Edinburgh’s Bristo Square to open at end of June for graduation parties and jazz festival

One of Edinburgh’s main public spaces will be transformed into an outdoor food, drink and entertainment arena for two months to accommodate an expansion of the city’s jazz and blues festival, university graduation celebrations and the Fringe.

Bristo Square. Pic: andrewspb21-Shutterstock
Bristo Square. Pic: andrewspb21-Shutterstock

Bristo Square will be taken over from the end of June until the end of August under plans drawn up between organisers of the long-running music festival, Fringe promoters and university chiefs.

The Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival has announced it will “spill out” of a new base at Teviot Row into the square as part of a shake-up which will see the biggest ever geographical spread of concerts in its history.

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This year will see the festival also stage events in 12 different parts of the city, including Dalry, Goldenacre, Oxgangs, Leith, Brunstfield, Meadowbank, Granton, Niddrie and Pilton, as well as major venues like the Festival Theatre and the Assembly Hall. Organisers say Bristo Square will become a “social hub” throughout the music festival, which gets underway on 12 July this year, with organisers promising free performances from some of the leading acts in the line-up.

However Underbelly, the Fringe company which ran last year’s outdoor arena, has reached an agreement with the university to operate it from the last weekend in June, when graduation ceremonies start at the adjacent McEwan Hall. Its exact operating hours are yet to be decided but are likely to be from mid-morning till late at night.

The new festival arena was created last summer - a year after the university completed a £33 million redevelopment of the McEwan Hall and Bristo Square. The jazz festival, which moved outwith August more than five years ago to avoid a clash with other events, operated in Teviot Row, best known as the Fringe venue run by Gilded Balloon, for the first time last August as part of 40th anniversary celebrations. It was promoted as the official “hub” of the event, with more than 40 different events in the 2018 line-up.

This year’s expanded programme will include informal free shows both inside and outside the building.

Producer Fiona Alexander said: “We now have more gigs in Teviot than anywhere else in the city. It’s also in the real heartland of the festival, so you can easily walk to George Square, the Festival Theatre or the Jazz Barr on Chambers Street.

“It will be great to be able to use Bristo Square throughout the festival. Last year it was a building site when our festival was on. It will make a huge difference to have that space animated this year. In a lot of people’s minds, those kind of outdoor spaces we have seen in George Square and St Andrew are what the Edinburgh festivals are all about.

“We don’t really have that many al freso-type venues in Scotland, but they really work well, even in the rain. People don’t just want to go to a gig, they want a whole experience.

“Edinburgh has a reputation as a festival city, but it is about striking the right balance. If there was a festival on every month it would feel very different. Our festivals are reasonably well spread out these days.”

Sarah Fleming, head of operations at Underbelly said: “The university approached us to open Bristo Square earlier to enhance the area for graduates and their families to enjoy, and to remain open for the jazz festival as an extension of their venues. We will remain open throughout August as usual.

“We’re delighted to work with our long term partners at the university and a fellow festival to add to the experience of their students, families and audiences.”