Unfest: The summer starts here
2nd May 2019
Over the final May Bank Holiday weekend the annual Unfest music and culture festival takes place in Tunbridge Wells. Organised by the team at The Forum, it includes a mix of performances by bands and poets and also pieces of theatre. Here co-organiser Carolyn Gray reveals the big plans for 2019
We are so excited about this year’s Unfest. Originally it started as a showcase for the bands on The Forum’s record label Unlabel and was known simply as ‘Three days in May’.
But over the past 20 years it has varied in format from year to year, and is now firmly established as Tunbridge Wells’ Fringe Festival – and is so much more than just a music festival.
Still based in and around The Forum on Tunbridge Wells Common, there are now many additional venues for 2019 including The Sussex Arms, The Ragged Trousers, The George, The Bedford, The Royal Oak and the Javabean café.
The idea is for visitors to be able to dip in and out of the numerous host venues as the weekend progresses. All of them are free to enter during the festival, which runs from Thursday May 23 until Monday May 27. And all of this is made possible by our regular team of volunteers, musicians and supporters.
Unfest kicks off at 5pm on Thursday afternoon at The Forum, where we will host a free evening of our bi-monthly Under-18s Open Mic Night. This gives young performers the chance to take to the legendary stage in front of friends and family to perform a couple of songs, assisted by our staff.
Afterwards the Javabean café takes over with one of its regular events, Voices, a mix of spoken word and music open mic. Doors open at 7.30pm, and there’ll be an acoustic guitar and ukulele available to borrow, but performers are asked to bring their own backing tracks.
On Friday we settle into a programme of booked acts curated by assorted volunteers from The Forum and Friends – from rock and DJs at The Sussex Arms to local bands at The Royal Oak.
Check out many of our long-time favourites such as Joeythin, Cyrano, Bombay Monkey, The Naming of Things and The Orange Circus Band, alongside some acts from outside the local area such as Ed The Dog.
They supported Circa Waves at The Forum last year, and Forum bookers Eloise Bulmer and Dan Wild thought they would be a great band to headline 2019 Unfest on Friday night – and the band agreed!
Acts who have played during the past year at The Stable and Under-18s Open Mics will also feature, as we continue to support fresh local and upcoming talent.
More than just music...
There are a variety of spoken-word events at Unfest and contributions from local writers and art groups.
Arbor The Tree
This is an activity made possible by Applause Rural Touring. Come along to The Common on Saturday afternoon and discover the 17-foot tall tree, created by puppetry and theatre company Smoking Apples. Sit and listen as Arbor (pictured left) tells you his story, amidst our beautiful green surroundings.
The Unfest perennial performer might be harder to spot this year, so keep your eyes and ears on our social media sites for his 2019 Unfest special performance – one of many projects that Paul (below) is undertaking over the next few months. Two of his previous Unfest projects, The Big Record and 25 Forums, have developed into a variety of incredible international events, which we feel confirms the amazing level of local creativity.
And don’t forget, as always the festival will be full of good food, stunning merchandise, surprises and (hopefully) a beer from Fonthill Brewery. We at The Forum look forward to welcoming regular attendees back, and hope to meet some new faces. Come along and say hi as we celebrate the start of the summer season in Royal Tunbridge Wells.
Paul Dunton runs Local & Live, which is also taking part in Unfest, and he explains how the two events will now be strengthened even further after gaining charitable status
Unfest and Local & Live, which takes place over the August Bank Holiday, are very much joined at the hip. They are both free to attend and community-style events and both concentrate on showcasing emerging original music talent, with Unfest also delving into spoken word and comedy.
In recent times Local & Live, which was established in 2006, has joined Unfest by running its own outdoor stage at The Sussex Mews, which has proved to be very popular and has really united the two festivals and cemented the relationship between myself and Jason Dormon of The Forum.
I know of very few festivals with this kind of relationship – we just want to help each other and the local music scene as a whole, there is no competition. Unfest and Local & Live offer something different – the former festival kicks off the summer while Local & Live brings it to a close.
To help secure a brighter future for Local & Live I felt it should become a charity. It has always been free to attend, non-profit making and all about local musicians having their chance to shine and so I am delighted to announce that Jason, along with Peter Taylor and Nigel Bent from The Royal Oak pub – another great local live music venue – have agreed to be trustees for the charity.
We all share the same vision and are going to work together to ensure we and other music events continue to thrive, educate and promote the arts for years to come.