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Meet the Festival Makers: Lou Wellby, Music Curator of FloVibe Festival

The tag line for the new FloVibe yoga and wellness festival taking place at Kelmarsh Hall near Northampton from 2-4 June 2017 is ‘where retreat meets festival’ and judging by the line-up, you could spend all your weekend learning new skills, getting pampered or partying in a relaxed atmosphere to some great live music. The above concept is nothing completely new, of course, but every festival has its unique story, focus and vibe, so I interviewed the event’s music curator, Lou Wellby, to find out more in order to make the best of the upcoming festival weekend.

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Life is a Festival: I’ve caught the yoga festival bug last summer when I attended Yoga Connects and Soul Circus and it’s so great to see Flovibe bursting onto the exciting emerging UK wellness festival scene this June. How did the festival come about and who is behind it?

Lou: Founder Jason Pooley created The House of Yoga in Putney which is a thriving community and local haven and he wanted to connect with other wellness communities and practitioners, to celebrate common ground and learn from one another. This developed into FloVibe Festival, bringing together yogis, musicians, sportsmen, movers & shakers to relax in nature, share ideas and let their wild side come through. Jason Pooley partnered with Matt Cooke (InFrame Media) and I came on board as Music Curator (I founded Jam Sandwich Live in 2011, hosting gigs for artists across the city).

Life is a Festival: FloVibe combines yoga and pilates with wellness and music, so there will be a lot of learning opportunities as well as a chance to relax and just party. What kind of experience do you want festival goers to have?

Lou: Exactly, the festival is about discovery, wellbeing, creativity and play. We wanted to create an experience where people could nourish themselves from the inside out and party with friends in nature – a weekend of discovery, without a week of recovery under the duvet! You can design your day to find your balance, between talks, classes, workshops, disco naps and letting loose to live music. We believe you can be wild and be well, there’s room to try new things, to restore, and to let loose.

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Life is a Festival: I had a look at the fab programme for the festival’s kids area and am sort of regretting being too old to take part in all the fun. What can festival families expect and are there any ways us grown-up kids join in a little bit, too?

Lou: Kids are very welcome, I think we can learn a lot from them about how to immerse yourself in the moment, in creating and in ‘being with’ yourself and others. Festival families will have their own camping area and can enjoy the beautiful lakeside setting together. Yoga, meditation, crafts and games for little ones – the festival is an opportunity to reconnect with your inner child, so yes, absolutely, grown up kids get involved too!

Life is a Festival: Have you got any suggestions for yoga newbies as well as experienced yogis, anything that we should definitely give a try, be it a class, food or treatment?

Lou: Oof that’s a tricky question…I’d say Acro Yoga (collaborative, balancing yoga) and SUP yoga (standing up / paddle board yoga) on the lake will bring a lot of laughter and fun to newbies, Yoga Nidra and Yin Yoga are lovely restorative practices for deep rest, especially after lots of dancing! I also tried Reflexology recently and LOVED it, go through the woods to see Georgie (Retreat 4 Your Feet), it is heavenly. The Bhangra Bus Cafe serves up healthy Indian vegetarian food, so nourishing. I could go on forever and as Music Curator I recommend ALL the music, of course!

FloVibe takes place for the first time from 2-4 June 2017, the line-up, tickets and teacher bios can all be found on the festival website. Camping is possible from Friday until Monday, but there are also day options available, if you’re short of time. Can’t wait to pitch my tent for a weekend of yoga, food and fun!

Disclaimer: All photography used in this blog post was provided by FloVibe festival.

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Where Yogis Come to Play: Yoga Connects Festival 2016

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

Yoga Connects yoga outside Stanford Hall

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

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

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

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

Yoga Connects Opening night music

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

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

Yoga Connects slackline fun

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

Southern Sounds in Suffolk: Maverick Festival 2015

This year was my third Maverick Festival (3-5 July 2015) and there are a lot of advantages to being a repeat festival goer. You know the camping spot that suits you best. You can make a beeline for your favourite food and coffee stalls, even blindfolded. You remembered to bring enough carrots to feed the many adorable, four-legged farm creatures. All of this makes it a really relaxed affair.

One problem it doesn’t solve, however, is your favourite musicians always clashing. The only solution to this issue is to either see a lot of half-sets, rushing between them all day or to simply go with the flow, see fewer acts, but maybe have a more enjoyable time in the process. With very few exceptions I mostly opted for the latter. Yet with 50+ fantastic live musicians hailing from the USA, Canada, Australia and, of course, this very island playing the Maverick stages this year catching even half of them was no small feat indeed.

Maverick 1So here are my top 5 reasons why Maverick 2015 was awesome again and in fact those exact same reasons are also why you should consider attending Maverick in 2016!

Small is beautiful
Die-hard Glastonbury fans might not agree, but there are many, many upsides to attending a small festival (some of which I already mentioned in the first few lines of this post). The best part for me is always feeling like being among like-minded people. At Maverick specifically, the audience is pretty knowledgeable about Americana music, which the artists seem to very much appreciate (e.g. see my recent interview with Don Gallardo). This also makes for inspired conversations between the sets, which are also great for getting new artist recommendations.

As in previous years I also very much enjoyed the friendly and idyllic venue, Easton Farm Park. Of course, as a non-meat-eater, it was impossible to ignore that while some of the farm animals were there for us to pet and engage with, others (not from this farm) had not been so lucky and were, literally, dinner. But the farm staff always do a great job keeping the facilities in good working order and take good care of the animals they look after. In fact, the veggie options seem to have increased this year and one of the coffee stalls even had organic soya milk on offer.

Maverick is also one of the most dog-friendly festivals I have been to, or shall I put it the other way around, it is where I have come across some of the friendliest dogs of any festival yet. To my delight, a cute puppy I had met last year was back again with her family in tow while another dog-loving family had got a second pooch in the meantime. Happy days.

Maverick 4It’s not about the big names…
This is an interesting one and, if I’m honest, I still fall for it myself sometimes. You glance at a festival website, scanning it for names you recognise and if failing to do so are thinking: is this event really worth my while? I hear you, so do I! Luckily the festivals reviewed on this blog have been pre-approved, so to speak, and all the legwork has been done, so you can relax and trust that you will have a great time. Reliably excellent again were quite a few artists this year, so here are just a couple to get you started if you are new to this sort of music: Chastity Brown (USA, video here), Andrew Duhon (USA), Case Hardin (UK), Luke Tuchscherer (UK), Don Gallardo (USA), Hannah Aldridge (USA) and Larkin Poe (USA) – each of them quite different in terms of musical styles, so enjoy sampling their work.

…it’s about discovering new (to you) artists
As most of the overseas musicians tend to play on these shores about once a year or even less often, I do like to focus on catching as many of them as I can at any festival I go to. Yet there are also lots of great UK-based Americana artists worth checking out. This year the bands that particularly caught my eye and who I had not seen live before were The Rosellys (UK), Anne McCue (OZ/USA), Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Review (USA) and Debbie Bond & Rick Asherson (USA).

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Join in and learn a new skill
Full disclosure: I really don’t like trying something new while lots of other people watch me do it. If this sounds like the kind of fun challenge you enjoy though, fantastic news. If you’re more like me and are a bit hesitant about these sort of situations, I suggest you go by the motto to try at least one thing at every festival that scares you (and I’m not talking about trying to retrieve your mobile phone that you dropped down the portaloo). Most festivals offer some sort of workshop to get you involved in one way or another. At Maverick 2015 you could try playing the banjo, ukulele (have tried this at Shrewsbury a few years ago, still waiting to be signed by a record label though), dobro (!) and the blues harmonica. Now guess which one I went for?

Exactly. The humble harmonica seemed like the perfect starter instrument for an hour-long workshop that could actually be put to good use at other festivals too. And Rick Asherson accompanied by blues singer/guitarist Debbie bond did an excellent job teaching a good dozen beginners to make pretty impressive “train sounds” (pats herself on the back) and even sort of play along to some basic blues melodies. It was a whole lot of fun and I have actually picked up my newly acquired harmonica at home a few times since returning from the festival. No complaints from the neighbours yet, so there you go, I faced my fear and it wasn’t all that bad. Go on, if I can do it, you can do it too!

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Stoke your wanderlust
Admittedly, another reason why I love listening to all the overseas artists is my love for travelling. Nothing makes me want to go to a place more than finding some awesome musicians, which often prompts me to research the area and music scene where they are from. Nashville and Austin have been duly visited in the past few years, but both New Orleans and Memphis, for instance, still remain to be explored. So is the whole state of Alabama, which I have yet to set foot in. The fact that Alabama Tourism has been sponsoring Maverick festival for the second time helped to once more bring over some fantastic musicians, such as Debbie Bond, Hannah Aldridge and Lisa Mills. They also have a nifty new website for anyone wanting to explore the Americana Music Triangle. The artists listed above should get you started in terms of music for your road trip.

So pencil in Maverick Festival for the first weekend in July next year and check out the tour dates for the above mentioned artists, as many of them are playing various towns and venues around the country in the coming weeks. See, there is no excuse for not listening to some great live music. Life is a festival!