The UK has seen a proliferation of festivals over the last five years from the miniature to the grandest of them all the Diamond Jubilee. There are a variety of reasons why we attend them: to connect with our community, celebrate a common goal, person or achievement or just to have a good time. Many festivals have a cultural bent and it seems, as the digital age begins to overwhelm us that we like to be shored up in real time, in a real place listening, learning and seeing. With our quixotic approach to the weather, obsessive and indifferent by turns, we also appear to be prepared to withstand the extremes of wet and cold in order to get our cultural fix. Pimms in plastic cups, egg sandwiches, curry puffs and the now ubiquitous hog roast help us ensure that we are having a good time, a sartorial aspect has also crept in: Hunters boots, Cath Kidston sleeping bags and in some cases the reassurance that the next door neighbours' but one have just waved to us across a muddy trench two hundred miles from home is somehow socially satisfying but where lies the real pleasure in all of this?
Of course there is something magnificent about a large-scale festival such as Glastonbury. At its best, a Mediaval jousting field although on a scale of about 400-I. Edinburgh, both the book and the theatre festival (s) are inspiring, diverse, eccentric and a vital reminder from where our humanities based contemporary culture stems and who can deny Peter (I have a dream) Florence's vision of the future. Over twenty years ago he set up the Hay Literary Festival , a couple of tents in a muddy field now it's a world-wide operation. Are these large-scale events beginning to lose relevance and resonance? The often slightly uncomfortable question and answer time is not enough to satisfy genuine enquiry and interest. The sliver of the ancestral memory that festivals could evoke of being with one's tribe while a wandering bard sang the story of the past, seems even further away than it did twenty years ago. Isn't it time, as we trudge across a festival field to get to the next "event" while authors arrive by chauffeur driven car and helicopter to be whisked away just as quickly, to ask ourselves are we really getting our money's worth?
The attractive alternative to all of this is to stay home and watch 24 consecutive episodes of BREAKING BAD, the rise of the box-set being another cultural phenomenon, so it is with a mixture of dismay and excitement that I find myself fighting fire with fire and organising my own boutique arts festival in Norfolk during August bank holiday. Why? Ask any number of comfortably sofa-based friends and the complexity of my response surprises even me. Because......as true football fans would prefer to go to a match rather than watch it on TV, I still believe that genuine lovers of music, art and literature want a live experience but that the key to making it different is to make sure that the scale is right. Six years ago I stepped into the walled gardens of Voewood House, an arts and crafts masterpiece to be found just outside Holt in North Norfolk and was enchanted by its beauty and timelessness. I remember idly musing on a midsummer night's eve that it would be a perfect place for a small, jewel like fete de champs surely, my reasoning went, we all want to inhabit a magical space where grace, civilisation and fun are celebrated in equal measure . As the saying goes be careful what you wish for but I feel Voewood is becoming such a space.
Clare Conville is the founder and curator of Voewood Festival (24-27th August). For tickets please visit www.voewoodfestival.com.
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