Brian Ferguson: Summer of festivals nearly upon us

Traces at the Assembly Festival as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015. Picture: Contributed
Traces at the Assembly Festival as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015. Picture: Contributed
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A PACKED festival season is just round the corner, writes Brian Ferguson

It is an odd feeling leaving Edinburgh in the middle of summer, knowing the city will look and feel a lot different when you come back. But by the time I return from an annual trip to the Outer Hebrides a week today, the city’s arts extravaganza will have already burst into life.

This year promises to offer a very different vibe, thanks to a much-extended season, despite the Edinburgh International Festival aligning its dates with the Fringe for the first time in 18 years. By my calculations, there will be just two days of respite between the opening of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival on Friday and the fireworks finale on Monday, 31 August.

This period does not even include last month’s film festival, which saw another increase in audiences, albeit not quite back to the level when it was staged in mid-August.

With the open-air venues at St Andrew Square and George Square both fully operational from this weekend, a jazz festival “Mardi Gras” in the Grassmarket on Saturday and the official Edinburgh Festival carnival on Sunday, the festive atmosphere should be in full swing within days.

At the current rate of growth, it cannot be long until the Edinburgh Festival becomes a summer-long affair.

The new artistic director of the film festival, Mark Adams, seems convinced a June slot is the right one for his event, with its current budget and status in the global film calendar.

The jazz festival’s producer, Roger Spence, says it suits his event and its ambitions to have breathing space from the Fringe and the Edinburgh International Festival, as it allows much better access to venues.

The Edinburgh Art Festival’s director, Sorcha Carey, has chosen to launch her event a full week before start of the Fringe and the EIF, with venues as varied as the old Royal High School on Calton Hill, Waverley Station and historic closes off the Lawnmarket.

With a new food festival launching in George Square this month and restaurant chain Hard Rock bringing acts like Big Country and Nina Nesbitt to St Andrew Square for pre-Fringe gigs, there really is no let-up.

All of this rather makes a mockery of fears raised with me by some senior figures a year ago at the prospect of the final week of the EIF losing its own slot in the calendar and the knock-on impact on Edinburgh’s economy.

There may be some fears about the city’s ability to cope with such a marathon season, especially if roadworks are not completed in key areas well before the Fringe. But with so much on offer, there is no why Edinburgh should not be on the verge of its busiest and most lucrative period yet, raising the bar higher than ever ahead of next year’s landmark 70th season.