Festivals By Month / Things to do in May

40 festivals happening in May 2020

By ruby lopez, Friday Mar 13, 2020

Local

Bristol Early Music Festival

May 1-3, All Saints Church, Clifton, Price: various, www.bristolearlymusicfestival.uk, Bristol24/7 recommended

Welcome second outing for the festival celebrating sounds from a pre-Bach age, with a mission to explain as well as entertain. Highlights include “the Gates of Bristol” on opening night, bringing to life the sounds likely to have been heard in the medieval city; a programme of music associated with the spectacular meeting of Henry VIII and Francois I in 1520; a choral Eucharist with the choir of All Saints Church; Medieval chant and polyphony; and early music cabaret.

Plus workshops including woodwind, strings, singing rounds and Tudor dance; exhibitions/demonstrations of early instruments, as well as talks by their contemporary makers; and morris dance.

Bristol Folk Festival

May 1-3, price: £90 w/e, www.bristolfolkfestival.org

Back for a second year, with each night’s headliners lining up respectively as multi-garlanded Kate Rusby, Jon Boden – best known as the leader of Bellowhead, here performing with new outfit the Remnant Strings – and Edward II’s Caribbean-British.

That opening night should be a bit special, happening as it is in Clifton Cathedral and with O’Hooley & Tidow and dance aces Boss Morris on the undercard.

Bristol Walk Fest

May 1-31, price: free, www.bristolwalkfest.com Bristol24/7 recommended

Eighth outing for the country’s largest gathering of absolute walkers. Regularly attracts 3, 000 strollers, hikers and just general padders about for an – oft free – programme ranging from nature rambles to historical tours, walking sports to street art explorations, with all levels of fitness catered for.

Photo by Lowie Trevena

Cheltenham Jazz Festival

May 5-10, price: various, some free, www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/jazz, Bristol24/7 recommended

Loads of highlights at one of the premier parp ‘n’ skronk fests in the country, none more so than Fela Kuti’s old mucker, the afrobeat co-founding Tony Allen. The man Eno rated as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived” is paying tribute to arguably Africa’s most revered jazz chap, Hugh Masekela.

Artistic curator Gregory Porter is back for another croon, while also whetting the appetite are the likes of Stax legend Booker T Jones, Robert Plant fronting Saving Grace, Emeli Sandé, Denny Ilett, Beverley Knight, KC & the Sunshine Band, Bebel Gilberto, Squeeze, Stacey Kent, Ibibio Sound Machine, the Blind Boys Of Alabama, Nitin Sawhney and Amadou & Mariam.

Remember, too, that Cheltenham justly prides itself on being an accessible entry point for the jazz curious, with tons of free the none-more-relaxed environs of Montpellier Gardens, not to mention child-centric events like the Yamaha Discovery Space – with shows for all ages from babies upwards, including the chance to try out instruments – and another turn from Shlomo’s Beatbox Adventure For Kids.

Mayfest

May 6-24, various venues, Bristol,  price: £150 festival pass/individual events, many free,  www.mayfestbristol.co.uk, Bristol24/7 recommended

Returning after last year’s break, the festival that looks to have Bristol folk enjoy the treading of boards – metaphorical or otherwise – across the city. So, besides the staples you’d expect – Old Vic, Tobacco Factory, etc – you’re likely to find thespular action everywhere from pub to library, streets to woodland.

All but a tease of the programme remains behind the curtain at press time, but we can confirm: “One-man musical phenomenon” Le Gateau Chocolat joined by the Manchester Camerata for ‘Pandora’; Bryony Kimmings’ multi-garlanded tale of triumph over trauma, I‘m A Phoenix, Bitch; RashDash’s riotous take on baby begetting, Oh Mother; and Harry Clayton-Wright’s tender, hilarious, downright moving flick through his carnal back pages, Sex Education.

Bristol Foodies Festival

May 15-17, The Downs, price: £20 w/e, www.foodiesfestival.com/Bristol

Annual foodular nosh-up offering theatres for chefs, cakes and desserts, drinks and kids’ cookery, where the attractions will include GBBO’s Briony May, Beer Kitchen author Melissa Cole, and our own Kalpna Wolf.

Music tips-wise, Friday is headlined by ace local glamsters Ulysses, and Saturday sees the excellent, homegrown War Against Sleep and Emily Breeze give way to – brr – Scouting for Girls.

Bath Festival

May 15-24, price: individual events/ £99 finale w/e, www.bathfestivals.org.uk/the-bath-festival, Bristol24/7 recommended

Once the preserve of rather rarefied classical and jazz performers, Bath Fest these days is an altogether more all-comers affair; not least since its 2017 merger with the city’s lit fest. The bookending regulars are present and correct: event opener, Party in the City, is a big old freebie wherein 30+ venues open their doors to musicians, poets, bands and choir.

And the finale weekend offers food, storytelling, crafts and family zone, with musical guests including the likes of McFly, KT Tunstall, UB40 and Billy Ocean.

In between, programme highlights include: Mash Report-fronting comedian Rachel Parris; Ian McEwan talking life-shaping books with Simon Mayo; Emily Eavis on Glastonbury at 50; the smudged torch songs of John Grant; Polly Toynbee and David Walker on The Lost Decade: 2010-2020;Robert Webb with his debut novel; former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sachs; author Tayari Jones, winner of the 2019 Women’s Prize; David Lammy in conversation with Anita Anand; and proper-job music revolutionary, Patti Smith.

Bath Fringe Festival

May 22-June 7, price: various, many free, www.bathfringe.co.uk, Bristol24/7 recomended

If the ‘official’ Bath Festival casts the city in the kind of refined light beloved of the tourist office, the Fringe is much closer to the city’s Beau Nash-inspired history: boozy, spontaneous, and gloriously informal. In particular, Bedlam Fair on the middle weekend is one long performance-centric street party.

There’s also a stand-alone children’s festival, music, comedy, visual arts, etc. Expect a majoring on character-based walkabout theatre, in honour of the Natural Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary.

Chippenham Folk Festival

May 22-25, Price: £160 w/e (+£28 camping), www.chippfolk.co.uk

One year shy of its half-century, this venerable festival boasts more than 200 individual events, including 30+ workshops, a similar number of social dances, “more than seven” ceilidhs, and music from the likes of John Spiers and Jackie Oates, Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman, and Belshazzars Feast.

Lechlade Festival

May 22-24, price: £79.95, www.lechladefestival.co.uk

Tenth anniversary outing for a fest where the child-friendly ents include street dance, Jitterbug Circus (stilt walking, juggling, etc) and kids’ play tent. The Boomtown Rats and Alexandra Burke head a largely trib-filled music lineup.

Wells Comedy Festival

May 22-24, pprice: various, www.wellscomfest.com, Bristol24/7 recommended

Reliably excellent weekend, surely offering the most laughs per head of population of any comedy fest in the country. We are, after all, talking about tiny Wells hosting the likes of Bridget Christie, Adam Buxton, Harry Hill, Sindhu Vee, Paul Foot, Reginald D Hunter, Rachel Fairburn, Mark Watson, Lou Sanders, Simon Munnery and Jayde Adams.

Dot to Dot

May 23, Bristol, price: £15, www.dottodotfestival.co.uk

Local leg of the tri-city festival (you can watch the whole thing in Manchester or Nottingham, if you’d rather), in which 13 venues across Bristol play host to the new kids on the block likes of Easy Life, Dope Lemon, Pip Blom, Steam Down, Skinny Living, Matt Maltese, Alexandra Savior, and Chartreuse.

Love Saves The Day

May 23-24, Eastville Park, Bristol, price: £85 w/e,  http://www.lovesavestheday.org, Bristol24/7 recommended

It started as a single dayer in Castle Park in 2012, has grown into a national player of real significance in its east Bristol home, and is all set for a 2021 move to the none-more-evocative location for a Bristol music fest: Ashton Court, where the 40,000 capacity isn’t far short of double the 23,000 revellers allowed here.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy one more time again in lovely Eastville Park, this year in the company of Orbital, Kano, DJ EZ, Gorgon City, Little Simz, Goldie, Ghetts, Roni Size, Peggy Gou, DJ Harvey, Job Jobse, Krept & Konan, Fisher, Skream, Folamour, Shy FX, Mella Dee, Andy C, Camo & Crooked, Helena Hauff, lots more.

Photo by Alastair Brookes

Wychwood

May 29-June 31, Cheltenham Racecourse, price: £139 w/e, www.wychwoodfestival.com

The Divine Comedy, the Christians, Dreadzone, Craig Charles and – boom! boom! – Basil Brush feature among the first wave of announcements for this family fest, where other ents include dance workshops, pre-school yoga sessions, and all manner of sports, games and activities.

Festival of Nature

May 30, Green Park, Bath, price: free, http://www.bnhc.org.uk/festival-of-nature, Bristol24/7 recommended

Details were yet to be released into the wild at press time, but expect storytellers, musicians, expert talks, walks and a showcase of hands-on fun from local and national environmental bods.

National 

Sound City

May 1-3, Liverpool, price: £77 (including conference), £60 w/e, www.soundcity.uk.com

Friday night is conference night! Nope, not the most romantic of festivals, this northern cousin of Brighton’s Great Escape. But besides the industry-centric expert panels, workshops, talks, etc, the rest of the weekend finds loads of up-and-coming (or plateau’d-and-splitting; one never really knows) acts, plus headliners including Friendly Fires, Pale Waves, Tim Burgess, Marika Hackman, The Lathums and Stealing Sheep.

Machynlleth Comedy Festival

May 1-3, Machynlleth, Powys, Price: free-£19.50, www.machcomedyfest.co.uk, Bristol 24/7 recommended

In which often ad hoc venues of all shapes and sizes welcome a welter of stellar laughter makers, this year including Joe Lycett, Angela Barnes, Josh Widdicombe, Lou Sanders, Nish Kumar, Holly Burn, David O’Doherty, Adam Buxton and Simon Munnery. Plus a free interactive family programme and loads of free performances on the woodland pavilion, helmed by our own Mark Olver, and taking donations for food poverty fighters, FareShare Cymru.

Brighton Festival

May 2-24, price: various, many free, www.brightonfestival.org, Bristol24/7 recommended

Like Meltdown, a festival formed very much in its guest curator’s image. Following the likes of Laurie Anderson, Anish Kapoor, Aung San Suu Kyi, Brian Eno and Rokia Traoré, 2020 will be helmed by the acclaimed British and Ethiopian poet, playwright, broadcaster and speaker, Lemn Sissay. Expect invitees from around the globe to stage 130+ events across music, art, words, dance and performance.

Highlights include LGBTQ+ artists Ivan Coyote, Amy Bell and Travis Alabanza offering inspiration via in dance, theatre and spoken word; Josie Long comically relating her tale of first-time motherhood; Caravan, the biennial showcase for English theatre; an interactive public artwork commemorating the birth or death of loved ones; and the annual children’s parade, this year themed around biodiversity and climate change action. Note that more than 100 events are free or under a tenner.

Focus Wales

May 7-9, Wrexham, rice: £45 standard pass, www.focuswales.com

Wales biggest industry gathering, in which the plan is for circa 300 under-the-radar Welsh acts to be given a higher profile by the crowd-drawing likes of Richard Hawley, Battles, Gruff Rhys, the Twilight Sad, Stealing Sheep, and Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita. Lots of art, talks, conference chat, performance, too, plus an accompanying film festival.

Wigflex City Festival

May 8-9, Nottingham, price: £35, tinyurl.com/vktdtg4

Back after debuting in 2019, the music and arts fest doubles its running length, spreading out across apparently every nook and cranny in the city to encompass caves, car parks, basements and warehouses. Expect lots of immersive installations and a lineup including Black Electric, Francesco Del Garda , Giant Swan and Goldie.

May in a Day

May 9, Cecil Sharp House, London, price: £9, www.efdss.org/cecil-sharp-house

Afternoon family folk arts fest, offering folk-inspired arts, crafts and singing. Expect maypole, stitching, weaving and felting, ceilidh, plus morris dancing from the magnificent Boss Morris.

Dart Music Festival

May 15-17, Dartmouth, Devon, price: free, www.dartmusicfestival.co.uk

Lovely old town for a free fest, with over 100 performances across more than 20 pubs, churches, squares, even a Tudor fort. All musical styles served, from rock to early classical, taiko drumming to barbershop, blues to reggae.

The Great Escape

May 13-16, Brighton, price: £62.50 for 3 days, www.greatescapefestival.com

15th edition of the music industry spin-off from Brighton Festival, with thousands of delegates set to gorge on around 450 “hotly tipped” (aka “essentially unheard of”) acts playing over 60 venues.

Assuming they’re a good and inquisitive delegate, of course, and not the type of delegate wont to hang around the official delegate hotel – Jurys Inn Waterfront – until drained of glass and expense account. ‘Lead country partner’ this time around is South Korea, from whence come alternative K-Pop visitors Balming Tiger, Bibi and Samuel Seo.

Soul Weekender

May 15-18, Butlins, Minehead, Somerset,  price: £79 w/e, www.bigweekends.com

Headliners the Average White Band and the Real Thing are among the handful of originals on a tribute-heavy bill, with some particularly ambitious folk all set to try and re-render the work of Prince, Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin.

Wood

May 15-17, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, price: £109,www.woodfestival.com

Highly rated fest, run by a small group of family and friends, with an express intention to “build community and connection, celebrate creativity and craft, and become aware of our place in nature”.

Programme-wise, that translates into a mixture of the practical (thatching, knot tying, bicycle maintenance, knitting for all, etc) and the not so much (‘perceiving auras’, an introduction to shamanic journeying, and the like).

This year’s musical guests remain TBA at press time, but previous headliners – the likes of Tunng, Martin Harley and Grace Petrie – suggest that a little folk won’t be out of the question.

Alfresco Family Festival

May 21-24, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, price: £114 w/e, www.alfrescofestival.co.uk

As opposed to all those other festivals held inside great big enormo-domes, this Kent gathering is all about the fact that it takes place outside. Among those along to enjoy the novelty this year are Nightmares on Wax, Crazy P Soundsystem and Craig Charles.

Bearded Theory’s Spring Gathering

May 21-24, Catton Hall, Derbyshire, price: £130 w/e, www.beardedtheory.co.uk

A very parent-friendly affair, this, with the option of packing the kids off to Bearded Theory School (“Subjects will complement the national curriculum”). They even stay for lunch, allowing for some serious rest time. Musically, you’re looking at the likes of Patti Smith, the Flaming Lips, Primal Scream, Neville Staple, The Damned and Johnny Marr.

Hay Festival

May 21-3, Hay-on-Wye, Wales, Price: various, www.hayfestival.com, Bristol24/7 recommended

A gathering of top line authors, comedians, filmmakers, politicians and musicians is ten-a-penny even today, but back when Hay Fest first convened as a cerebral feast in 1988, it was properly unique.

Most of the circa – heavens to Betsy! – 800 events remain TBC as we assemble this guide, but the early confirmations offer a rather fine indication of what’s to follow: feminist icon Gloria Steinem chatting to Everyday Sexism founder, Laura Bates; Amadou & Mariam teaming up with the Blind Boys of Alabama; Shakespeare’s Globe touring A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Tempest and As You Like It; Wild Swans author Jung Chang; Stephen Fry on Troy; Aled Jones breaking out a broad old song book alongside Russell Watson; Sandi Toksvig on rewriting male-dominated history; and the magisterial Hilary Mantel on the final part of her Cromwell trilogy, the Mirror and the Light. There’s also a special festival programme for schools, and lots of other child-centric events besides.

Knockengorroch World Ceilidh

May 21-24,  Carsphairn, Dumfries & Galloway, price: £122 w/e, www.knockengorroch.org.uk

Celtic, world and roots fest where, besides an awful lot of communal dancing, you’ll find musical acts including Afro Celt Sound System, Shooglenifty, Kel Assouf, the Poozies and Moishe’s Bagel.

Shindig Weekender

May 21-24, Dillington Park Estate, nr Yeovil, price: £150 w/e , www.shindig-events.co.uk, Bristol24/7 recommended

Stretching out in new, extended surrounds – with some lucky revellers staying in an onsite hotel – with a musical line up including Roy Ayers, Goldie, Jazzie B, Ibibio Sound Machine, Norman Jay, and Odyssey….Yes, that Odyssey.

Elderflower Fields

May 22-25, Pippingford Park, East Sussex, price: £143 w/e, www.south.elderflowerfields.co.uk

Established in 2012, this is another of those new breed of festivals that doesn’t just want to entertain its punters; it wants to improve them. Specially, to “open children and their parents’ minds to new opportunities in sport, music, the arts, nature and food”.

Thus, a woodland spa and communal Sunday picnic, plus a programme of activities including dance workshops, sports camp, bat detecting, tree climing and zip wire, etc. Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer is probably the best known name thus far confirmed on the music bill. Nb. A sister festival debuts from May 29-31 in Stanford Hall, Leicestershire.

Glastonbudget

May 22-24, Wymeswold, Leics, price: £98 w/e, www.glastonbudget.org

Self-styled “world’s best tribute festival” serves up five stages hosting the likes of Oasish, One Step Behind, Stereotonics, Who’s Who, etc.

HowTheLightGetsIn

May 22-25, Hay-on-Wye, Wales, price: various, www.howthelightgetsin.org,  Bristol24/7 recommended

The younger sister of the main Hay fest offers up a conversation-heavy event majoring on “speakers pushing their disciplines forward”.

Thus, the likes of actor, playwright and director, Kwame Kwei-Armah; social commentator, Nesrine Malik; famed government drugs advisor, David Nutt; science ace, Nancy Cartwright; and, just in case any festival goers feel a little daunted by such a gathering of towering intellect, Toby Young. Plus heaps of comedy, music, and a whole programme for children and young adults.

Photo by Jess Connett

Porthilly Spirit

May 22-24, Wadebridge, Cornwall, price: £132.50 w/e, www.porthillyspirit.com

Returning for a second year and majoring on a getting-it-together-in-the-country vibe: “A weekend that embodies the simple pleasures of life — roaring fires, local seasonal produce, eclectic music, the joy of the arts and total immersion in the north Cornish countryside.”

To that end, you’ll find grub from Padstow Kitchen Garden, a surf school, boat trips, yoga and other workouts on the beach, theatre, fireside talks, ‘wild warriors’ kids ents, etc. Music-wise, you’re looking at the likes of Molotov Jukebox, Keston Cobblers Club and Martha Tilston.

Raw Power Weekender

May 22-24, London, price: £65 w/e, www.babayagashut.com

Two key draws at this year’s gathering of all things heavy, psychedelic and avant-garde: Chrome Hoof, with the chamber rockers playing their first show in six years; and Sunburned Hand of the Man, taking to a UK stage for the first time since 2011. They’ll be joined by the likes of Pye Corner Audio, Enablers, Torpor, Rattle, Helen Money, WaqWaq Kingdom, Human Leather, Shuck, We Wild Blood, Isn’tses and Grey Hairs.

Sea Change

May 22-24, Dartington, nr Totnes, Devon, price: £124, www.seachangefestival.co.uk

Fifth outing of a splendid gathering where the adults’ fun time is as discerningly programmed as that for their offspring. For the latter, the School of Noise is onsite for the first time with a family-friendly workshop exploring the science of sound and experimental music making. Sound Art Radio, meanwhile, will be hosting drop-in family radio workshops to learn the podcasting ropes. Music-wise, we’re most excited about the appearance of extraordinary folkie, Shirley Collins.

In 1959, she was the young working class English woman accompanying legendary musicologist Alan Lomax on his work through the pre-civil rights environs of the southern states of the US, where they visited – and made legendary recordings of music from – chain gangs, religious communities, prisons and social gatherings.

Aldous Harding, Tim Burgess, Yann Tiersen, Melt Yourself Down and Field Music also head for Dartington, and the talkie side of the bill remains TBA at press time (as a pointer, last year included Stewart Lee having a natter with Adrian Sherwood, the Pop Group, and Babak Ganjei).

LeeStock

May 23-24, Melford Hall, Suffolk, price: £50 w/e (not including camping), www.leestock.org

Festival held in the grounds of the National Trust’s handsome 16th century pile, Melford Hall, founded – and sustained – in memory of Lee Dunford, who died from Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2006. Money raised goes to the Willow Foundation, providing special days for terminally ill young adults aged 16-40.

An admirable cause, then, although when you consider the lineup – Scouting For Girls, Toploader, Electric Six, Space, Stereo MC’s, and Lucy Spraggan – you may well consider it more prudent to donate from afar.

Camden Rocks

May 30-31. London, price: TBA, www.camdenrocksfestival.com, Bristol 24/7 recommended

Details are scant as we put this guide together, but expect in the region of 250 acts playing 25 venues including the properly legendary likes of the Electric Ballroom, Underworld and Dingwalls. As a pointer, last year featured the likes of Frank Turner, Deaf Havana, Ash, Ratboy, New Model Army, Wheatus, Raging Speedhorn, and Carl Barat.

Let’s Rock Wales

May 30, Newport, price: £36, www.letsrockwales.com

Alternatively, Let’s Make Wales Think It Spent The Last Three Decades In A Coma. Thus, a lineup comprising Adam Ant, OMD, ABC, Howard Jones, Kim Wilde, Chesney Hawkes, T’Pau, Betty Boo, Hue & Cry, and Wang Chung.

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International 

Pitchfork Music Festival Berlin

May 8-9, Berlin, Germany, price: 99€, www.pitchforkmusicfestival.de

In which Europe’s hippest city hosts a new outlet of the mag-related festival franchise boasting long-running editions in Chicago and Paris. Acts along for the debut ride include Lianne La Havas, Modeselektor, John Talabot, HVOB, Soap&Skin, Kelly Lee Owens, Nick Hakim and Celeste.

Main image courtesy of Love Saves The Day

Read more: Preview: How The Light Gets In 2020

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