Summer is beginning to show her face, the evenings stretching on that little bit longer as people are shedding coats and jumpers with a look of wonder at the warmth lingering on their skin. And with the season comes the impulse to run outside, to frolic in fields and the countryside, and perhaps, in the sunlit rays of England’s high summer, go to a festival.
Festivals range from the tiny provincial gatherings in country villages where people in wellies judge the size of marrows and the brightness of sunflowers, to the massive gatherings at Glastonbury and Bestival. These music festivals draw the whole gamut of humans together, from city slickers to bedraggled students, dancing to the same tunes. And in between we have festivals celebrating anything and everything, from agricultural shows to highland games - not forgetting the traditional May Fairs that celebrate the beginning of May and the coming of a warmer clime.
One might be forgiven for thinking the history of festivals began with Woodstock and the liberation of the sexes, bringing freedom and music together in a joyous, almost Paganistic, ritual. However according to many historians, the first music festivals appeared in Ancient Egypt around 4500 B.C. full of feasts, dancing, and politics; one could argue not much has changed! Later the Ancient Greeks founded the Pythian Games which began competitions for music and poetry, and were held all over the country. It is no coincidence that the arts of music and writing are associated with this coming of summer, the rebirth of inspiration and light and creativity all blended harmoniously with the warmer months.
And so it is with Woodstock, the music festival held in the state of New York, begun in August 1969 at the beginning of the liberated ‘70s. The artists who attended are now seen as being amongst the greatest of musical name, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, Nash & Young, and the festival is seen as changing the future of rock ‘n’ roll forever.
Elsewhere festivals are not always rock ‘n’ roll, the Westbury Wiltshire county hosts the Village Pump Folk Festival annually in July, pulling together musical acts from all over the country, with opportunities for choirs to sing and Open Mic slots for audience members daring enough. They truly capture the sunny feeling that festivals hold, of a relaxed atmosphere where anyone can strip back the layers of stress and worry that build up during our working lives, allowing us to retreat to who we really are.
It’s the feeling that festivals promote, that loosening of the screws that hold us into place during the working week. William Henry Davies famously wrote, ‘what is this life, if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare’, and any festival-goer would surely agree. Whether browsing among the begonias at a village fayre, or studying the variant tractor engines, your worries of the world will slip that bit easier.
While staying in on warm summer nights, or sitting out in your garden watching the sunset, you can explore the atmosphere of a riotous festival, simply by lighting our Festival candle, and letting the warm scents evoke the harmony and nature of a truly British summer.