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Diverse mix of acts draws large audiences to annual arts festival

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: June 12, 2014

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CLASSICAL music, jazz, comedy, theatre and literature all feature in this year’s Lichfield Festival.

Among the star names heading for the festival are comedy favourite Paul Merton, former TV newsman Peter Snow, jazz star Courtney Pine and best-selling author Ruth Rendell.

Lichfield Cathedral will again play host to many events, including classical concerts by the likes of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, who will be joined by violinist Tasmin Little, returning from last year to perform Vaughan Williams’ perennial favourite The Lark Ascending.

The festival attracts 50,000 visitors and is growing year on year.

Festival manager Jennifer Mears told The Mail: “We are always looking to both find out what people want to see and to challenge our audiences.

“This year we have been pushing people to see something new. There are lots of things that satisfy our core audience, a lot of events for orchestral and chamber music lovers, but also lots of more offbeat things that people might not chose to see at any other time.

“For example, we have a fantastc group called Gandini Juggling. They are a troupe of nine who all perform at the same time and juggle fruit, pots . . . all kind of things. They have recently been on Graham Norton and The One Show and are making quite a name for themselves.

“Le Navet Bete are a clown troupe who do their own take on a western and who are very funny.

“We also have some new young comedians coming up perfoming their Edinburgh shows - it’s a real mixture of things.”

The cathedral and the Garrick Theatre are the two key venues at the fesival but there will be smaller events in local hotels, churches and even the library.

Jennifer says: “It’s not just the big nights we are promoting, it’s a broad spectrum. One of the most interesting things we have got this year is Shakespeare in Strange Places, which does exactly what it says on the tin. You will see groups performing in cafes and in the park.

“There are lots of free events too, for people who just want a day out - such as the Florette Festival Market on July 5 and our 1940s-themed vintage tea party on July 12.”

Jennifer says there is a great buzz around Lichfield during the festival, which brings visitors in from near and far.

She says: “It’s a different city when the festival is on. Everything is colourful, the shops and cafes are full and everyone loves the atmosphere. We get people booking tickets from all over the UK.

“We aren’t the only festival going on at that time of the year, so it’s nice that Lichfied for a small city has so much happening.”

The festival survives without Arts Council funding although it is a charity and receives some support from local authorities and a lot of backing from businesses.

“But it’s ticket sales more than anything else,” says Jennifer. “We try to listen to what audiences want and it’s valuable for us to get feedback and learn what works and what doesn’t.

“We try to cater to demand but also offer some things that you might not be able to see anywhere else in Staffordshire for the rest of the year. A wide range of events are selling out or selling well this year, attracting a broad range of audiences.”

Jennifer also believes that an arts festival is the best way to showcase a community.

She says: “It’s not just about the arts. It brings people into the city and helps them explore the hotels, restaurants and shops. We have started a window shopping display with independent retailers around the city to engage them with the festival.”

It’s the festival’s 33rd year and it has survived the ups and downs of the economy and outlasted many similar events.

Jennifer says: “Some festivals across the UK have folded in recent years so we are very fortunate that we have been able to not only carry on but be successful.”

Lichfield Festival runs from July 4-13. To view the full programe go to www.lichfieldfestival.org.

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