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Wye Valley River Festival 10th anniversary celebrations get off to flying start

POPULAR open access festival the Wye Valley River Festival got under way over the Bank Holiday weekend to mark 10 years of community engagement on the environment through the arts.

More events are lined up to celebrate the local landscape through creativity after the 10-day 2024 festival kicked off with street parades, feasting, music, theatre, art, circus performances and participation by people of all ages at venues along the Wye Valley.

Held every two years since 2014, the Festival runs until Sunday May 12 at sites from Hereford to Chepstow. Each festival has an ecological theme, with the 2024 programme inspired by “the earth beneath our feet” to emphasise the importance of soil to the environment.

The festival kicked off with Birthday on the Bridge on Friday evening (May 3) at Monnow Bridge in Monmouth, which saw people join a feast to begin the commemoration of the Festival 10 year anniversary with a playful evening of music and dance. Among those joining the crowds were Monmouth MP David TC Davies and Mayor Cllr Tom Kirton.

On Saturday, hundreds of people enjoyed the sunshine by attending Merry Monmouth Day, which began with a morning of craft activities in Agincourt Square, followed by a colourful parade in Monnow Street led by Festival music band the Wodwose and then a full day of amazing performances and activities in Drybridge Park.

The entertainment highlights included the spectacular outdoor debut of Bamboo, a new high flying show by No Fit State Circus, who performed acrobatics high off the ground in constructions of bamboo to the delight of the crowds.

The audiences also had the chance to enjoy shows by festival theatre troupe the Rumblers and the Composter, the new creation from the Desperate Men, who co-founded the festival, as well as Puddle Ducks by Cirq Delight, 7ft-high swan pedalo led by Gary and Pel, who performed as Swan In Love and the overenthusiastic road safety helpers the Lollipop Patrol, plus hundreds of children playing in the Allotment and creating “vegetable babies” with Lets Grow.

As well as dance performers 2Faced Dance, the entertainment included open sessions at Songs of Earth and Sky, the Singing Space, where festivalgoers were led by choir leaders, presentations from herbalists and foragers, clay workshops and fabric creative session.

On Sunday there was a Dawn Chorus early morning guided tour at RSPB Nagshead, followed by Redbrook Roust at Redbrook Millennium Park and Hub featuring music, workshops and live entertainment performances. On Bank Holiday Monday, Llandogo Village Hall hosted a 10th Birthday Bash, featuring performances, music from Nia Wyn, dancing and a community feast.

For the final weekend, tickets are on sale for Three Acres and a Cow, a theatre show on Friday at Larrapurz Centre, Ross-on-Wye, which explores land rights and protest in folk song and story covering the Norman Conquest and Peasants’ Revolt through to modern climate breakdown.

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Every day from Friday to Sunday, We Weave the Woods at The Glade, Beechenhurst, will mix feasts, shows, workshops and activities inspired by the woods and our connection to the earth, all centred on a specially-commissioned interactive installation entitled Connect/Cysylltu, created by festival veterans AndNow/ANawr. 

The site-specific piece will invite festivalgoers to explore, imagine and experience alongside international artist Mark Anderson’s Warning Notes, an interactive sound piece made up of visually striking mechanical ‘instruments’ including gongs, bells, whistles and explosive events.

The Wonders of the Wye photo competition will be held in Chepstow over the weekend for photographers to show their talents. Tickets are available for an evening guided tour at RSPB Nagshead on Saturday.

The programme is organised by Wye Valley River Festival CIC, an arts organisation led by artists and communities. Artistic director Phillippa Haynes said: “We were pleased to see so many people come out to celebrate the 10th birthday of the Wye Valley River Festival by enjoying a varied programme celebrating the landscape in creative ways.

“The feedback from audience members and the performers has been superb so we are grateful to everyone who has played their part in making the Festival so enjoyable so far. We still have plenty more to offer audiences so we look forward to seeing festival goers come along to the final events to see up close some of the UK’s most talented creative artists, while we raise issues about the threats to our environment.”

Throughout the festival work generated through extensive community work has been displayed, including an installation created by more than 500 pupils at seven schools celebrating fungi and trees. The output of songwriting scheme The Cosmos Within Us has been performed along with shows by the Mothers In All Weathers Choir, made up of mums who sing as they walk.

Twelve hand dyed banners created at Queering The Wye LGBTQ+ youth sessions have been on display, while a Queering the Wye Craftspace workshop will be held in Hereford on May 12. Artspace Cinderford is delivering events and workshops linked with food, while outdoor mobile art works have been created by residents, fellow artists and environmentalists.

The Festival, developed in partnership with Wye Valley National Landscape, is funded by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, Arts Council England, Arts Council Wales, the Sustainable Development Fund, the Welsh Government, Cadw and Ashley Foundation. 

Details of the remaining Festival events are available at www.wyevalleyriverfest.com