Edinburgh's festivals offer the chance to experience so much out of reach for so long - Brian Ferguson

No matter how much normality has returned elsewhere, a sense of the surreal has hung over Edinburgh's festivals this month.

For seasoned observers of the city’s annual cultural celebration, it has been hard to pinpoint anything familiar from the record-breaking summer of 2019.

The Royal Mile has become virtually a flyer-free zone, the super-venues of the Fringe are a shadow of their former selves, the Tattoo’s stands are missing from Edinburgh Castle esplanade and a concert stage is conspicuous by its absence from Princes Street Gardens.

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The bulk of the Edinburgh International Festival’s programme is being staged in three big outdoor pavilions, the book festival has set up camp at the art college for the first time and the film festival is rolling out its red carpet in August for the first time in nearly 15 years.

Parliament Square has been thronged with crowds watching street performers this month.

So why does the current festival season feel like one of the most enjoyable that I can recall in more than 25 years of experiencing their highs and lows each summer?

There is undoubtedly the crucial factor that restrictions have been eased and then lifted at exactly the right time for the return of the festivals – a logistical nightmare for the planning of events this year, but a timely treat for many in and around the city.

I know from my own social media feeds how many friends have returned to their first live event in around 18 months over the past couple of weeks.

The festivals are also benefiting from a feel-good factor because parts of the city centre are a lot easier to get around than during recent festivals. The Royal Mile has been a joyous experience.

There has been little for the harshest critics of the festivals to complain about so far, with not even a late-night firework to ruffle any feathers.

Crucially, audiences appearing to be embracing the chance to try something new, whether it’s an out-of-town show on a beach or in a forest, or braving the conditions on top of a multi-storey car park.

As confidence levels rise, the festivals are playing a crucial role in bringing the people of Edinburgh together again, to meet up, sing, laugh and even dance, simple things that seemed so far out of reach, for so long, in the not too distant past.

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