Tag Archives: festivals

Maritime Vibes at Hamburg on Tour Festival 2017 in London

The first thing that greeted me when I arrived for Hamburg on Tour in London last weekend were a couple of smiling, oversized sailor statues outside the Boiler House venue in Shoreditch. Hard to miss! As was this free festival put on by the marketing team of the German port city of Hamburg for the first time in the UK.

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I had been invited to Hamburg in September for a visit during Reeperbahn Festival and thoroughly enjoyed my time exploring the creative, down to earth Northern German city. The London event aimed to present the best of the city’s festivals, sport, film, street art and beer and coffee culture on 20 and 21 October 2017 and by Saturday night, I felt like I was back in Hamburg for the weekend, what a great party!

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But let’s start at the beginning, which, for me, was a speciality coffee cupping session with Speicherstadt Kaffeerösterei in the workshop corner of the Boiler House venue. At that time, there weren’t all that many visitors yet and it felt a bit like your usual travel trade show, with stalls to browse and tourist brochures to pick up.

As soon as the first band, the Nathan Ott jazz trio, got on stage, however, things started picking up and more and people came through the doors to celebrate Hamburg and its many cultural offerings. I had invited a number of friends (from the UK, Germany, USA) along and we had a great time tasting some German craft beer (them) and making my own lemonade from fresh limes (me) at a charity stall.

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One of the highlights of the weekend was Stefanie Hempel’s Beatles Tour, the London version (pic above). Her longer, actual tour takes you through the streets of Hamburg’s red light and music club district where the Beatles had their first break as a band and spent two years in their late teens in the early sixties. Stefanie soon had our group singing along to ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and other Beatles hits, accompanied by herself on ukulele and we got talking to lots of other Hamburg fans from around the world afterwards.

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Hamburg and its surrounding area are also a great hub for festivals of all kinds: music, film, arts, literature. The London event included sample sets by bands such as Hundreds (see pic above), Odeville and UK-based To Kill a King. In addition, you could watch short films about Hamburg and get up-close to the brand new Elbphilarmonie concert hall by putting on virtual reality glasses for a 360 degree tour, which impressed my friends, who hadn’t been there before. Definitely worth a visit on your next trip to Hamburg!

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Another fun session which was offered at Hamburg on Tour was a street art workshop with award-winning artist and illustrator Macha (pic above), who taught participants to create their own graffiti stencil designs, which were then transferred to a wall near the festival venue to add to a larger work created especially for the event.

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For those not so much into art and culture, football was another topic for the weekend. Hamburg on Tour had invited Ewald Lienen, FC St. Pauli’s technical director, as well as Nick Davidson, who has recently published the first English-speaking book on the famous and quirky Hamburg football club. There is even an FC St. Pauli fan club in London, so you can watch the games with other fans in a local pub.

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All in all a fantastic event, which goes to show that this creative approach to marketing a city to visitors in such a refreshingly different way is definitely a great idea. Don’t forget to check out my Reeperbahn Festival 2017 review and my Solo Travel Guide to Hamburg for more travel and festival tips. I’m already thinking about another visit for some more festival fun.

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4 Days, 40000 Music Fans, 70+ Venues: Hamburg’s Reeperbahn Festival 2017

If there is such a thing as the perfect time to visit Hamburg (also see my Solo Travel Guide to Hamburg), I probably hit the jackpot with getting to go during Reeperbahn Festival time. What an amazing weekend! I arrived on Wednesday afternoon and, after dropping off my stuff at the hotel, headed straight over to the Festival Village at Heiligengeistfeld (U3 stop St. Pauli) to pick up my press pass. Ready to go for a weekend of live music, culture and fun!

What Is the Festival Like?

The great thing about Reeperbahn Festival (20-23 September 2017), which is in its 12th year this year, is that it takes place in many of the city’s best venues, bars, theatres and clubs of all sizes, most of which can be reached on foot and a few by a short ride on the U3 underground. And hurrah, a public transport pass is included in your festival pass. Besides all the indoor clubs, there are also two large outdoor spaces with smaller stages. One is the Festival Village at Heiligengeistfeld (where you pick up your festival pass), which has access for passholders only and Spielbudenplatz with lots of food trucks, which is freely accessible even for non-passholders (apart from some areas). In addition, Reeperbahn Festival has been hosting a two-day music industry conference since 2009 as well as the NEXT conference for digital creatives and also includes a lot of art projects and a very cool gig poster fair, Flatstock 64, at Spielbudenplatz.

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It’s all a bit overwhelming – I hear you!

That’s exactly what I thought when I first arrived, especially as I didn’t know a lot of the bands. Luckily, the printed programme (you could pick a free daily one up in all the venues) had an indication what kind of genres the bands were (indie, pop, rock, folk, singer-songwriter, electronic, hip hop, soul, jazz, classical etc.) and I highly recommend downloading the festival App as it worked like a charm. It also updated you on entrance stops for particularly busy shows and any changes or cancellations, so I used it every single day. Another strategy is to focus on particular countries. The first evening I decided to head to a showcase by Project ATX6 from Austin (live music capital of the world!), Texas, and it didn’t disappoint. All six acts, incl. Little Marzarn and Mobley, were unique and excellent. It took place in a cool venue called Molotow, which had four stages (3 indoors, 1 in the courtyard) and is just off the main Reeperbahn.

What Kind of Music Can I Expect?

The festival is a multi-genre event with an eclectic line-up of both headliners and up and coming bands from all around the world. This year’s star-studded list included Portugal. The Man, Liam Gallagher and Beth Ditto (whose show was my favourite of the whole weekend, so much positive energy), but also bands like London-based 47Soul, Omar Suleyman from Syria, Amadou & Mariam from Mali and Sólstafir from Iceland. I also attended the Anchor Award 2017 for new music, which was won by UK singer-songwriter Jade Bird. This year’s festival partner country was Canada and I would have loved to see more of the bands lined up for this, but due to lack of time I only managed to catch one of my favourite Canadian musicians, Sarah McDougall, who is always amazing live. Keychange was created by the festival to highlight the fact that women are still underrepresented both on and behind the stage in today’s music industry was another interesting project. Last but not least, the amazing Elbphilarmonie concert hall (U3 stop Baumwall), which only opened in January 2017 and was lovingly nicknamed ‘Elphi’ by the locals, was definitely one of the highlights at this year’s festival. I got to do a tour with a guide during the day, but don’t worry, you can visit for free, sign up online (small fee but guaranteed entry) for a slot or just turn up and ask for a visitor’s pass, which allows you access to some of the building, the cafes and restaurant plus the viewing platforms overlooking the harbour. I also went to a midnight gig on the last day of the festival, the main hall with its 360 degree stage and many balconies is really super impressive!

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Is the Festival just for Hipsters in their Twenties?

Nope, most definitely not. I met people of all ages, locals, Germans from other parts of the country and lots of international folks, too. That’s what’s so nice about RBF, you get to mingle with music fans, journalists, bloggers, music industry insiders and people of all ages, from excited teenagers to retired architects. There is a fun and friendly vibe everywhere and it’s super easy to get talking about the best shows while you’re queueing for a gig or hanging out in the open air area in between concerts.

What other events should I catch in between the gigs?

Did you know that the Beatles started their career in Hamburg, spending about two years in the German port city, honing their skills in the local clubs and pubs before making it big internationally? Hamburg musician Stefanie Hempel does very insightful and entertaining Beatles Tours, which start on Beatles Square right on the Reeperbahn. I was also lucky to go on a tour of Hamburg’s best recordshops with DJ Sebastian Reier, including Hanseplatte, Zardoz Records (who also have lots of second hand books), Smallville Records, Groove City and a visit to the nightclub Übel und Gefährlich on the fourth floor of a former WWII bunker (the rooftop view is fantastic including the St. Pauli football stadium).  You can also do a musical harbour boat cruise with Frau Hedis Tanzkaffee, which runs year round and takes you around the harbour of Hamburg for two hours with an onboard bar and varying musical entertainment or DJing.

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Where Can I Grab Some Food and Drink?

This will be your smallest problem during the festival as there are lots of street food vendors plus the regular Reeperbahn chips, pizza and falafel places (and some proper restaurants) to choose from. Some of the street food was excellent, I tried for instance a yummy vegan hot dog with caramelised onions and goats cheese in a speciality bread roll. The Festival Village, too, had some interesting options like fries with peanut sauce or handmade sandwiches from Handbrotzeit. The Arcotel Onyx near the St. Pauli stop is the official festival hotel where you can take a breather in between gigs or meet music industry folks for a chat over a coffee.

How to Get into Popular Venues & Avoid Long Queues

You’ll be pleased to hear that the bouncers at the festival venues don’t prioritise anyone, everyone needs to queue. There is a special queue for delegates (meaning conference delegates, press and staff), but it doesn’t guarantee you entry. I even had to act as an interpreter for a band from the US who had been told to come to their venue to pick up their passes, but then were sent away by security staff as they had no badge to prove their status. I managed to get them in anyway after explaining their situation in German. Phew. So basically just turn up early if you’d like to see a particular band. For Liam Gallagher’s special appearance at Docks on Saturday night, I arrived two hours earlier and it was no problem. The other alternative is to be really patient and very friendly to the bouncers, as often people leave after each band and they play it by ear how many are still allowed in. It was defo worth it for Beth Ditto at Große Freiheit 36 (see pic below).

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Make a Game Plan – or Just go with the Flow

I’m a bit of a festival nerd, so I love festival schedules! I really enjoy working out how to see my favourite bands and events, but I also often change my mind after getting recommendations from other festival goers, promoters and band managers. What lots of people love about Reeperbahn Festival is that it’s a club festival and you don’t have to book individual concerts. You can simply walk into any of the participating venues with your wristband and sample exciting bands from all over the world. As I didn’t know a lot of the bands, my strategy was basically seeing as many different venues as possible, especially the smaller ones and to catch bands from places or countries I like, e.g. a Swedish showcase at Headcrash including Smith & Thell from Stockholm as well as Maybe Canada (a solo project by Magnus Hansson from Gothenburg). I also enjoyed being in the audience of a live radio show for NDR Blue at Alte Liebe, which included some shorter sets by three musicians as well as live band interviews. If you have a fairly broad musical taste, this is the perfect festival for you, but even for those of you, like me, who are into more acoustic music, there were plenty of gigs to choose from.

Other Tips Before You Go

There is a bag size restriction for all venues, which is roughly A4 size and yes, they will turn you away if your backpack looks a little bigger than this, so either leave larger bags in your hotel or at the nearby (6 stops) main train station (Hauptbahnhof) where you can rent a small locker for only €4 euros for 24 hours. The underground runs all night at the weekend (from Thursday onwards), so you can rest assured you’re going to get home without any problems. Also, talking of personal safety, please be aware that most of the concerts take place right in the actual red light district, but while it certainly is very crowded there in the evenings, I walked around late at night without any problems just like the thousands of other festival goers. I highly recommend booking accommodation along the U3 route (I stayed at Superbude St. Georg, a short walk from Berliner Tor), in fact I used this line for most of my sightseeing, too, it’s just perfect to get to most of the venues and also the hip Schanzenviertel for a brunch or a stroll through the many great shops. Finally, Hamburg’s airport is within the AB zone, which means you only pay about 3 euros for a single ticket and it only takes 25 minutes on the S1 to get to the Hauptbahnhof. Perfect!

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A Taste of the Reeperbahn Festival and Hamburg in London – Hamburg on Tour 20-21 October 2017

I know, unfortunately it’s another 12 months until the next Reeperbahn Festival, but don’t despair, Hamburg on Tour is coming to London in October and best of all: it’s free! Yep, free music with bands from Hamburg’s most awesome festivals, such as RBF, MS Dockville, Elbjazz, Hurricane, Hanse Song and Wacken, free films courtesy of Internationales Kurzfilmfestival, a free Beatles ‘tour’ with Hamburg musician Stefanie Hempel, free coffee workshops with Speicherstadt Kaffee and a free 360 degree experience of the brand new Elbphilarmonie concert hall. Plus you get to taste some German beer and find out all about Germany’s second largest city. See you there!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival visited Hamburg, the Reeperbahn Festival and stayed at Superbude St. Georg as a guest of the nice folks at Hamburg Marketing. Prices are as of September 2017, please confirm them online before you go. Opinions expressed are those of the author. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival with the exception of the last photo, courtesy of Hamburg on Tour.

Happy Campers Despite The Rain: Cambridge Folk Festival 2017

Of the three years I’ve been to Cambridge Folk Festival, the 52nd edition, from 27-31 July 2017, was the least euphoric for me (for lack of coming up with a better adjective for it). The weather was not great on most days and really sucked on Saturday night plus there wasn’t really any act that I was dying to see live this time. On top of that, on the last festival night, I managed to pick a bus to the campsite with a driver how wasn’t in the mood to do the roundabout thing, which I’d been looking forward to practically for a year. Having said all that, I still had a great time because of the fantastic new music I discovered, the always friendly vibe, the yummy food and last but most definitely not least the fun team I worked with (third year in a row).

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Of the acts I did catch I was most impressed by a few of the bands I had not seen before like the excellent She Drew the Gun from Liverpool, Amythyst Kiah from Tennessee, the Indigo Girls with guest band member Lucy Wainwright, Juanita Stein, Worry DollsMoxie and Daoirí Farrell (both from Ireland), 2017 Grammy winner Fantastic Negrito (see second pic below), The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, Blue Rose Code and Scottish band Admiral Fallow (see pic below), the last set of the festival for me and the perfect end to this year’s event.

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Acts I didn’t care much for were Jake Bugg (really doesn’t compare at all to, say, the Passenger performance in 2015, but still attracted lots of screaming selfie-taking teenagers) and, a bit unexpectedly, Shirley Collins, whose main stage performance was rather uninspiring and who seemed to favour sticking with just music from the past and dissing musicians creating new ‘folk’ music. Surely traditional music was also new at some point and it’s exciting to witness the emergence of new folk songs, the best of which are bound to be classics one day while keeping the best of traditional folk music alive as well.

We also got some fantastic surprise sets at the Clapham’s Common After Hours Stage (my favourite way to relax after a long festival day) with appearences by Jon Boden (yes, really!) and lots of other great performers until about 1.30am most nights. The campsite was still fairly quiet overall and I had a few good nights’ sleep.

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Instead of doing a run-down of my festival weekend I thought this time around I’ll answer a few questions people tend to ask me about going to festivals. Here we go…

What is it like working at a festival?

I do a mix of attending festivals with a press pass, volunteering and, like at Cambridge, working as part of the festival team. Each of them have their advantages and disadvantages. With a press pass you tend to have easier access and can see any acts you want, but it can also be a bit boring as it takes more effort to interact with people if you’re there by yourself. As a volunteer you have a ready-made group of pals you work and hang out with, which is great fun and a lot more sociable and you still get to see a lot of acts as you generally get given a festival pass. I try and volunteer only at festivals that ask for no more than 4 hours per day, as I think any longer shifts are basically work and should be paid accordingly. At Cambridge we do about 6-8 hours of paid work a day and as you’re staff it comes with a bit more responsibility than simply being a volunteer. But it’s so great to work with other people who are motivated and to make sure, together as a team, the audience is having a fun and is having a safe festival experience. As we are usually the first to notice if anything doesn’t go according to plan (accidents, logistical issues, lost children, the lot), we really get to see how much work and coordination it takes to make such a large event happen and how good teamwork positively contributes to it.

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Isn’t camping sort of roughing it and not very enjoyable?

I first started festival camping in 2012 when I made the crucial mistake of buying a super light tent with only one skin. It makes me cringe thinking back to that summer when my little tent got flooded by rain and after a wet and uncomfortable night I headed into the nearest town desperate to buy a sturdier model. Since then I’ve had the best of times with my ‘happy tent’ (see pic below), a 3-man dome tent, which is just perfect for one person actually. It fits my self-inflatable sleeping mat and sleeping bag on one side and my handluggage-sized trolley and other bits and pieces on the other side. I only go to festivals with reasonable shower and toilet facilities, so do read the FAQs of the festival(s) you’re planning to go to. I also always travel by public transport, so it’s essential to keep everything to a minimum while still bringing enough change of clothes, wellies etc. to keep you comfy no matter what the weather gods throw at you. Although there tend to be very few thefts and festival security patrolling the camp sites at most festivals I’ve been to, it’s also wise to not leave any valuables in the tent if you can avoid it. Some festivals offer lockers or you might be able to ask a neighbour in a Campervan to keep things for you if needed. Campers tend to be friendly, helpful folks, so don’t be shy to ask for help and offer it yourself if you see anyone struggling with putting up their tent (we’ve all been there).

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Don’t you get lonely attending a festival by yourself?

I love solo travel and that also applies to festivals. Most of my friends are not quite as excited about festivals as I am and I’m not quite as excited about drinking, smoking and just hanging out when there are the most amazing bands on the line-up. So I just tend to have more fun on my own. Yes, the first night when you don’t know anyone yet, can be a bit lonely, but it’s a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and talk to new people or learn to sit with that feeling of loneliness, which is also a good experience from time to time. I always bring books to read and a journal to write in and there is so much on all the time that I hardly ever have any spare time anyway. Like already mentioned above, volunteering or working at a festival is a great way of meeting new and most of all trustworthy people, who can keep you a seat or look after your bag while you’re off to the loo, all of which is a bit more difficult when you’re on your own.

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What do you recommend bringing to a festival?

I hate being cold even more than being too warm. So I always pack a blanket, a hot water bottle (onsite ambulance stations or coffee vans sometimes let you fill those if you ask nicely or you can bring a travel kettle if there are plugs around the site), a water bottle as festivals always have taps for drinking water (saves the environment and quite a bit of cash, which you could spend on artist merch instead), band aids, dry shampoo, plastic bags (you can never have enough of those, especially when the weather is bad) and for those weekends when it gets really sunny don’t forget your sun protection and a hat.

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How do I get to be in the front row for a particular set?

Every festival is different, but at Cambridge you basically have the largest stage (stage 1), the slightly smaller stage 2 and the Club Tent (talks/Q&As, folk clubs and more traditional music during the day, fairly up-tempo acts at night) plus The Den (up and coming acts, just outside the main festival area). For both stages 1 and 2 I recommend getting to the front at the end of the set just before the one you want to see. If you get there only by the start time of your preferred artist, that is usually too late, so you do need to plan ahead. Having said that, Cambridge is always fairly relaxed and you won’t have to worry much about it being too crowded and claustrophobic. The tents are open on two sides (stage 1) or three sides (stage 2) and this might be an English thing, but there are often gaps in the middle as most people tend to stand around the edges, so if you say ‘excuse me’ a lot in a friendly way while threading your way through the crowd, you might get further to the front even if it looks busy from outside the tent. People are also generally willing to let children stand in the front. During the Indigo Girls set on Friday night, there was a girl even sleeping in between other people’s legs right behind the front row, so it’s definitely no problem with little ones.

My partner doesn’t care much for music, what else is there to do?

Cambridge has lots of alternative activities on all day and most of them take place by the Duck Pond, a bit outside the main arena. The Hub offers workshops for children and young people (craft, dance, music), the Flower Garden does too (talks, storytelling, music workshops) and there is a healing area as well with Tai Chi, yoga (sadly missed both sessions this time), positive thinking, drawing and willow art. There is also a café there where you can refuel in between workshops. Plus you have a lot of fun stalls to explore in the main arena offering jewellery (like this very well designed one below), fancy dress, instruments, CDs and more.

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What do you eat at festivals as a vegetarian or vegan?

It is actually at festivals where quite a few pop-up stalls with inventive veggie and vegan food started out and there is no problem whatsoever at most UK festivals to eat meat-free all weekend (but do confirm this on the website of the festival you are planning on attending). At Cambridge I had a choice of curries, salads, smoothies, Indian street food, burritos, cakes, wood oven pizza and more and a veggie version of the ‘full English’ is pretty standard, too, nowadays. As a staff member, I was lucky to also get to eat at Red Radish backstage once a day, who had the yummiest veggie and vegan dishes every day, such as delicious curry with melons and vegan Bolognese pasta.

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While my first ever Cambridge Folk Festival in 2015 was still the best one so far for me, 2017 was definitely very enjoyable again. And the fact that Rhiannon Giddens (video snippet of her 2015 set) will be taking over from Jon Boden next year as a guest festival curator (besides Bev Burton who took over the main festival programmer job from Eddie Barcan this year) is already a great reason to attend next year, too!

Stage 1 Friday CFF 2017

P.S. This year there was an all-female line-up for stage 1, which should be a great example for other festivals to up their female musicians percentage. I personally think it would work even better if it wasn’t all condensed into one day and just spread throughout the weekend, but what’s important is that Bev and the team have obviously given it a thought and are helping to make positive change happen. Excellent!

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!

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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.

Myths, Music & Storytelling Magic in Wales: Beyond the Border Festival 2016

My first festival of the summer was Beyond the Border Wales International Storytelling Festival, which took place from 1-3 July 2016 in the grounds of Atlantic College and the medieval St. Donat’s Castle near Llantwit Major, in the Vale of Glamorgan. It’s a fairly small but well-established biannual festival, attracting between 2000 and 3000 visitors and many of the festival goers have been regulars for years, if not decades.

BTB programme

This year’s themes included Stories from the Celtic World, Myths of Gender/Gender in Myth, Myth and Music of India and Greece as well as Blacksmith Tales and Legends. For such a compact festival it had a whopping 9 festival areas, some in tents, some outdoors and one larger indoor venue at St. Donat’s Arts centre (which was sort of the festival hub for artists and attendees and had wifi and a café with sea views).

As it was my first storytelling festival, I had no idea who the big names were and what styles of stories I would enjoy most, so I tried a whole variety. Unlike at music festivals, where you can listen to partial sets of different bands and still get something out of it, I quickly learned that here it was best to catch the whole story from beginning to end.

Various people had recommended Ben Haggarty to me, a very accomplished storyteller who did an impressive performance of ‘The Blacksmith at The Bridge of Bones’ on Friday night. His style was a little too theatrical for me, but he seemed immensely popular and his performance was quite mesmerising and entertaining, here is a taster.

Right afterwards I caught a beautifully inventive story called ‘UniVerse’ by Irish-born and London-based storyteller Clare Murphy whose sense of humour I loved straight away (and made me a bit homesick for Ireland) and whose wonderfully original style had the audience spellbound. Read her blog post on what storytelling is and definitely check out some of her videos online (I dare you not to giggle!).

BTB Blue Garden

I started the Saturday with a yoga session in the Blue Garden led by Diana O’Reilly, with the morning sun shining down on us, which was a blessing in itself, as was the wonderful location overlooking the sea and the calm, welcoming atmosphere at the class.

As my volunteer shift happened to be in the Pavilion, I caught Jo Blake Cave and Laura Pocket (on double bass) with a reimagined version of her post-apocalyptic magical story ‘The Girl Who Became a Boy’. This was followed by travelling back in time to 14th century Venice by top Italian storyteller Paola Balbi.

I also greatly enjoyed listening to the Welsh-Indian band Tŷhai before it was time for some bilingual tales (partly in Welsh) by Dau Dafod (Jez Danks & Dafydd Davies Hughes). After grabbing a yummy veggie meal from The Parsnipship I decided to give ‘Beowulf’ a try, which was expertly and very humorously told by Jesper La Cour Andersen and Troels Kirk Ejsing. The Danes had the audience really engaged in the story (‘rowing’ a boat, being guests at a Viking party etc.) and it ended up being my favourite show of the festival, so much fun!

Later that night it was time for some music again and a very special collaboration by Mumbai singer Tauseef Akhtar and Welsh singer-songwriter Gwyneth Glyn. Ghazalaw is one of those projects which gets the balance exactly right by merging the music and song of two cultures in a very beautiful way including tabla, fiddle, harmonium, kora, harp and guitar. Their first album is fantastic and they also played some new songs for us.

BTB kids area

After another yoga morning session, which always helps to put me in a poised and happy mood for the day, I caught the first part of another brilliant Clare Murphy show, this time with Tim Ralphs and the (to a bunny person like myself) very enticing title ‘Tales of the Rabbit God’. Luckily my next volunteer shift was at the Pavilion again, so I managed to listen to Native American storyteller Dovie Thomason whose story was called ‘Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight?’. It was fantastic to learn so much about storytelling traditions of different parts of the world all in one weekend in rural Wales.

The finale of the festival on Sunday night was a wonderful parade with everyone and their handmade lanterns and costumes moving from the festival grounds to the Big Top led by the Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band. After the closing ceremony and the burning of a giant fire sculpture (created by Goffee) in a field overlooking the sea, it was time for the last act of the festival, a (mostly) Eastern-European dance party with The Turbans, which was the perfect end to a vibrant, story and music-filled weekend in Wales.

BTB fire sculpture

So if you like your festivals small and friendly where you get woken up by sheep bleating in the field next door, both old and young will have a good time and you can learn a thing or two in a relaxed atmosphere, do put Beyond the Border in your summer calendar. The nearby small town of Llantwit Major (hourly bus from near the festival grounds or a half hour walk away) is also worth exploring for an afternoon and has some very cosy cafes.

P.S. As a linguist, I’d like to give a special mention the the amazing sign language interpreters at the festival! I’ve never been at an event where they seemed more engaged and passionate than here at BTB. Find out more about sign language interpreters here.

Niche Appeal: Folk at Standon Calling Festival 2013

I signed up for Standon Calling (2-4 August 2013) as they had a dedicated folk stage, the Lordship Stage, with each day’s acts being presented by the Crypt Sessions, Loose Music and Folkstock respectively. Meanwhile, over at the main stage were all the well-known bands most of the other people were here for; not exactly my natural musical habitat, but volunteering was still fun. I helped with the wrist band exchange at the main gate and we also got food and drinks vouchers, which was a nice added benefit. Image On Friday I was most impressed by Gibson Bull, not only as his live set sounded good, but also because of how professionally he handled not playing in front of a big crowd (given the time of day and general non-folk orientation of most of the audience). If partying until 5am to noisy music had been my thing, it would have been paradise. As it wasn’t, I checked out a few of the late night venues for a while, including my other favourite, the circus-like Autumn Shift tent, and then called it a day. Image Saturday started with a nice veggie breakfast and exploring the grounds a bit more. A big hit with the families was the pool and kids area, which included a percussion display to try out and the fabulous super-cape-abilities workshop tent. After another stewarding shift and a bit of a downpour, which luckily didn’t last very long, it was time for more of my kind of music. Today’s favourites were Case Hardin (just Pete and Tim) as well as Danny and the Champions of the World with the full band, who were on last that night and really rocked the folk stage! Image Sunday was the day of the dog show, which was fun to watch, and it was also my favourite day music-wise. The first act I really enjoyed was Zoe Wren, a newcomer with definite potential. She was followed by Indi Forde, who wasn’t exactly folk, but had great stage presence and had everyone’s feet tapping. Missed a few more bands because of my last volunteer shift, but was very glad I caught The Willows later after listening to one song by De La Soul and then leaving the 4000 or so people to it. Their set was the closing act of the festival for me and am already looking forward to seeing them again live in London soon.

Folktastic: Warwick Folk Festival 2013

Morris Dancers Warwick
Another weekend, another festival. This time I headed to Warwick boasting an impressive medieval castle and, at the end of July, the Warwick Folk Festival (25 – 28 July 2013), which has been around for over three decades. It is one of the most trad-oriented festivals I’ve volunteered at so far and offers a diverse programme of concerts, ceilidhs, workshops of all kinds as well as children’s entertainment. While a large number of the events took place on the festival grounds beside the river Avon, there were also plenty of ‘fringe’ events happening in Warwick town centre. A handy shuttle bus ferried festival goers between the two locations. 
Jim Moray & band WarwickThe three evening concerts on the main stage included Jim Moray, O’Hooley & Tidow, Dervish, The Young’uns and an energetic performance by Le Vent du Nord, hailing from Quebec, on Sunday night. However, my favourite venue of the whole festival was the Co-op acoustic stage. Despite the noise of the espresso machine on the far side of the tent, it was the most atmospheric venue to me.
Nurse Roberts & Medicine Man WarwickFavourites were Sarah Horn & James Cudworth (also playing with Aelfen), Nurse Roberts & the Medicine Man and Brent Mason, a Canadian singer-songwriter, who we had a nice chat with on the train back to London.  O'Hooley & Tidow Warwick I also loved the sound of Salvation Jane, an Australian vocalist ensemble with beautiful harmonies, Niall Teague & the Fast Company, a dynamic Irish band, and folk septet The Old Dance SchoolThe Old Dance School Warwick Volunteering was fun. I had a couple of shifts at the main stage, one very uneventful afternoon one, while Saturday evening was as busy as it gets. There was a bit of a downpour for a few hours and everyone crowded into the huge and relatively dry and warm space. Was also happy with the spot we found for camping. Proper showers and toilets nearby and a bit hidden away from the main area, guaranteeing a few good nights of sleep (additionally improved by hot water supply for my hot water bottle from the first aid volunteers, thanks guys). All in all a very enjoyable musical weekend.
Tent view Warwick