It’s amazing how a word can conjure up memories. ‘Festival’ is one such word for me. To me it brings back precious memories of a recurring time in another part of the South West – Penzance.
After partying hard for nine days I crawl out of bed at 5am on a Saturday – it’s light – it’s midsummer. A brisk walk along the seafront – and I arrive at the Acorn Theatre where about 30 or so people have also managed to get up. Coffee, croissant and brandy is consumed.
Then the lorry arrives with the materials we need, which drives around Penzance dumping it at strategic points throughout the town. The small army of volunteers goes about its business and soon, apart from all the decorations that have festooned Market Jew Street for the last week and a half – shops, lampposts and statues and railings are now smothered in fresh greenery before most people have even stirred in their bed. Mazey Day – the culmination of the Golowan festival is underway. Most of us will not be back in bed until the early hours of Sunday. Some pubs unofficially ‘open’ – party time!!
Another memory, this time in Barcelona, and a long weekend booked unknowingly on the weekend of the Festa Major de Gracia, situated in the Barri Gotic (mediaeval quarter). Totally bonkers – fun, hedonistic – you’re actively encouraged and welcomed to join in with the traditional dancing and processions with giant papiermaché heads and some bizarre games by hospitable Catalans. Don’t think about going to bed until 4am.
So that’s what I think about when I hear the word ‘festival’. For the people and unashamedly by the people. Which is why my heart sinks a little when I see the words ‘Plymouth Summer Festival’.
If a festival is anything it’s staged by a local community by and for itself – for its own enjoyment and its own benefit. It may be ancient, or it may be a revival or it may be invented – that’s irrelevant – but it has a soul, a core and a community focus.
I look at the ‘Summer Festival’ and see a festival within a ‘festival’ kicking it off – The Barbican International Jazz and Blues Festival, which is a recent invention, but to me is a genuine example – it’s localised, it’s embraced within the community and it has a distinct flavour. (Another example of a festival like this – different in theme obviously – is the Hay Literary Festival.)
Then there are the other events spanning five (count them) months. That’s not a festival – and it certainly isn’t ‘summer’ – it spans three of the internationally recognised seasons.
The scattergun approach of the ‘Summer Festival’ runs through Crowded House at the Pavilions, a truck show, watching cars racing around Silverstone on the telly, Derek Acorah chatting to Michael Jackson and power-boats and… check out the link – loads more events and, no doubt, more to come. Arm-wrestling with Chas ‘n’ Dave anyone? Monkey-tennis?
And this I believe is the fault line running through the programme of events.
Notwithstanding that there may be (I don’t know) incentives offered for some events to take place as part of an organised package – these events would have taken place anyway. Crowded House are booked in as part of their international comeback tour – the Grand Prix will take place without a ‘Summer Festival’, and I doubt very much if Race for Life organisers worry too much if there’s a ‘festival’ in town before going ahead with their vital fundraising.
Maybe I am a little old-school – but this five month shoe-horning exercise is, to me, no festival. Nothing against the events – it’s good to have so many – they’ll all have an audience, but, I repeat, they would happen anyway. The festival notion is in itself nothing more than a corporate marketing exercise.
There is no focus and it is certainly not run by or for the community.
People who know me or follow me on Twitter know that I promote Plymouth and the brilliance of our city as often as I can.
So, trying to act in a spirit of constructive criticism – is it possible that the corporate and cultural supporters and sponsors of the current ‘festival’ really engage over the coming year with the population of Plymouth and the different communities within it – and see if we can invent our own real Summer Festival for 2011. It might mean a real change of mind-set – but it could be done. Let’s have an agreed theme or focus – let’s have some major specially organised events – and let the community respond to the challenge and put together it’s own variants – with some of that financial support that goes into the current marketing.
Let’s participate and let’s party and put other cities in the shade!
(Image: Get up and Boogie by Steve Clement-Large)
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