Ashbourne’s Arts Festival is upon us and all is well with the world. In an age when it seems that we know the price of everything and the value of nothing it’s nice to be able to step out of the everyday pressures and just enjoy something cerebral or sensual. Ashbourne really does punch above its weight when it comes to the cultural and sporting activities.
The selection of events for the festival is wonderfully eclectic and accessible. The Arts delivered badly can be seen as a luxury for the wealthy and the highbrow and some festivals do play up to it. They make themselves very cliquey and unappealing to anyone on the outside. Ashbourne Arts Festival has something for everyone and is all the richer for it.
The festival for me began with Not The Rolling Stones at the Empire Ballroom. I’ve seen a lot of tribute bands over the years and you never quite know what you are going to get. Last year’s Abba tribute band were fantastic and it was a really up-beat dancing evening. Those people who sat in rows expecting to have a clear view of the show were disappointed as everyone got up and understandably danced in front of them. For the Stones the organisers put the seats at the side and gave much more room for those wanting to get up. The band were a quite old-school tribute act in that they were more about ‘the look’ than many. Let’s face it, the whole point about a tribute band is they are mimicking a band with lots of great musical material. The Rolling Stones catalogue was well covered from the 60s authentic sound of Not Fade Away, Its All Over Now and Paint It Black right through to the collaboration with Christina Aguilera with Live With Me. The floor started to fill up with with Miss You and You Can’t Always Get What You Want. By the end virtually everyone was on their feet and losing varying degrees of inhibition. The encore with Satisfaction brought the house down.
The musical evening continued for many with The Snapp at the Courtyard who were absolutely fantastic. This isn’t part of the official festival so maybe we are seeing the start of the “Ashbourne Fringe”. They were great individual musicians and they gave the packed, enthusiastic crowd a really good show including covers of The Jam, The Specials and Madness. In a varied set they threw in The Passenger with a middle section including Deep Purple’s Black Night! Those of us who heard the guitarist’s sound check earlier knew just how good a player he was. The night owls then made their way up to the George And Dragon for even more live music on a lovely balmy evening.
Saturday continued with the International StreetFest. On another roasting day the town looked magnificent with the bunting casting shadows on the baking streets and the brightly coloured flags of the Festival decorating the shopfronts. The market square is a wonderful theatre for entertainment – it doesn’t need a stage. I happily watched the YMCA-based audience-participation comedy there followed by the TNT Show performing juggling and balancing tricks. Miss Red was mixing comedy with lasso and juggling and no-one was safe from her attentions. Of course the Traffic Wardens made a welcome return. I watched them “protect” someone getting money out of the cash machine, move some people on from standing on the yellow box markings by the Coop and climb into a passing car – terrifyingly funny.
The Art exhibition opened up in the town hall and I really enjoy this mix of styles and artists. It is probably under-visited amongst all the other activities but is an essential for me. This year there were photographs, woodcuts, paintings, ceramics and sculptures. I really liked the delicate paper figures by Maggie Cullen. There was a ring of small but strangely detailed organic figures with headdresses and a double row of bizarre figures on the same scale. The organic figures are fashioned out of roots and twigs but somehow the form is defined by it. There was also a selection of her more familiar book sculptures made out of reading books. Of the rest the large woodcut called Golden Girl by Laura Rosser was very striking, Simon Gilmartin’s evocative painting of a girl in a cornfield entitled Late Summer near Osmaston, and John Wilford’s dusty Summer grain store stood out for me. I want to make a special mention for Vicky Scotcher’s detailed stoneware replica of the facade of Ashbourne Town Hall which was very striking on a white background. It was obviously a more recent work as it even featured the blue Tourist Information sign.
So there you have it. Three events which have kept me entertained over the first 24 hours of the Festival. It doesn’t have to be about “difficult” plays and experimental music pieces. Mainly it’s about family events, fun and beauty and who could argue with that? Ashbourne Arts takes a lot of organising and brings hundreds of thousands of pounds to Ashbourne’s shops, cafes and accommodation. This was wonderfully demonstrated with Streetfest cheek-by-jowl with the Craft Fair and cobbled market and by the people sitting outside the Coach and Horses, Flower Cafe and Patrick and Brooksbank to enjoy the events. I hope by the time you read this that you’ve enjoyed a few of the events on offer. Even if you haven’t I hope you recognise the importance of Ashbourne Arts Festival to how we feel about ourselves. I personally would like to thank the people behind the festival for their commitment to it as well as all the stewards, artists and venues for supporting a real asset for the town. I’ve got my tickets for the comedy night (with an excellent lineup this year headlined by Jo Caulfield) and Stuart Maconie so there’s plenty more to enjoy. Wouldn’t it be lovely if the Picnic In The Park was blessed with the same magnificent weather we had for the opening weekend?