Edinburgh's festivals are on the cusp of a remarkable comeback - Brian Ferguson

It’s a distant memory now, but exactly two years ago the city of Edinburgh was preparing for the previously unthinkable – the month of August without any of its festivals.

.I made only a handful of visits to the city centre over those few weeks, when the only thing that seemed familiar was the need to dodge summer downpours.

Edinburgh’s historic landscape was intact alright, but many of its buildings and landmarks that would normally be full of life, colour and people were locked up.

The Royal Mile, normally the bustling heart of the ‘festival city,’ was a depressing shadow of its former self, with not even a lone busker or street performer to be found there.

Edinburgh's festivals will celebrate their 75th anniversary next month. Picture: Neil Hanna

Any recent visitors to the historic thoroughfare will have witnessed its return to something very much like its old self, as visitors have returned, from near and far.By the middle of next week, Edinburgh’s ‘festival city’ will be properly back, on a scale set to be remarkably similar to the cultural celebration that unfolded in 2019.

When the Fringe and the city’s other festivals were forced to cancel in the face of pandemic in 2020, I don’t recall anyone predicting a full comeback as quickly in the first year without the curse of Covid restrictions. Yet, against the odds, that is exactly what Edinburgh appears on the cusp of.

It is just eight years since the Fringe programme encompassed more than 3000 shows for the first time, a staggering landmark at the time.

A remarkable 3364 shows are on sale on the official website, with more than a third registered since May, after the official programme deadline was delayed by a month.

Venues are grappling with the challenge of shifting tickets in the face of countless challenges – not least the level of Covid infections and daily headlines over the cost of living crisis. A concerted effort by the festivals, the council and the Scottish Government to properly bang the drum about their return does appear to be needed at this late stage.

But I’m optimistic the combination of a dazzling cultural offer, embracing every conceivable art form, that any other city would kill for, the huge influx of artists and culture-lovers, and the city’s own army of loyal festivalgoers, will make for an unforgettable month.


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