AFTER a two-year absence due to Covid, Grassington Festival returns next week for its 40th anniversary.

Offering an eclectic mix of music, comedy, theatre and dance, it runs from Friday, June 17 to Saturday, July 2 and offers both fringe events and a main programme.

Penny Hart-Woods, festival director, says: “This year’s mix of performances means there is something for everyone to enjoy.”

The main programme boasts exclusive performances from Clare Teal and Andy Parsons, both of who are normally seen at much larger venues.

This year’s speakers are Mick Doran, English National Opera’s head percussionist; and ex-festival director Rowena (Bunty) Harker-Leder MBE, both giving highly entertaining accounts of their lives.

To entertain theatre goers, there is award-winning actor Gerard Logan performing his critically acclaimed play about Oscar Wilde. Another event sees some of the best professional singers in Yorkshire brought together under the directorship of award-winning Anita Adams to produce a specially commissioned tribute concert recognising the work of the late Stephen Sondheim.

There is also the debut performance of a brand new one-act musical, “Last Night” from the award-winning Leeds based duo Sidgwick and Sanders.

Classical music lovers will be delighted with choral works from The Jervaulx Singers as well as the welcome return of Kris Thomsett back for the ever-popular Organ Recital at Hebden.

For those yearning for the field festival vibe, rising stars Cable Street Collective join Grassington fresh from Glastonbury, along with acclaimed folk band The Drystones and two times BCMA and Indie Week UK award winner Izzie Walsh who brings her unique blend of bluegrass, folk and Americana.

Dance performances are represented by “Finding Folk” featuring Phoebe Ophelia and “Occupational Hazard” from ACCA Collab. Phoebe brings an uplifting tale of overcoming poor mental health through finding folk and ACCA, a witty and often hilarious piece, following two air hostesses as they deal with the trials and tribulations of other people’s ideas of what constitutes proper and decent behaviour.

Poetry lovers can enjoy a relaxed evening with Leeds-based poet Ryan Tomlin and Dales based Tony Peek. Tony will also be running a free writer’s workshop during the festival fortnight.

Younger festival-goers can enjoy their own event as experts Comedy Club 4 Kids offer an afternoon of workshops and a show while for those adults who are still big kids Festival favourites, The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppets return with their own twist on Eurovision.

To end a fortnight of great entertainment, the festival welcomes back the legendary Dr and The Medics, who are being supported for their last night party by Swedish Rock goddesses Baskery.

“We can’t lie,” says Penny. “This year has been really difficult, and we have faced, and are still facing, many challenges in bringing the festival together.

“The sector as a whole has publicly recognised that what we thought would be a massive comeback for events after Covid has turned out not to be the case.

“Poor ticket sales are cited as being the main reason for many festivals folding and we are definitely seeing this as a problem as well. One of the saddest decisions we have had to make is cancelling the festival parade and the free events in the village square.

“This is partly due to a lack of volunteers on the days and partly due to cost. We were also really concerned about the number of new, bigger events in the area that directly conflict with our weekends, which sadly were announced after our dates were published and our performers booked.”

But, she adds, it is not all ‘doom and gloom’. “The Yorkshire Dales National Park have teamed up with us to provide some lovely free guided walks over the two Saturdays and we have the amazing premiere of the Orchestras Live film “Breathe” which is free to see,” says Penny. “The theme for our festival parade this year was going to be centred around local heroes. We thought this would be the perfect opportunity to say thank you to all those groups and individuals that work so hard to make life for the rest of us that little bit easier, particularly during the pandemic.

“We still want to recognise this in some way so instead of the parade we are now offering free tickets and access to our VIP lounge to anyone that is nominated.

“We know that people are struggling at the moment, which is why we have set our ticket prices lower than they have probably ever been and we are also offering some great discounts at the moment. 2022 is Grassington Festival’s 40th birthday and we are going to celebrate it come what may. Will we see its 41st - It’s too early to tell.”

Details of all offers and information regarding the Local Heroes nominations can be found on the website or via the festival’s social media channels.

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