Tag Archives: festival

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.

Hyper Japan Tokyo Rikshaw.jpg

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!

Hyper Japan interpreters.jpg

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.

Hyper Japan Sake Experience group.jpg

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).

WYF Tao Porchon Lynch.jpg

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!

WYF gong bath.jpg

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!

WYF Soumik Datta.jpg

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.

 

Glastonbury for Dogs: Dogfest 2017

While a certain huge live music event was taking place elsewhere in the UK, I headed to Dogfest for a day, which was promoted as ‘the ultimate summer festival for dogs’ and that’s exactly what it felt like! I’m not sure if I could have enjoyed myself even more if I had been a pooch, but I certainly had an amazing day. What started out in a field behind Channel 4’s Supervet Prof. Noel Fitzpatrick’s Surrey practice (pictured below with his border terrier Keira) is now a huge event happening on two consecutive weekends, Dogfest North in Cheshire on 17 and 18 June and Dogfest South on 24 and 25 June 2017, which I attended, at Knebworth House near Stevenage, about half an hour north of London.

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Getting to the Festival (hitchhiking with dog lovers included!)

As the directions to get to the festival site looked pretty straightforward online, I hopped on a train and then the 44 bus from Stevenage bus station, asking the driver to drop me off at Manor Farm, the nearest stop along a country road. So far so good. It looked like a 10-15 minute walk, at most, and I quite enjoyed the idea of it, yet alas, despite GPS on the phone, I ended up following a road that took me further and further away from the venue, so confusing. I ended up trying to wave down other festival goers from the side of the road and was super lucky lovely dog owners John and Katherine let me hitch a ride with them and Jack Russell Dodger (see pic below) in the backseat. It still took us and seemingly quite a few of the other dog enthusiasts a number of wrong turns until we were finally on the right track, but when we eventually arrived, it was like getting off at the kind of playground any dog-loving adult would enjoy: dozens and dozens of dogs of all shapes and sizes with their owners in tow were making their way to the main entrance. I could barely contain myself, it made me so happy to see all the wagging tails and excited pooches pulling at their leads.

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Venue

The festival was spread out on a field behind Knebworth House, which was much larger than I expected, with many interesting stalls lined up around the edges of it. There were all sorts of accessories and nutrition for dogs on offer (including some useful looking dog cooling coats for hot weather), as well as holidays with dogs and health checks and grooming (weight management, ticks, canine massage etc.) and various stalls by dog and wildlife charities (even one for cats). I also spoke to Pete of Cold Feet Huskies, who had brought some of his dogs along and races them around the UK and further afield. I could have easily spent a couple more hours just taking a look at all of these. The food options were also quite varied (burgers, burritos, English fare, falafels, ice cream, proper coffee) including some good veggie choices.

Dog Activities

There were lots of great activities for the dogs to try including my favourite, the diving pool! There was a long queue all day for pooches to go for a swim in the tempting looking clean water as it was a pretty hot day. Some of the dogs were not quite sure if they really felt like giving it a go, but others couldn’t wait to jump into the waves, splashing the assembled audience with water left, right and centre. It was so much fun to watch and no doubt even more fun for the dogs who took apart. Other activities included learning to do agility with your dog, dog competitions, a ‘school for dogs’, hay races and a ‘temptation alley’.

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Dog Welfare

I was a little bit concerned about this before attending the event, but as far as I could see anything humanly possible had been done to make sure the dogs were all right. There was a first aid and show vet on site plus containers with fresh water spread around the field (which some of the smaller breeds quickly identified as ideal paddling pools), some tented areas with hay bales for owners to sit on and one particularly nice tent with tables, chairs and a bar at one end, so you could enjoy a nice glass of cool wine and your dog could rest in the shade right opposite the ‘super stage’ where Noel Fitzpatrick did his talks and live music performances were on all day. I was generally very impressed with how well the hundreds of dogs got on with each other. Hardly any barking (apart from excited yaps!) could be heard all day and the event clearly attracted responsible dog owners and well-adjusted pooches. If you have a puppy, attending Dogfest could be a good opportunity to socialise it in a friendly environment, all the puppies I met and petted looked very happy indeed, including little Anakin, the Chihuahua (pictured below).

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The Great Dog Walk

At 3pm hundreds of dog owners and their pooches gathered for the great dog walk in aid of The Humanimal Trust across the grounds of Knebworth House, either for a 2km or 4km stroll, and Noel Fitzpatrick brought his little border terrier Keira along for a short talk before it started. Once it was all go, the many happy smiley dogs dragging their owners across the field were a real sight to behold. Walkies on a giant scale!

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Unconditional Love

Having seen ‘The Supervet’ Prof. Noel Fitzpatrick only on TV before, it was great to hear him speak live about his own career and the lives of animals and people him and his team were able to make a difference to. Some of the dogs from the TV programme, who had meanwhile fully recovered, were also present, which was lovely to see. He also talked enthusiastically about his charity, the above mentioned The Humanimal Trust, which aims to “reduce, refine and replace animal experiments with reciprocity – which means that we only sponsor research that helps animals with naturally occurring disease, not through the use of experimental models.” It’s a ground-breaking idea to help humans AND animals, so both species win, not one at the expense of the other. Noel spoke about the huge amount of unconditional love being present in this field on this day and how our love for our pets can really make a difference to our own and other people’s lives.

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Pawmazing Day

All in all, it was a great day out for dogs and humans alike. My advice if you’re coming by car and are bringing your dog would be to either get there very early or in the afternoon in order to avoid the at times longish queues to get into the car park right beside the main entrance. If the weather is very hot, it might even be better to take a train and a cab (it cost only £6 for a single taxi trip from Stevenage rail station, which I should have opted for on the way there, too). And don’t worry if you haven’t got a dog, I don’t either as I travel too much and I still had an absolutely fabulous time. In fact, everyone was so friendly, I got chatting with quite a few dog owners and heard so many inspiring stories of rescues finding a forever home and friendships between dogs and humans, it was actually quite emotional. One of them was Blarney (see pic below) who was adopted from Ireland. It’s also a great opportunity for those looking at getting a dog to find out which breed or type of dog would be suitable for them, ideally of course a rescue dog, as there are so many of them waiting to be adopted in shelters around the country.

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Cuddle a Dog a Day

If you’d like to see a few more pictures and some videos of chocolate lab Dizzy diving into the pool, the dog and duck (herding) show as well as footage of the Great Dog Walk, do check out my Cuddle a Dog a Day Instagram account. I started it in April this year as my daily goal is to pet at least one dog a day (or any fluffy animal really) and it’s been a great way of documenting the cute dogs I meet (pictured below are Spanish rescue Killick and Pomerian Lola) and of connecting with other dog lovers from around the world. I follow back genuine dog/dog parent or other animal lovers’ accounts.

Dogfest Killick and Lola.jpg

Not all Dogs are so Lucky

Lastly, spare a thought and maybe a few pounds to abolish an altogether different event, the horrifying Yulin ‘festival’ in China, which is sadly happening again right now (despite millions of people signing petitions and protesting around the world) and involves the torture and slaughter of thousands of dogs and cats. No animal should ever have to suffer like this. Find out how you can help and maybe consider minimalising animal suffering in your own community by reducing or cutting out meat from your diet and learning about vegetarianism or veganism.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a complimentary ticket for the festival.

 

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.

Maverick Festival 2017 Preview

Maverick 10 Years2017 seems to be a year for festival anniversaries and Maverick Festival, which has been attracting Americana musicians from both sides of the Atlantic for a decade now, is joining the ranks of festivals who aren’t just a one-summer wonder! Maverick has been true to its roots from the beginning. It is a fairly small and very friendly three-day event in the beautiful Suffolk countryside and focuses on booking quality music plus offering other fun stuff like music documentary screenings, workshops and music industry talks.

So, when the invite for this year’s festival launch landed in my inbox, I rsvpd straight away, of course. The preview event was held at the Gibson Guitar Studios near Oxford Circus again and featured live sets from Scottish singer-songwriter Dean Owens as well as Brigitte de Meyer and Will Kimbrough from Nashville (see picture below). Besides the already announced headliners, including two-time Grammy winning guitarist Albert Lee, and other fantastic Americana acts, there were some new names revealed on the night, such as Justin Townes Earle, Amy McCarley (Alabama) and US mandolin player and singer Sierra Hull (Nashville). Canadians Terra Lightfoot, Amelia Curran and Dennis Ellsworth will be helping to celebrate Canada Day on 1 July in style while The Black Sorrows and Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes are representing Australia at the festival.

Brigitte de Meyer Will Kimbrough Maverick Launch 2017

Other favourites, who are returning this year, include Police Dog Hogan, Don Gallardo (Nashville), Case Hardin, BJ Cole (pedal steel fans take note) with his band The Golden Nugget, Annie Keating (NY), Erin Rae & the Meanwhiles (Nashville), Hannah Rose Platt, The Black Feathers, Hank Wangford and Norton Money (with band members from the fab Hallelujah Trails). There will also be plenty of new to me names, both from the UK and further afield, such as The Life and Times of The Brothers Hogg (already winner of the longest band name I’ve ever come across), The Fargo Railway Co., Hymn for Her (USA), The Danberrys (Nashville), Worry Dolls, Low Lily (Vermont), Tom AttahC.C. Adcock (Louisiana) and many more!

maverick-1-2015

If you’re like myself and you love music AND animals, then this little gem of a festival might just be the perfect weekend away for you. Besides the amazing artists (who you can have a chat with over a pint) and some yummy food (pizza, pasta, paella and chili including veggie options, artisan coffee, local Suffolk cider as well as regional craft beer and wine) Maverick is a dog-friendly festival, so you can bring your well-behaved pooch along or pet other people’s (yes, that would be me). Plus, as it’s taking place at Easton Farm Park, festival goers have exclusive access to all the adorable four-legged resident creatures, such as horses, donkeys, goats, giant pigs, rabbits and even llamas. I for one am sure to bring some extra carrots and apples along again and I truly, truly cannot wait for July to roll around! You are most welcome to join me on this weekend festival adventure, tickets can be booked online, it’s accessible by train (plus taxi) as well as by car and you can camp on Friday and Saturday night or stay in one of the nearby villages. Feel free to contact me if you have any other questions. Also check out this year’s up to date line-up and my previous festival reviews (the pictures above were taken at the sunny 2015 festival). See you at the ranch!

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