Well okay, there’s a meerkat atop a camal, patrolling him through Devizes Market Place, while girls attired in Victorian strongman leotards heckle the crowds, spoiling for arm wrestling contests.Grown men in pink bunny onesies hop outside the Corn Exchange while Bristol’s riotous transeuropean folk drum n bass agricultural revolutionaries Ushti Baba harmonise beatbox and an acordian in a sea-shanty-come-klezmer fashion on an open stage where you usually park to use the cashpoint. Devizes Street Festival blessed us early this year.…
Ignoring the idol threat of April showers, Saturday was an absolute blast with the clement weather of summer and revellers out to play. The Market Place was thriving with smiley faces young and old and merriment abound. After last year’s restricted effort, we needed to blow it out of our system, and Devizes Outdoor Celebratory Arts knocked that sentiment out of the park.
Yet I do this; recover enough to string a haggard description of multiple circus and street theatre occurences into a kind of overhaulled review with a sensational “wow, this slice of festival really happened in Devizes” angle, every year. Throughly deserved though it is, to saunter through the crowd is to be joyful in the spirit of the moment, but blissfully unware of its inner workings.
Have faith, or take for granted the Market Place will magically tranform into Boomtown for a weekend, your free playground of revellery, with little consideration to how much effort has been made by a vast amount of contributors and volunteers.
So, the angle this time is only partially how utterly fantastic it so obviously was, rather focus behind the scenes, because arts director Loz and her volunteering team are not Paul Daniels, and this free fairytale bonanza doesn’t magically appear overnight.
To do this I’m high-viz wearing undercover, and for all the use I’ll be, other than clearing a few wheelie bins, misguiding folk in the opposite direction to the loos, and assigning myself offical cider tester, I’ve assimilated myself into the festival maker collective.
Adorned with access-all-areas privileges the Corn Exchange exposed the inner workings. Loz and leaders divide their time between rushing around like headless chickens and coordinating on a laptop, while every member wears a smile on their face despite the mundane or heftiness of the errand they’ve been set. Take these crates of food into the kitchen, I’ll be glad to. Happy to be on the team, which I haven’t made head nor tail of tasks set on a rota board by the entrance. I’m a newbie, many volunteers have done this for decades.
If you ever thought outside was bizarre, that hall you’ve been to for your covid jab is equally. A makeshift office-back stage circus hybrid, with a camal parked in the foyer, dancers choreographing in the hall, tree people preparing to wander out into the drunken abyss, and I’ve adopted the English tradtion of speaking my own language just with a hint of Latino accent in order to communicate with a crew of traditional Spanish saliors enjoying the supplied buffet. It’s an eye-opener to the inner workings of the centrepiece of DOCA.
Oh, for the energy, teamwork and amazing effort from everyone here, other than me, who, to put it nicely, aren’t getting any younger, to the keyboard warriors of social media land who continue to criticise changes to the programme, I confirm to you, my feet were aching by the first morning, and I was merely part time bin inspector. Criticise all you will, that is your perogative; they could’ve done this like this, not like that, where’s my favourite brand of lager, and the tradtionalist toppermost, why can’t they keep the dates as they were, all contained in a fortnight? Why not drain every last gram of stamina out of these volunteers and hang them up on a glucose drip afterwards?! Seriously, take a look at yourself, those guilty few, have you offered to help or are about to anytime soon? I took my best shot, it’s exhausting, I first-hand know this to be true now.
If its done anything it’s made me appreciate even more the will and effort of the volunteers, and respect that not every minor market town is blessed with such an event; we should be far more grateful. Then I revert, ignore the hiding whingers, they are but few. For everyone here, throughly enjoying themselves, the Ceres finale came at 6pm.
A theatrical acrobatic display of song and dance with the narrative of town’s folklore incident involing Ruth Piece, on this very spot, was promised. At first, while a hefty crane hoisted a peformer high into the sky, few drinkers at the bar huffed “hippy shit,” least admired the machinery and skill of the crane operator. Yet as the ambince of the drum beats, the haunting narrative of the moment, the strawmen casting shadows over the crowd, and the absolutely sublime acrobatic display above them, I swear every single person in the Market Place was left spellbound; you could hear a pindrop.
Unlike the usual fizzling out of the street festival, whereby revellers stagger away over time, navigated by a broken compass with the hide-in-a-pub or go home to sober up dilemma, even if they did they bore the imprint of a kind of subliminal concept, inserted through the medium of arts.
Perhaps Ruth Piece isn’t as portrayed, the archetypal baddie here, and while of course it is wrong to cheat, poverty and demading situations caused her to do what she did. Perhaps, just perhaps, the heckling and petty squabbling attaining her guilt was also at fault, and we should instead learn to have some sympathy and understanding. Perhaps, in turn, those complaining about the breaking up of the ‘fortnight of fun’ should consider the gallant work carried out by this group of volunteers, and appreciate their combined efforts, because Saturday was outstanding, and Sunday is awakening, the carnival, confetti battle and later events DOCA gift us with will arrive later in the summer, and you’re grownup, you can wait.
Ah, I’m getting all morally correct again, just ignore my insane dribbling if you will, the Street Festival continues today, I’m looking forward to it but I’m currently away in Taunton, typing this on my phone, where it’s rather drizzly. I hope this passes upon my return to Devizes later and we can do it all again; hope to see you there, and any delicious brownies from the Bake With Lil stall will be gratefully received!
This incredible Ceres show, with written verses by our resident poet Gail Foster, will be repeated as the finale again at 6pm, and prior one of my favourite bands, Mr Tea and the Minions are due to blast their sublime folky Balkan ska at us; lack of Mr Blue Skies I sincerely hope won’t prevent that!
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