie-friendly options around town, including the just opened Mom’s Table on the city’s main thoroughfare Maximilianstraße. Not too far from there is also where the famous Augsburger Puppenkiste puppet theatre and museum (shows used to be on national tv, so it’s known all over the country) has its home. While Augsburg may appear conservative at first glance (and it is in many ways), we also have a very exciting cultural and social project, the Grand Hotel Cosmopolis, where you can stay in unique rooms designed by artists. It’s a friendly, mostly volunteer-run hotel, a gathering place for creatives and a welcoming home for asylum seekers from all over the world.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with concert tickets for the 2016 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 by Christan Nordström (with the exception of the Christkindlesmarkt picture, taken by Life is a Festival).

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

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

shrewsbury sunshine

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

TequilaSunrise SFF 2016

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

Judy with Gromit & Leona May

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

yoga SFF 2016

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

Rosanne Cash SFF 2016

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

Dulcimer Workshop SFF 2016

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

Mind Over Matter: Soul Circus Yoga & Wellness Festival 2016

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

yoga foto 3 main tent

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

Ushti Baba Soul Circus

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

breakfast Soul Circus

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

Meet the Founders Talk Soul Circus

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

tent village Soul Circus

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

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

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

Mind The Roundabouts: Cambridge Folk Festival 2016

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

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

Cambridge Folk Festival 2016

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

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

Leyla McCalla

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

Mary Chapin Carpenter 1

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

Anna & Elizabeth Crankie Workshop

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

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

Where Yogis Come to Play: Yoga Connects Festival 2016

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

Yoga Connects yoga outside Stanford Hall

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

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

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

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

Yoga Connects Opening night music

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

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

Yoga Connects slackline fun

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