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Crowds line streets for Wye Valley River Festival finale

Popular free arts and environmental event the Wye Valley River Festival has finished with a bang with thousands of local people enjoying its mix of memorable live shows and interactive art experiences.

The 2022 festival, which concluded on Sunday (5th June), saw musicians, dancers, performers and even giant bouncing kangaroos delight crowds lining the streets of Ross-on-Wye as part of a thrilling weekend of entertainment, which also included audience participation live theatre shows at Symonds Yat Rock and community groups displaying the work they created for the free access festival.

Organisers Wye Valley River Festival CIC have been delighted to see crowds return in large numbers as the biennial event completed its live return following a four-year absence. On Saturday (June 4) Ross-on-Wye hosted the Streets of Ross, which saw lively circus acts, entertaining street theatre performers, musicians and parades take over the streets as part of the Jubilee celebrations.

Among those taking part were performers Roo’d, who bounced around Ross in their springy giant kangaroo stilts costumes to the delight of audience members young and old. Also wowing the crowds were aerial circus performers, funky street band The Wod Wos trio, mysterious grass-covered duo the Grassmen and Qwerin, a stunning mix of Welsh folk and contemporary dance.

Local community groups took part in the parade with their specially made costumes, which ranged from hand crafted masks and outfits through to a giant kingfisher costume.

The weekend saw the final performances by specially commissioned troupe The Bikesplorers, who toured throughout the festival along a 65-mile route, camping on the way and putting on pop-up performances for audiences. The group performed at Llandogo Village Hall on Friday, along with a heavily laden postman from Bird in The Hand Theatre for the entertainment of the audience at Llandogo Community Picnic.

Other weekend highlights included interactive performances by Red Herring theatre company and the Whistler Conservation Society at Symonds Yat Rock. The performances, which ran from Friday until Sunday, gave audiences the chance to glimpse at “the elusive Whistlers”, a remote whistling community, who communicate through their “extraordinary whistling language”.

At Symonds Yat there was Flaxland, an afternoon of demonstrations of “the wondrous world of natural materials” as well as a performance by Bristol-based Algy Behrens, a musician who took the audience on a rhythm nature walk which doubled as a tree and branch percussion workshop.

Cinema evenings took place throughout the festival, as well as live music at Lydbrook Tump on Sunday, courtesy of the annual riverside Tump Fair. At Leabrink on Sunday Meadow musician Mike Simmons staged the live launch of his album Wye: The River At My Window.

WVRF artistic director Phillippa Haynes said the Wye Valley River Festival CIC team were overwhelmed by the response by the crowds after a four-year gap. She said: “People have turned out in large numbers for the 2022 Wye Valley River Festival and we have been delighted to be supported by the local community, with a real sense of people getting back into the swing of things.

“After the enforced gap due to the pandemic, it has been fantastic to see audiences partying together. The feedback has been great, particularly around our efforts to reduce the environmental impact which seem to have struck a chord.

“The turnout for Ross was remarkable given the colder weather and it was superb to see the Bikesplorers triumph by completing their 65-mile performance route. We are already hatching amazing plans about mass participation events for 2023 and even looking ahead to the return of the River Festival in 2024.”

The festival presented amazing site-responsive sound commissions at Tintern Abbey, inspired by the festival theme Human ⇋ Nature. Visitors could experience the extraordinary sounds of the deep ocean with Chris Watson’s piece the Three Realms and conduct their own natural sound concerto with the Soundbeam installation. People could dial up a chosen celebrity to hear their ‘Letters to the Earth’ with Dame Emma Thompson, Sam Lee and Jenny Ngugi among those to record pieces.

Other Festival highlights had included the opening weekend Monmouth Merry Mischief Day which saw crowds turn out for lively circus acts, street theatre performers, musician and community group parade floats taking over the streets.

Nearly all the events were free to attend and did not require tickets, in line with the organiser’s ethos of making the Festival accessible to as many people as possible. To embody this year’s festival theme the organisers ensured performers, producers and production crew, 90% of whom live within a 40-mile radius of the festival, reduced their vehicle usage. The organisers also encouraged the use of carbon minimising methods.

Innovative arts organisation Wye Valley River Festival CIC is led by artists and communities all creating work focussing upon environmental themes. The festival takes place every two years since 2014 but the 2022 event will be the first live festival to be staged since 2018. The festival moved to a digital version in 2020 due to Covid-19.

For 2022, the organisers have responded to public demand to create more opportunities to get involved throughout the year. Since January under a new initiative, five locally based artists have been working as “creative community champions” to encourage arts participation to create work based on the region’s issues. Banners and artwork created by local groups as part of the 2022 Festival creative community champion projects were on display at locations across the Wye Valley.

The Wye Valley River Festival was launched in 2014 as a partnership between Arts professionals The Desperate Men, Phillippa Haynes and the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is funded this year by the UK Community Renewal Fund, Arts Council England, the Sustainable Development Fund, the Welsh Government and Forestry England.

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