Tag Archives: volunteering

Sunshine & Good Times: Folk Weekend Oxford 2018

The recent heat wave coincided perfectly with the seventh Folk Weekend Oxford (19-21 April 2018), which seems to get better every year. It’s one of those festivals where you might not know very many of the bands on the line-up beforehand, but which always delivers in terms of quality, fun and a friendly community feel, something many of the larger festivals simply cannot offer.

Jo Rosie Penny FWO Volunteers.jpg

Before my first stewarding shift on Friday night I had plenty of time for a pizza in the sunny backyard of The Rusty Bicycle pub and a leisurely stroll around the Cowley Road charity shops. Then I was off to St. Barnabas church in the Jericho neighbourhood, just north of Oxford City Centre. The ceilidhs always draw quite a crowd (up to 200 dancers) as the festival puts on fantastic live bands every year and this time was no exception. I was very impressed with the sound of Banter, one of the most quirky ceilidh bands I’ve come across so far, whose sound goes far beyond English traditional music including jazz, pop and soul influences. Unsurprisingly, they were a huge hit with the dancing crowd. The night also included a performance by local rapper (sword dance) team Mabel Gubbins.

Venue Sign FWO.jpg

After an incredibly sunny Friday, I woke up to more sunshine and met up for breakfast with a friend for coffee and exceptionally good cake at Barefoot Café on Walton Street before checking out some of the morris spots around town for live dancing with sides from various traditions, including Black Annis Women’s Morris and their adorable canine mascot Hattie (see pic further down). Around lunchtime we headed to one of my favourite Oxford venues, the airy hall of the Quaker Meeting House for a concert of traditional folk music, which included Dan Evans and Rebecca Hallworth (see pic below). Dan is a renowned fingerstyle mountain dulcimer player who also held an interesting workshop on the history and different styles of instruments on Sunday afternoon.

Dan Evans Rebecca Hallworth FWO.jpg

There was just enough time for dropping into Blackwells bookshop’s Norrington room for a set by young contemporary singer-songwriter Martha Bailey (see pic below) and a quick burrito dinner before my shift at the Wesley Memorial Church. The line-up consisted of Oxford vocal duo Hoverhawk, traditional singer Nick Dow and a solo set by one of the festival headliners, Eliza Carthy, who obviously drew the crowds for this event.

Martha Bailey FWO.jpg

On Sunday morning, during breakfast at the Nosebag restaurant, I got talking to another festival goer, who told me their Appalachian dance team, Cornucopia (see pic below), would be performing around lunchtime in the pedestrian area on Cornmarket. Their spot was one of my favourite performances all weekend and got a lot of positive reactions from locals and tourists alike. I then made my way over to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre where I caught half of the Topette workshop, a French-Anglo collaboration including Andy Cutting. They played some very beautiful dance tunes and spoke about the joys and challenges of working together across cultures and borders.

Cornucopia Appalachian Dance FWO.jpg

As I had not managed to join any workshops yesterday, I decided it was time for some dancing on the festival’s last day. So I took part in the Harlequin Morris Cotswold morris workshop (hankies and bells) for an hour. After we had warmed up for a few minutes we got taught a routine of various steps, jumps and hanky movements accompanied by accordion music. Let’s just say it was an ‘interesting experience’ and is a lot harder than it looks, but I think I’ll stick to Irish set dancing in future. It was great to see, however, that the class attracted people of all ages, including some enthusiastic youngsters, and we did manage to learn a whole routine in the short time we had.

Hattie FWO.jpg

My last event of the festival was a great ‘Meet the Artist’ session with Ross Couper (from Shetland, now based in Glasgow) and Tom Oakes (from Devon, now based in Edinburgh). I had last seen the pair play one of the BBC Seirm recording sessions at Celtic Connections back in January and had been well impressed by their energetic performance and expert use of fiddle (Ross) and guitar (Tom).

Christ Church Oxford.jpg

Of course, I managed to only catch a fraction of the huge programme for all ages, which was on offer during the weekend. I love supporting smaller festivals and I’m always amazed at how entirely volunteer-run events, such as Folk Weekend Oxford, manage to pull off such a big event so well. It’s usually down to a lot of hard work by a dedicated committee and many volunteers (like Jo, Rosie & Penny in first picture) throughout the year.

I highly recommend visiting the beautiful city of Oxford (picture above is Christ Church) during the festival to see for yourself what a positive impact such a community event can have. You might come back with a new idea what grassroots arts are all about, get a more in-depth understanding of local heritage and culture and have a lot of fun with like-minded people!

Partying with the Peacocks: Larmer Tree Festival 2013

Larmer Tree Peacock
I signed up for Larmer Tree volunteering at the last minute and had no idea what to expect. To my delight, it turned out to be one gorgeous weekend party for all ages – excellent! The festival took place at the Larmer Tree Gardens (Dorset/Wiltshire border) from 17 until 21 July. I caught a train from London on Friday morning and then managed to catch a lift with other festival goers from the station in Salisbury.
Volunteer HQ
Once the happy tent was set up, I made my way to gate 1a for my first shift of the weekend: helping with arrivals, i.e. directing incoming festival enthusiasts as there was all sorts of different car parks and camping areas. Caught the last bit of Seasick Steve’s set on the Main Stage and hung out in The Social (cosy, circus-like tent with a variety of acts and a bar) before hitting the hay.
Tea Stop Bus Larmer Tree
Had an earlyish start on Saturday as my next shift was assisting with the kids craft workshops and I absolutely loved it. We spent the whole morning making bead necklaces, bracelets and ‘beady people’ keyrings with excited little ones.
Kids bead workshop
After lunch I caught a few music acts at the ARC (Carrivick Sisters, Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou) and wandered around the gardens discovering various fun areas. There was a book crossing tree, an art exhibition, lots of stalls with reasonably priced vintage clothes, festival gear, food and coffee (incl. a red London bus that served as a cafe) and even a human jukebox, a car-like machine with four guys on the inside who played your song of choice when you put money in a slot. How cool is that? At night I went to see Imelda May‘s set on the Main Stage. Had never managed to go to one of her gigs while I lived in Ireland and really enjoyed her show. 
The Dukes Box Larmer Tree 2013
Sunday morning was spent at the kids craft tent again followed by the big carnival parade around the grounds with us volunteers collecting donations from festival goers for the Lucy’s Days Out charity. Today’s music included Steve Knightley, Thomas Ford and a really lovely set by KT Tunstall (first time I saw her live and especially loved the songs from her new album). The festival’s final act on the Main Stage was Bellowhead, who had everyone dancing and singing from song one.
Girls dressed up Larmer Tree 2013
Afterwards, I ventured back to the ARC for a couple of comedy acts. Around midnight an electrical storm cut American comedian Rich Hall’s set short, but he continued it more than an hour later. The lightning and brief rain shower right at the end of the night was a wonderfully atmospheric end to my festival weekend. It had really been a fantastic few days and I not only met lots of friendly volunteers and a couple of translators, but also ran into someone I knew from a festival in Vancouver a few years back. It’s a small world indeed, especially if you’re into festivals, it seems.
KT Tunstall Larmer Tree 2013

Life on Screen: DOXA Documentary Film Festival 2011

Finally, finally another documentary film festival! As I can’t make it to Hotdocs, Sheffdocfest nor Guth Gafa this summer, Vancouver’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival, which happened from 6-15 May 2011, was a welcome fix for my doc-starved self. A Justice Forum as well as a Spotlight on Vancouver were among some of this year’s programming highlights.

Despite a few minor issues, such as my day job getting in the way, I managed to see a good few films at the festival. Here is my favourites list with comments:

The Florestine Collection – amazing 31 minute short, which was very moving, the website is well worth checking out if you’re into art, animation, dressmaking, pot-bellied pigs, New Orleans or are simply a human

Louder Than A Bomb – a very close second for me, the opening night film was a tour de force of cutting edge slam poetry with a live performance of one of the main characters thrown in on the night for good measure, brilliant

KOOP – an intriguing and layered artist portrait which was beautifully (!) shot by Marcia Connolly and really well edited, a quiet film but the images do stay with you

Detroit Wild City – more depressing than I thought it would be but it still made me want to go and explore this city caught between the past and the future, great film

Forgotten Transports series (4 films) – as shocking as it was, and it really was, the director’s meticulous research and the fantastic editing made this somber historic documentary an experience that you’ll remember for a long time

I also enjoyed Prosecutor (good pace and charismatic main character) and The National Parks Project (interesting approach, even if a tad too long for one session) but sadly missed a whole lot of other films, including some of the award winners.

Apart from a couple of Pacific Cinematheque shifts I also worked at the opening and closing events, which were great for mingling with filmmakers, audiences and other volunteers. Of course the week went by way too fast, but thankfully there are plenty more film festivals coming up in this culture-filled city throughout the year.

Stay tuned for more festival fun in the weeks and months to come!