Ventnor Invites this Summer

With soaring prices calling into question the viability of going to Edinburgh this August for both artists and audiences, it's good to know that other towns and cities around the country have developed their own festivals with the Fringe title.

If you’d rather head south this summer for your Fringe fun and fancy taking a ferry to your festival then Ventnor on the Isle of Wight might well be the place for you. Both the location and the event come with recommendations. The Guardian says ‘...this tiny seaside town has a thriving home-grown creative community’, while The Sunday Times describes it as ‘..rapidly becoming the country's most surprising and inspirational multidisciplinary arts festival’. With even more passion The Independent proclaims it to be ‘one hell of a homegrown authentic, bohemian festival experience’.

All this in a town with a population of just under 6,000 built around hairpin bends that will appeal to keen motorists. Meanwhile, admirers of sailing might take to the waters of the Solent and the English Channel or just admire the vast array of resident boats that fill the many harbours along with the visiting vessels on their summer tour of the great European yachting ports.

The Isle is Wight is no stranger to festivals and big names. Victorian greats like Tennyson, Keats and Dickens rank among its artistic heritage as does Oscar-winning film director Anthony Minghella and more recently breakout success Wet Leg, who brought another generation of music lovers to the Island. Back in the late 1960s it pioneered the modern music festival bringing such big names as Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davies and The Who to the original Isle of Wight Festival, which some reports say attracted 600,000 fans in 1970. The size of this event caused a public outcry from the locals that caused legislation to be passed that to this day requires special permission to be granted for large events.

It’s the reserved, small-town, largely rural nature of the island that probably inspired its youth to sow the festive seed in 1968, which burgeoned into decades of musical celebrations that embrace alternative and challenging cultures seen by many as threatening the calm of the Island and the foundations of society. The young persisted, undeterred by challenges to their fun and over the years brought people of all ages into the festive mood. By 2010 it was time for them to sprout another branch in the form of the first Ventnor Fringe, inspired by a group of teenagers, rooted in the Island’s acquired enthusiasm for celebrating the arts.

This year's Ventnor Fringe, as per tradition, will precede Edinburgh and occupy the ten days from 22nd - 31st July. Like similar short-run Fringes, there’s a limited number of shows but the breadth is impressive, offering something for a range of tastes.

Lou Sanders, Jayde Adams, Simon Brodkin and other comedians will feature along with Le Gateau Chocolat, Olivier award-winning star of La Clique and La Soiree, and Jonny Woo, the Queen of London's Alternative Drag scene. Music fans can see intimate gigs with Mercury Prize Nominees The Big Moon or the post-punk sounds of Goat Girl. For theatre-goers, there’s new writing and puppetry, but according to those with inside knowledge, it’s the gigs in a local laundrette and secret midnight shows that are normally the hottest tickets in town. The combined events form a pot-pourri of music, hilarious comedy, dazzling cabaret and unforgettable theatre that fits in around the bustling local markets, pop-up bars and the permanent hostelries and restaurants; the latter renowned for their seafood.

Talking of heat, don’t forget that England’s largest island is only just across the water from France, which perhaps accounts for the presence of the 1930's Parisian Book Bus. Its southern location makes for higher temperatures and a more reliable climate than you will find north of the border. With the dates not overlapping, you could, of course, fit in Edinburgh as well, in a scenic drive from Hampshire to Hibernia. Pity about the price of petrol!

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