Tag Archives: summer festivals

Meet the Festival Makers: Paula Henderson of WOMAD

WOMAD is one of those success stories most other events can only dream about. It was born in 1982 and has since expanded to about 27 countries with over 250 festivals having been held since then. The original event, now established at Charlton Park, in Wiltshire, is still going strong, too, and its 2018 edition promises to become one of the best ones yet. I interviewed festival booker Paula Henderson in order to find out a bit more about what makes WOMAD tick and you can read all about it right here!

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Life is a Festival: What is your definition of world music (if any) and what are the advantages of showcasing artists who are not all household names?

Paula: The term World Music is outdated, it was something that was created in order to give record shops a reference point to place music in their shops years ago.  One of the aims of WOMAD is to present the best music that you’ve never heard before, festivals are the perfect places to showcase new artists because a festival is a place where we should take risks.

Life is a Festival: Looking back at the first Womad in 1982, the festival has come a long way and the world has arguably become more multicultural since then. In recent years, however, there also seems to be a growing focus on nationalism. Is a concept like Womad, inclusive and outward-looking, still relevant or ist it, in fact, more relevant than ever?

Paula: The importance of WOMAD is greater than ever.  The struggles we now face to try and bring an artist into the UK because our visa system is so challenging is huge.  This year we are also facing the dilemma of artists deciding not to come to the UK because they don’t want to go through the visa process and be turned down even when they have Schengen visa and a European tour in place that would mean staying longer in the UK would be of no benefit whatsoever!  These problems actually highlight how important it is for WOMAD to carry on and highlight the importance of multi-culturalism.

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Life is a Festival: With artists from 104 countries performing this year, it must be tricky to pick personal favourites, but which artists or collaborations are you most proud of to have secured for the 2018 event or which do you consider especially unique and not to be missed?

Paula: Too many to name, but especially proud that Colectivo Danza Region are coming as this has been planned for 3 years.

Life is a Festival: WOMAD has successfully travelled from the UK to other parts of the world. Do you work with local organisers and in what way has the expansion of the festival influenced Womad UK since then?

Paula: We work with local organisers in each WOMAD Festival location around the world to establish events that are true to WOMAD’s ethos and atmosphere. These events have influenced WOMAD UK’s festival in a positive and exciting way – enabling collaborations across the continents.

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Life is a Festival: I love the idea of Taste the World and workshops on e.g. dance and music being led by festival artists and always find that festivals are great at blurring boundaries between artists and audiences due to their informal set-up. Is it a challenge to plan a more interactive programme or an opportunity?

Paula: Not challenging, we ask and if it works with their schedule they are usually happy to participate!

Life is a Festival: How were you personally inspired as a youngster and is this something you enjoy passing on through your work with the festival?

Paula: Music was all I was ever interested in, I was taught to read music at the same time as I was taught to read and played music on an amateur level… it was a natural progression that when you know you aren’t good enough to be on the stage, do the next best thing and try and discover people who are!

Life is a Festival: What advice would you give to someone attending Womad for the first time?

Paula: Every WOMAD first timer should make sure they download our free festival app and get a programme on site. This means you won’t miss a thing – you’ll be armed with lots of info about each of the artists, and everything happening at the festival!

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If you haven’t got your tickets for WOMAD yet, there is still a chance to make the best of this sunny summer and fit in a festival weekend in late July. Tickets can be purchased online and you have various choices from one day to four days. Glamping options are also available and there is a fab sounding spa area for which you can get an extra pass and get pampered all weekend long. With another excellent and diverse line-up, WOMAD 2018 will be a music party like no other!

Disclaimer: All photography used in this blog post was provided by WOMAD festival including photos by Clara Salina and Suzie Blake.

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A Music Weekend in the Midlands: Gate to Southwell Festival 2018

The Gate to Southwell Festival (7-10 June 2018) was a last minute addition to my summer festival calendar this year and a really pleasant surprise! Having arrived from London via Nottingham by train it was a mere five-minute walk from Rolleston station to the festival site. Intriguingly, our designated stewards camping was located on the grounds of the Rolleston racecourse, so I set up my tent next to the parade ring and the women’s toilets had a ‘lady jockeys’ sign on it and saddle holders installed on the walls.

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As I got to Southwell (pronounced as it looks by most locals and ‘Suthel’ seemingly by anyone else) a day early I hitchhiked into town to get supplies and had a look around the Minster, whose two impressive towers also feature on the festival logo. I also came across a few of the especially decorated gates, a lovely idea to link the festival with the town through the ‘decorate your gate’ competition (see this year’s winners, sisters Sophie & Caitlin, below).

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After a relaxing morning, I was based at the box office on Thursday afternoon until the night of Blues started at the Big Top. The standout artist of the night was Li’l Jimmy Reed, a 77 year-old living breathing blues machine, who came down from the stage a few times during his set to play amongst the audience (apart from the Frontier Stage with just a few benches strewn about, all festival venues are seated). There were also some more live acts on at the same time in the Barleycorn Stage adjacent to the main festival bar and I headed over there at around 10pm for a set by Banter, a quirky ceilidh band like no other witha self-proclaimed ‘disregard for musical boundaries.’

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The main festival takes place from Friday until Sunday night, so it makes sense to stay until Monday morning, which unfortunately wasn’t possible for me this time around. Despite the festival site not being huge, the four main stages are arranged in a way that there is almost no noise interference from the other tents, which is fantastic. I was back at the box office on Friday afternoon and by the time I was finished with my shift, a lot more festival goers had started to arrive. I had really been looking forward to seeing both Blue Rose Code and Don Mescall, but both sadly had had to cancel at the last minute. Instead I gave Mongoose, a young, all female band from Ireland a try as well as East Anglian folk and Americana band The Shackleton Trio. The Friday headliner was Lindisfarne, a Newcastle folk rock band hugely popular in the 1970s, and I finished off my night with a spot of ceilidh dancing with Banter at Hoofers, an indoor venue at the race course, just a hop skip and jump away from my tent.

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After a fairly quiet first two days, Saturday was packed with a busy programme in town and at the festival site. The sun was shining and when I got into Southwell on the festival shuttle bus (ca. 3km, Friday until Sunday, £2 return) the town seemed transformed. There was a bustling market in a central square and at 11am the Morris parade started winding its way along King Street with lots of lively music and colourful costumes, including Harlequin Morris (see pic below).

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There were also a number of free events for locals to get a taste of the festival artists and I’m so glad I caught one at the Final Whistle pub, a beautiful disused train station, where Americana artists Vivian Leva from Virginia and Riley Calcagno from Seattle (see pic below) played a short but wonderful set in the courtyard. They were my favourite festival find and I’m sure they’ll be back in the UK many more times.

GTSW The Final Whistle Pub

After getting back to the festival site, Saturday continued with a varied programme on the four stages, which included Canadian fiddling and step dancing sensation The Fitzgeralds, celtic-inspired contemporary folk band Ranagri (Fort of the Hare), whose danceable repertoire included a ‘Brexit Charleston’, and quirky US duo Truckstop Honeymoon, who I hadn’t seen live for a couple of years and had almost forgotten how great and funny their songs were. Another Americana highlight was the evening’s headliner Gretchen Peters with some fabulous new songs and an impressive back catalogue as well.

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On Sunday morning I made one last trip into town for a latte at The Old Theatre Deli, very friendly café with delicious food right in the centre of town before enjoying the final day of the festival. There were so many acts on at roughly the same time who I had not seen before that I decided to switch between the stages, which was unproblematic as there were always some spare seats in each venue. Despite missing the Sunday headliner Cara Dillon, as I was already on my train back to London by the time she was on, I caught lots of other good acts, such as Scotsman Kris Drever, blues and roots guitarist and singer Martin Harley, Lincolnshire duo The Rye Sisters as well as Canadian songwriter James Keelaghan with Hugh McMillan.

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My favourite event of the day, if not the weekend, was the Tune & Verse & Ditty Challenge, a sort of a celebrity musical pub quiz led by Keith Donnelly on the Frontier Stage. It included questions from the world of folk and roots music and beyond and the two competing teams consisted of some of the Young ‘Uns, Rod Clements of Lindisfarne and various other musicians playing the festival this weekend. I hope it’ll continue to be part of the festival programme in future years, do not miss as it was brilliantly entertaining.

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If you like your festivals small and relaxing where you never really need to worry about getting a good seat while still seeing to top class acts from the world of folk, roots and Americana music, Gate to Southwell is a great choice. There was also plenty of food to choose from (Thai, pasta, fish & chips, wood oven pizza, Leon’s vegetarian, bubble waffles, ice cream and an espresso stall) and two bars with seating. Families with children were also well catered for with lots of entertainment, such as the hilarious Dan the Hat with his juggling and comedy acts as well as stalls with toys and a kids area with a story tent, games, a van to decorate with paint and even a petting zoo. The animals included goats, giant rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens and tortoises and were well looked after. The festival offers a range of ticket options including ‘taster tickets’, which allow you to enjoy the festival during the day with family and friends, but exclude the main evening concerts. But would want to miss those impressive evening lineups?

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Are You a Yoga or Festival Newbie, or Both? Give World Yoga Festival 2018 a Try!

Here in the UK we’re blessed with many options for amazing yoga experiences pretty much all year round and, as far as I’m concerned, summer festivals are the best way of combining time outdoors in nature with learning new things in the company of other friendly people. You might be thinking, but I’m not a yogi (yet) or I’m definitely not a camping person. I felt the same way a couple of years ago. Now I enjoy both so much that I wanted to give you a heads up to give them a try this summer. Who knows, you might just have found your new passion in life!

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One of the most inspiring yoga festivals around is World Yoga Festival, taking place for the third time this year at Beale Park, near Reading, from 19 until 22 July 2018 and founded by Ram and Sonali Banerjee. It focuses on traditional yogic wisdom attracting incredible speakers and teachers from India, the UK and beyond while feeding you the most yummy vegetarian and vegan food to fuel your weekend of relaxation and learning. I visited the festival for the first time last year (full review here) and was very impressed by the quality of teaching, the stunning serene setting as well as the welcoming and warm atmosphere all weekend.

Here is an FAQ on a few of the things people often mention to me when I talk festivals or yoga and they’ll hopefully help to put your mind at ease about giving a yoga festival a try this summer. You’ve got nothing to lose, but everything to win!

What are the essentials I need to bring to World Yoga Festival?

If you’re staying on site, bring your tent and anything you need to be comfy for a few days under the stars. Apart from essentials, such as your sleeping bag and your festival tickets, things that always come in handy are a sleeping mask and earplugs, sun cream or hot water bottle depending on the weather, flip flops, rain jacket and warm clothes for the evenings, swimming outfit (there is a beautiful lake!), bandaids, scissors, an extra battery for your phone, spare loo rolls, wet wipes and some sellotape. Don’t forget your yoga mat, of course (but if you do, you can purchase a shiny new one from one of the vendors), your refillable water bottle, as there is free drinking water on tap, some cash to pay for food during the weekend (most vendors also accept cards though). There are no cooking facilities in the camping area and nowhere to keep items cool, so either bring lots of fruit, veg and other simple snacks or enjoy sampling the delicious vegetarian food on offer. It includes South Indian, Tibetan and other healthy food options plus hot drinks and plant-based cocktails.

I don’t own a car, how do I get to the festival?

The site is close to Pangbourne train station and the festival offers a free shuttle to the site, but do check with them beforehand when it runs. You can probably walk it if you don’t have much luggage, it’s just over a mile. I used a local taxi company on my arrival day and put my name on the list for a shuttle on Sunday (sign up at the info table during the weekend).

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None of my friends feel like going to a yoga festival with me, what is it like attending by myself?

Festivals are fun, friendly events where people enjoy themselves and forget about their day jobs for a weekend. I almost always attend them by myself because it gives me the freedom to choose exactly how I want to spend my days and I still always end up meeting lots of like-minded people to have chats with over a meal, before or after classes. Don’t be shy to start a conversation with other festival goers like have they been before or what sessions can they recommend. There were so many different people of all ages and backgrounds at WYF last year, so it was a fantastic way to connect and exchange tips with others who are into yoga and meditation.

I’m a camping newbie and not too keen on the idea of sleeping in a tent and sharing showers. Will I still have a great time?

Absolutely! There are a few ways you can approach your first camping experience. Go with friends, bring your sleeping bag and let them organise the gear for you. Go just for a day without camping and walk around the campsite, talk to people and see what they pack and how big or small a tent would work for you. Stay for just one night. You’re probably crashed at a friend’s sofa before without much preparation and survived the experience, so think of it as an outdoor sleepover. If the weather is nice, a small/thin tent with just one layer is good enough. But bear in mind, that in this country the weather can often change quickly and the rain will get inside your tent if it doesn’t have two layers. I’ve been in this situation twice (obviously not having learned from it the first time around!) and it was a very uncomfortable, soggy and cold experience you don’t want to get in the way of enjoying your yoga experience.

I suggest: buy a smallish tent (mine is a ‘three men’ one, which despite its name just about fits myself and my gear), bring as little luggage as possible, but as much as you need to be comfortable. Even if you notice you’ve forgotten some essential item or need help setting up your tent when you get there, don’t panic, talk to your camping neighbours and most likely they are happy to lend you any spares they have, you can always treat them to a drink (no alcohol at WYF, but they had lots of delicious herb cocktails etc.) in exchange.

Regarding the showers, WYF has some of the best and cleanest ones around, no portaloos, but proper flushing toilets with sinks and mirrors (see my post from last year for pictures). As it’s a fairly small festival and the classes start early in the mornings people tended to not stay up too late, so I slept pretty well at night and you can always take a quick power nap after lunch, if needed. Plus there is a spa area by the lake for some serious chillaxing with many tempting pampering options on offer.

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I’m not sure if I can afford attending the festival, how can I still attend?

Most festivals offer a volunteering option, but you need to make sure you book your spot a good bit in advance. Here is all the volunteering info for WYF. If you do sign up, please be aware the festival team counts on every single individual and expects you to stick with your shift times and allotted job. However, especially if you’re attending by yourself, enjoy helping others and are good with people, it’s a great way of making new friends and getting to know a behind the scenes look at how a festival works.

There are so many great sounding sessions on offer, how am I supposed to know which ones are suitable for me?

The most important thing is to be realistic about how much you can fit in one day and make sure you plan in enough breaks. Unlike lots of other yoga festivals, WYF focuses less on a packed schedule of asana-based classes, but a lot more on personal growth and spiritual learning. While there are still plenty of physically challenging sessions on offer you can build up knowledge throughout the weekend by coming along to follow-up sessions by the same teachers or you can sample lesssons from lots of different styles and philosophical schools. I recommend reading up on the presenters before heading to WYF as it will give you a much better idea of whose classes are for you. All the teaching tents were spacious and airy, the perfect place for learning and relaxing. There is also some beautiful Indian live music scheduled for each evening in the main tent.

Upcoming festival highlights and booking information

This year’s line-up includes many of the very popular speakers from last year as well as some exciting new additions,such as Mumbai-based senior Iyengar yoga teacher Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh, Swami Ambikananda, founder of the Traditional Yoga Association of the UK, sound healer Sheila Whittaker, Vedanta teacher Swami Brahmavidananda Saraswati and Dr. Ramesh Pattni, a world renowned authority in yoga psychology. You can check out the provisional timetable and presenter biographies in advance. If you’d like to find out more about the festival’s philosophy and history, you can read my interview with directors Ram and Sonali Banerjee, whose calm and positive presence throughout the weekend clearly set the scene for the very pleasent atmosphere at WYF.

Tickets are available from the festival booking page and feel free to get in touch for  questions anytime. See you on the mat this summer!

Disclaimer: All photography used in this blog post was provided by World Yoga Festival.

 

 

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!

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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!