Gig review: Big Tent festival

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WHILE the clans were out in force in Edinburgh, a meeting of a different kind was happening in Falkland, Fife, bringing home the fact that a sustainable future for Scotland is a tangible reality rather than a pipe dream. The glorious Big Tent festival, which began only four years ago, in the wake of the Gleneagles G8 summit, is growing fast. I counted over 40 tents of all shapes and sizes at this year's event, a hub for environmental debate as well as music, crafts, delicious local food, quirky activities and unadulterated fun.

While Big Tent's location – under the Lomond Hills in the fields behind 800-year-old Falkland Palace – is Arcadian, it is certainly not about escapism. Rather, it is about engaging with creativity and green ingenuity, and this year's programme was brimful of participants who have put their ideas into action. There were opportunities to make slow food, taste local wine, take part in gardening workshops, create art from flowers and plants with Marianne Lines, and sit in the Orchard discussing the nitty gritty issues of global warming with experts like Mayer Hillman, or to chat about community initiatives for reducing emissions with the Isle of Eigg's Lucy Conway.

The children's zone buzzed with storytellers and stilt walkers, while laughter floated out of the My Giddy Aunt's Tent as kids watched crazy theatre. Indeed, Big Tent's future seemed guaranteed by mid-Saturday afternoon when the "bring a child free" welcome meant the site was full of families. Playfulness came to the fore, with circus tricksters the Chipolatas acrobatically juggling buckets and fire, and it was even apparent in line-up of the McFall's Chamber Orchestra, which included melodica and bowed saw in three contrasting appearances, moving from the tangos of Astor Piazzolla to a celebration of the late Martyn Bennett to a set with inimitable singer-songwriter Michael Marra.

On Sunday morning, not even the rain could dampen spirits. Compere Sharon King sang a feisty "get on with it, rain" song after a steamy salsa workshop led by Cuban Yamil, which had even those in wellington boots fluently dancing mambo steps. Meanwhile, the Lapidus workshops had visits from poets Bernard MacLaverty and Bashabi Fraser, and Fiona Houston told of her year-long experience of living in 18th century style.

With the festival site carefully laid-out to optimise acoustics, the acts in the extensive music programme sounded consistently superb. You could hear every detail of the seductive harmonies of the Bevvy Sisters, the exuberant intensity of the Treacherous Orchestra and the final closing set by Shooglenifty.

In the middle came the startling sounds of The Creole Choir of Cuba, paying their first ever UK visit (catch them in Edinburgh next month). Somehow, the joyful performance of this amazing group, made up of the descendents of slaves who survived the passage from Africa to Cuba via Haiti, summed up the sense of hope embodied by Big Tent.