England

The Best Festivals and Fairs in Birmingham & the Midlands

by Paul Joseph  |  Published February 20, 2017

Known as England’s “second city”, Birmingham is a vibrant metropolis teeming with cultural sights, entertainment venues, restaurants, bars and shops, including the famous Bullring commercial complex.

A view of Brindleyplace, a large mixed-use canalside development in the Westside district of Birmingham (Photo: Adrian Pink via Flickr)

The wider Midlands region also boasts a number of bustling urban centres as well as some of the country’s finest rural landscapes. Throughout the year the entire Midlands area plays host to a wide number of diverse festivals and fairs. Below are a pick of the best taking place throughout the rest of 2017.

March 2017

Art & Science Festival

This week-long celebration of the arts and sciences features talks, exhibitions, performances, workshops and screenings that showcase collaboration, research and ideas from the University of Birmingham in front of an ever-growing public audience. Leading artists, thinkers and scientists all come together for the event which takes place across the university campus. This year’s festival is themed ‘Land and Water’ which gives us a hint of the type of subjects likely to be explored. But to find out for sure, you’ll have to come along for yourself. WHEN 16 – 22 March WHERE University of Birmingham

Midlands Whisky Festival

Some of the world’s best and most sought-after whiskies are showcased at this popular annual festival, where visitors can participate in masterclasses, food pairings and general whisky-based chatter with industry experts and fellow connoisseurs. This year’s highlights include a tasting session featuring several 40-year-old single malts from the distinguished Glenfarclas distillery, in the preence of George S. Grant, the 6th generation of the Grant family to own the company. You’ll even get to take a souvenir home with you, as all guests are furnished with an elegant branded nosing glass. WHEN 17 – 18 March WHERE Stourbridge Town Hall

Midlands Whisky Festival

Visitors to the Midlands Whisky Festival share a joke over a wee tipple (Photo: Midlands Whisky Festival)

April 2017

Birmingham Literature Festival

Firmly established as one of the region’s biggest cultural events, the Birmingham Literature Festival features both household names and rising stars from the world of writing. Each year there’s a rich and varied programme including talks, workshops, recitals, and panel discussions, with such eminent figures as Pulitzer Prize and Booker Prize-winners and Poet Laureates regularly in attendance. As well as allowing book lovers to immerse themselves in the literary world, the festival also serves as a useful networking event for budding writers who can meet and seek the advice of regional publishers at the show. WHEN 21 – 23 April WHERE Venues across Birmingham city centre

Raunds Music Festival

The decorated boots that line the stage at Raunds reflect this small East Midlands town’s shoe making history, and are a talking point for the nationally acclaimed artists who join local talent at this small, friendly festival, with local beer & good food, held over the early May bank holiday. This year, the ‘veteran’ acts are the respected folk duo Jez Lowe & Steve Tilston, and the comedian Les Barker. Dancers can choose from the Swing Commanders’ Saturday night boogie-woogie, the traditional ceilidh, and the energetic Tautus Roks. The award-winning Askew Sisters, and a celebration of the life and work of John Clare will all be supported by a wealth of local acts WHEN 27 – 30 April WHERE Venues across Raunds

Raunds Music Festival

When ‘Tautas Roks’ plays for the festival’s opening ceilidh everyone wants to dance (Photo: jacksonphotography.co.uk)

May 2017

Slam Dunk Festival

Last year saw the 10th anniversary of the Slam Dunk Festival, which celebrates pop-punk and rock music with a huge roster of live performances, and even after that momentous event there’s no danger of this year’s edition being an anti-climax. The headliners for 2017 have already been confirmed and are seriously impressive, with the hugely popular British rock band Enter Shikari showcasing their electronic ouvre in front of a captive audience of music lovers, while alt-rock men of the moment Don Broco, pop-punk pros Bowling For Soup and ska punk outfit Less Than Jake are among the other notable names set to appear. WHEN 27 May WHERE NEC Arena, Birmingham

June 2017

The Gate To Southwell Folk Festival

This Nottinghamshire music festival has earned a reputation over the years for offering a platform for up-and-coming talent from the UK and abroad, and this year’s edition is expected to build on that habit with another superb line-up of performers . Taking place over four days, the event features a total of five musical stages where musicians strut their stuff in front of enthusiastic crowds of revellers spanning all ages and orientations. As well as great music, there’s also street theatre, family entertainment, workshops, dancing and great food, while campers can pitch up on-site with their equipment for overnight stays. WHEN 8 – 11 June WHERE Southwell Racecourse, Nottinghamshire

Gate To Southwell Folk Festival

A cellist performs under luminous green lights at The Gate To Southwell Folk Festival (Photo: Gate To Southwell Folk Festival)

Supersonic Festival

Birmingham is a hotbed of culture and at no time is this more fervently celebrated than at the annual Supersonic Festival. Widely considered the UK’s premier experimental music festival, it brings together a veritable smorgasbord of sound, digital, visual art, and audience participation for three full days of action-packed events and activities. There’s immersive installations, giant hand-crafted structures and quirky exhibitions among other visual spectacles, all serving to captivate the thousands of visitors who descend on the show from all around. It really is a magical occasion that shows off the city’s enduring ability to create world class music and art WHEN 16 – 18 June WHERE Venues across Digbeth, Birmingham

Supersonic Festival

Jenny Hval performing at this year’s festival (Photo: Supersonic Festival)

Eroica Britannia

“Vintage sounds with vintage wheels” is how Martin Fry, the frontman of 80s New Wave band ABC, has described this hugely popular Peak District festival – and it’s a pretty neat summary. Fry will be among the renowned acts performing at the 2017 edition, which once again culminates in a three-route cycling tour around the Derbyshire Dales , with only pre-1987 bicycles allowed. Last year’s event attracted some 40,000 visitors with a sell out 4,500 riders from all over the World taking to the hills, vales and trails of the Peak District on pre-1987 road bikes. The festival’s unifying theme is a passion for bikes – and the older the bike, the better! Nonetheless, even if you’ve not hopped on a saddle since childhood, there’s plenty else for revellers to enjoy, including vintage shopping, family-friendly activities and an array of great food. WHEN 16 – 18 June WHERE Friden Grange, Peak District National Park FESTIVAL TICKETS Advance Purchase £20 Day pass / £30 3-Day Pass THE RIDE: £45/£65

Eroica Britannia

Festival-goers relaxing on the grass at Eroica Britannia (Photo: Eroica Britannia)

Brindleyplace Dragonboat Festival

One of Birmingham’s longest running and most entertaining events, the Brindleyplace Dragonboat Race sees local companies and organisations compete on the city centre canal for the title of Dragonboat paddling champions – all the while wearing outlandish fancy dress costumes. In addition to the water-based action, there’s plenty of entertainment including music and dancing, plus lashings of great food. There’s no entry fee, no tickets and all proceeds from the event go to charity, with this year’s recipients being Cure Leukaemia. WHEN 24 June WHERE Brindleyplace Canalside, Birmingham

Brindleyplace Dragonboat Festival

Crowds cheer from the canalside during the Brindleyplace Dragonboat Festival (Photo: Brindleyplace)

Colmore Food Festival

In a world where a Michelin star meal can set you back several hundreds of pounds, the chance to pick up some top quality food at bargain basement prices is not to be sniffed it. This is the tempting offer awaiting visitors to the Colmore Food Festival in Birmingham, where you can enjoy mouth-watering taster portions at a maximum price of £4 a pop. Designed as a showcase for local restaurants, cafes and hospitality venues, the festival has grown significantly over its 7-year life-span, and today attracts over 30,000 visitors. But while most of them come primarily to satisfy their taste-buds, there’s more to the festival than just food, with street theatre and local bands playing a prominent role in proceedings. And for added foodie inspiration, there’s cooking demonstrations on a live kitchen stage, too. WHEN 30 June – 1 July WHERE Victoria Square, Birmingham

Colmore Food Festival

Visitors packed in like sardines at the Colmore Food Festival (Photo: Colmore Food Festival)

July 2017

Birmingham Rum Festival

Organised by food and drink guide Dine Birmingham, the annualBirmingham Rum Festival offers a truly carnival atmosphere. The festival returns once again in 2017 hoping to build on the city’s growing interest in the famous distilled liqueur, with more Birmingham bars now stocking rum brands than ever before. Taking place at the heritage entertainment venue The Cuban Embassy, the event features rum sampling, cocktail mixology and rum buying opportunities, all spread over two indoor rum bars, an open air courtyard and an outdoor terrace. Furthermore, the rums will be complemented by mouth-watering street food featuring Caribbean and Latin American dishes, set against the rhythmic backdrop of reggae, salsa and samba performances. WHEN 1 July WHERE The Cuban Embassy, Birmingham

Birmingham Rum Festival

Tasters waiting to be snapped up by rum enthusiasts at Birmingham Rum Festival (Photo: Birmingham Rum Festival)

Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival

Held across two side-by-side stages in Birmingham’s beautiful Moseley Park each July, this well-attended open-air festival has developed a strong reputation for bringing some of the best artists from the jazz, funk and soul world to the heart of the Midlands, along with a liberal sprinkling of up and coming talent too. As well as exceptional live music, the three-day event also features a packed programme of films, artist talks, music workshops, jazz dance performances, comedy routines and spoken word. WHEN 8 – 10 July WHERE Moseley Park, Birmingham

Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul

Musicians get into the swing of things at the Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival (Photo: Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival)

August 2017

Moira Furnace Folk Festival

There are few more dramatic and picturesque settings for a festival than this. Nestled in the heart of the National Forest on the Leicestershire / Derbyshire border, the Moira Furnace Folk Festival plays host to a range of talented acts including a healthy dose of local performers. Most events take place on the green expanse of Moira Furnace itself, while singarounds and sessions are also staged at local pubs near to the festival site, along with a ceilidh in the Moira Miner’s Welfare Club adjacent to the festival. Revellers will find a great selection of trade and food stalls, plus a Real Ale bar, and families are well catered for with plenty of children’s activities. For those keen to make more than just a day of it, local camping is available and free car parking is also close at hand. WHEN 18 – 20 August WHERE Moira Furnace Museum and Monument site, Moira, Swadlincote, Leicestershire

Moira Furnace Folk Festival

Granny’s Attic performing at a previous edition of the Moira Furnace Folk Festival (Photo: Dave Jagger)

Shambala Festival

As you might have guessed from the accompanying photo, participation is the name of the game at this wonderful festival, which takes place at a secret location in the heart of the Northamptonshire countryside. There are endless ways to get involved, from the thought provoking and educational, to the holistic and healing, all the way through to the frankly bizarre, such as a cross dressing extravaganza, power ballad yoga sessions and the famous Shambala flash mob. There’s no question that music is the main focus, with 200 diverse acts across 12 live stages, but there’s also stand-up comedy, jaw dropping circus and acrobatics, interactive theatre and nationally acclaimed poetry. Families are also well catered for, with a dedicated Kid’s Area packed full of activities and entertainment, such as sandpits, craft workshops and cosy cups of cocoa with a bedtime story in a traditional yurt. Meanwhile foodies will love the festival’s The Garden o’ Feede , which serves up mouth-watering grub as well as food-related talks, debates and cooking demonstrations. WHEN 24 – 27 August WHERE Secret Location, Northamptonshire

Shambala Festival

Revellers perform a flash mob recreation of the Michael Jackson classic ‘Thriller’ (Photo: Louise Roberts)

Shrewsbury Folk Festival

This annual festival is renowned for its eclectic mix of folk, roots and acoustic music as well as its relaxed and friendly vibe. A regular sell out, it brings the top UK and world musicians – this year there’s Loudon Wainwright III, Sarah Jarosz, The Unthanks, and Le Vent Du Nord to name just a few – to the glorious riverside site near the town centre. There are four main music stages, a dance tent, workshops, and dedicated programmes for children. Add superb on-site camping, a craft fair, food village, real ale and prosecco bars and you’ll never want to leave. WHEN 25 – 28 August WHERE Shropshire And West Midlands Showground, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Shrewsbury Folk Festival

Folk dancers in traditional garb at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival (Photo: Steve Oliver)

September 2017

Moseley Folk Festival

A healthy mix of traditional, contemporary and experimental folk and acoustic music characterise this much-loved festival, which takes place in the scenic environs of Moseley Park, a stunning 11-acre woodland glade in the heart of Moseley Village, a couple of miles from Birmingham city centre. As for the main protagonists, they range from established international names to unsigned acts hoping to stamp their mark. There are also plenty of kids’ activities, making it a truly family-friendly affair. And for 2017, the festival is encroaching outside its usual tree-lined parameters, with performances and dance sessions in some of the village’s charming pubs. WHEN 1 – 3 September WHERE Moseley Park, Birmingham

Moseley Folk Festival

Musician Billy Brag performing on stage at the Moseley Folk Festival (Photo: Jolyon Holroyd)

Off The Tracks Summer Festival

Now in its 29th year, this festival prides itself on being “small but beautiful”, far removed from so many of its corporate counterparts. Fans of live music, real ales and beautiful countryside descend here each year to see out the summer, many of whom make use of the great camping facilities. The event takes pride in its offerings of great food and drink at reasonable prices, including a grand total of 70 real ales, ciders and perries. As for the music, the Marquee stage is the where you can catch the headliners, while a host of other musicians rock stages in the Oak Room, Black Barn and Threshing Barn. WHEN 1 – 3 September WHERE Castle Donington, Leicestershire

Birmingham Weekender

Attracting over 150,000 visitors, Birmingham’s biggest arts festival offers a packed weekend of free outdoor theatre, music, art installations and performance across the city-centre, featuring well-known local arts organisations and invited international artists. Some of the highlights of previous editions have included the Birmingham Royal Ballet performing in the city’s famous Bullring shopping centre, street artists captivating commuters in New Street Station, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra strutting their stuff in The Mailbox shopping complex, and a night-time spectacular by Birmingham Hippodrome lighting up the skies above Centenary Square. WHEN 22 – 24 September WHERE Venues across Birmingham city centrek

Birmingham Weekenderl

An acrobatic move by performers at the Birmingham Weekender (Photo: Andrew Fox)

October 2017

Derby Folk Festival

Now into its 11th year, this festival in the heart of Derby offers a wonderful hotchpotch of concerts, ceilidhs, workshops, dance displays and craft stalls, attracting visitors from far and wide who come to enjoy the magical atmosphere and array of fun-packed activities. Held over three days, all of the festival events take place at various venues including the City Marquee on the Market Place, the Guildhall Theatre, The Old Bell Hotel and Derby Cathedral. Be sure to check out the real ale bar for some mouth-watering locally-produced brews. WHEN 6 – 8 October WHERE Venues across Derby

Birmingham Comedy Festival

Some of the country’s biggest comedy names descend on Birmingham each year for this celebration of all things funny. With shows taking place at over a dozen venues across the city, there’s something to tickle every type of funny bone, while there’s also the chance to catch the next generation of comedic stars thanks the festival’s Breaking Talent Award, which invites a hand-picked selection of emerging performers from across the region to compete for the prestigious title. As well as live performances, this year’s festival will also feature a special Laurel and Hardy screening featuring several of the duo’s classic films. WHEN 7 – 16 October WHERE Venues across Birmingham city centre

Birmingham Comedy Festival

Funnymen rehearsing their lines at Birmingham Comedy Festival (Photo: Birmingham Comedy Festival)

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