Laying out my tartan picnic blanket under the trees in Calverley Grounds on the late August Bank Holiday, I settled down in the sunshine to enjoy another weekend of local music at the aptly named Local & Live Music Festival, now in its 14th year. Located just opposite the main train station in picturesque Royal Tunbridge Wells and completely free to enter (although donations to support the next year’s festival are always warmly welcomed), it’s the festival that positively celebrates all things local – local food vendors and bars, arts and crafts supplied by local companies and, of course, an exciting line-up of local musicians.
Local & Live has called Calverley Grounds its home since 2014 with a vibrant afternoon through to late-night fringe programme running across several local venues too, from former public toilet turned award-winning grassroots music venue The Forum to popular local pubs The Bedford, Cassidy’s and The Royal Oak. On Bank Holiday Monday, the main stage moves to the beautiful grounds of the Spa Hotel with a heavenly acoustic programme to bring the weekend to a close.
With a mix of gloriously chilled acoustic artists, quirky pop, jazz, and blues vibes and even some Americana thrown in, the daytime and early evening acts match the family-friendly, relaxed atmosphere that falls over the park as picnic blankets are spread out and the Pimm’s starts flowing. From my spot on the leafy banks surrounding the stage, I can see a mother applying sun cream liberally to her squirming child’s face, an elderly couple leisurely walking through the park as the music plays, a group of teenagers queueing for a Mr. Whippy – Local & Live is truly a community-led festival with something for everyone.
As afternoon turns into evening and the sun sets, the Calverley Grounds and fringe stages come alive, mixing indie rock bands with funk, hip hop and folk music. Food and drink stalls are festooned in fairy lights and the festival site is filled with an electric energy that pulses through the crowd that has gathered in front of the main stage. For revellers wanting to continue the party beyond the 10pm curfew for the outdoor stage, The Forum has music billed and plenty of drinks flowing until the small hours.
For a festival that is completely free for visitors, Local & Live manages to pack in over 160 emerging artists over four days in six different venues, a feat that takes a dedicated team of volunteers to pull off. Organiser Paul Dunton, a local musician himself with the Paul Dunton Orchestra, is a true advocate for nurturing the talent on our doorsteps and providing a platform for up and coming musicians to showcase their work to thousands of music fans.
From the little girl having the time of her life dancing right at the front of the stage to the group of friends having late night drinks at the pub, proud parents watching their kids onstage and music lovers and local fans just enjoying the festival in all its glory, Local & Live’s ethos is rooted in community and a pure love and appreciation for the joy of music created right here in Kent.