Cornwall boasts a rich culture and a proud local community who are always eager to celebrate it. In any Cornish town you are bound to find countless cars sporting St Piran’s flags, bakeries that stake a claim at the world’s best steak pasty, and maybe even a local debating with a friend from across the border whether the famous pastries should have a side-crimp or a top-crimp with a friend from across the border.
But the Cornish also know how to host a good knees-up, especially when it comes to showcasing the region’s roots. From Celtic folk music to craft beer and local seafood, countless interests are fostered and fed during Kernow’s busy festival calendar.
If you’re planning a holiday to Cornwall this summer, you’re definitely in the right place at the right time. When the sun shines, the county comes alive in a wave of music, food and culture. And, with some truly stunning luxury holiday cottages in Cornwall to choose from, you don’t even have to brave those muddy fields! Whether you fancy trying a local tipple, mingling with Cornish poets or catching some of the biggest emerging musicians of the moment, here are our top festivals in Cornwall for summer 2017.
Music festivals in Cornwall
Leopallooza, 28th-30th July
Dubbed ‘the world’s greatest house party… in a field’, Leopallooza is probably one of the best-loved festivals in Cornwall. Now in its 11th year, the multi award-winning festival is based on a farm just outside Bude, North Cornwall, but attracts visitors and performers from around the world who love its laid-back, creative vibe. For anyone who lives in the local area, Leopallooza is the highlight of the summer calendar – in fact, this year their ‘Early Bird’ tickets sold out in just 20 minutes! Bringing friends together for three days and nights of music, food and sunshine, this festival feels like a reunion, your best friend’s wedding.
Beginning as an impromptu gathering between friends many years ago, Leopallooza has grown from a one-night affair to a full-blown weekend festival. For the first two days, everyone is out to party, and it’s no surprise with headlining acts including acts including The Cribs, Gabrielle Aplin and Clean Cut Kid.
As festival co-founder Sam Dunnett notes: “We’ve developed a bit of a reputation as an incubator for emerging talent, often booking artists just before they break into the mainstream. This is something we strive to do each year, and once again the team has put together a great line-up of both established and breaking artists, with the 11th Leopallooza shaping up to be one of the biggest yet.”
Come Sunday, the site mellows somewhat, with smoothie bars popping up and chilled acoustic bands performing. Seven stages, two dance tents, dozens of food stalls, roller disco, kids’ play areas and sports events… this festival has it all, and has been recognised by the likes of Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac for its success. Sam reflects on why Leopallooza has become such a huge part of Cornish culture over the past eleven years: “I think Leopallooza works so well because it’s a festival built by festival lovers. We work really hard to remain totally independent, and the same group of friends that organised the first festival 11 years ago still run it to this day. Everything people see, hear, drink and eat is handpicked by us.”
St Ives September Festival, 9th-23rd September
If you’re looking for a music festival that celebrates Cornwall’s folklore roots, the St Ives September Festival is for you. Mike Sinclair, Press Officer, explains that this historic festival has been running for 40 years, and plays host to 15 days of music, theatre, poetry, film, walks, talks and arts events. You can catch bands including four BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners - the John McCusker Band, Show of Hands, The Changing Room and Cara Dillon.
Anyone who visits the St Ives September Festival – visitor or artist – always returns. Steve Knightley of festival patrons Show of Hands, who played the Royal Albert Hall on Easter Sunday, said: “For over 30 years St Ives Festival has been one of the must-play events for those of us on the folk, roots and acoustic music scene. We can’t wait to be back.”
Charlie from the blog Cornish Horizons also recommends the festival, describing it as “an amazing two weeks of live music, open artists’ studios and free exhibitions as well as guided walks around this stunning town.” With glowing reviews all-round, this festival is perfect for couples looking for a relaxed and culture-rich week (or two!) away.
Looe Music Festival, 29th September – 1st October
Looe may be known for its fishing trade but, in September, the main catch in this coastal port will be the fantastic acts at the Looe Music Festival! Each year, the waterfront is lit up with tents and bright lights, creating a buzzing atmosphere. Charlie from Cornish Horizons blog describes Looe Music Festival as “three days in September of fantastic live music performed right on the beach as well as all around the town in every available spot!”
This event calls itself a ‘grown up’ music festival, as camping is not a prerequisite. As Carys Barriball from the festival explains: “Appearing as if by magic, the festival boasts a main stage on the beach and transforms the streets to entertain locals and visitors from all over the world. You can visit for the day or the weekend, stay in comfort and eat like a king.”
She continues, “Blasting sounds off the beach this year include headliners Lulu, Happy Mondays and The Jesus and Mary Chain, plus over ninety bands taking on five stages over three days. This is an award-winning music festival which will make your Cornish getaway one to remember.”
Boardmasters, 9th-13th August
Boardmasters is possibly the most famous music festival in Cornwall, and is a celebration of all things beach life-related. As the name suggests, this festival was originally based on board sports, and although the musical aspect has grown each year to host some of the UK’s biggest acts, this focus remains. Professional surf competitions take place on Fistral Beach, skate and BMX contests add to the action, and visitors can even get involved themselves! Dance away to acts including The Flaming Lips, Two Door Cinema Club, Jake Bugg and even DJ/actor Idris Elba.
Anna Clark, travel and lifestyle blogger at The Cornish Life, explains why she loves Boardmasters: “Set up on the cliffs looking out over the ocean makes it the most spectacular setting to dance to your favourite acts at sunset! It’s also just a short walk down to the beach in case you need a cool dip in the sea to refresh.” If you really need to recharge after all of this, simply head over to the festival’s wellbeing tent for some free yoga sessions or a professional massage.
Tropical Pressure, 14th-16th July
Cornwall’s festival scene is a diverse one, and you will find acts from all over the world at many Cornish music festivals. However, Tropical Pressure Festival is a unique celebration specifically dedicated to the music of the world. So, if you have a penchant for the music of the Americas or Africa, this is the festival for you.
Kath Williams from the festival explains: “Tropical Pressure Festival is Cornwall's answer to WOMAD - a beautiful, small and family-friendly event dedicated to exploring the cultures of other lands. We celebrate the rich music, food, dance and crafts of Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean, with artists from all over the world descending on Porthtowan for three days in July each year. Great value and great fun, and all with a unique backdrop of the stunning Cornish coastline.”
This year, visitors can enjoy the diverse sounds of acts including Canalon de Timbiqui, Bareto, Harare and the Culture Dub Orchestra. Each day is dedicated to a different area of the world, and you can even buy day tickets if one particular culture is your passion. The festival is also 100% vegetarian this year, selling delicious plant-based street food from around the world. Add in a wild eco spa set in the gorgeous surroundings of Mount Pleasant Eco Park and you have a recipe for the perfect weekend.
St Endellion Summer Festival, 2nd July – 4th August
For the classical music fan, a visit to Cornwall this summer could provide the opportunity to step into a rich history of orchestral music. This year, the St Endellion Summer Festival returns for its 59th year in the Collegiate Church of St Endellion, bringing famous scores from top composers to audiences through the talent of superb local musicians.
Sally from the festival explains: “The focal points are the two performances of Billy Budd, featuring world-class international soloists - a performance of the Verdi Requiem in Truro Cathedral, a lunchtime concert in celebration of the centenary of Cornish poet Charles Causley, and two concerts featuring Olivier-award-winning actor Rory Kinnear. But a whole load of other wonderful chamber, orchestra and choral concerts are taking place, too!”
Aiming to nurture the connection between individuals that music can foster, as Beethoven once stated, “from the heart to the heart”, this festival shuns commerce in favour of passionate performances and a true community spirit.
One particular highlight on 2017’s programme is “I Sing The Body Electric: Walt Whitman in Words and Music”, a performance in which some of the festival’s rising stars perform songs by Vaughan Williams, Gurney, Weill and Bridge, alongside readings from Rory Kinnear, to celebrate the works of the American Bard through all elements of song.
Cornish food festivals
One of the most well-known Cornish exports is, of course, the pasty, but there is actually a wide variety of mouth-watering fresh produce grown and made in Cornwall. Jen Merrikin from Food Festival Finder explains:
“Cornwall is a fantastic place for foodies – from Michelin-starred restaurants to cosy beach-side bars, there really is something for everyone. The Cornish love to celebrate their excellent natural larder, which is why there are always plenty of food and drink events going on. Events include those rejoicing fishing, and others dedicated to the fantastic artisan producers in the county.”
You can find out more about dining in Cornwall in the Cornwall Food & Drink Guide – which is also available as an app.
Newquay Fish Festival, 8th-10th September
Newquay Fish Festival is now in its fourteenth year, following a successful run of festivals spanning more than a decade and connecting several generations. For three days, the region’s top chefs will join forces to demonstrate how Cornwall produces the finest fish dishes, from local crab to lobsters and more. Drawing from the location’s maritime history - with Newquay’s quay tracing back to the 15th century - these displays explain how local seafood has been sourced and used over the years, in an area that is intricately tied to its oceans.
Visitors can expect traditional crafts, local groups and artists, an exhibition by the Newquay Old Cornwall Society explaining the history of pilchard fishing which once dominated the area, local music and, of course, plenty of food stalls and cooking demonstrations offering the chance to sample delicious produce. To round off the evenings, guests can join the traditional Ceilli and, for the Saturday night grand finale, the fantastic Mount Charles Band will perform for a Last Night of the Proms concert!
Beer, cider and beverage festivals
Newquay Beer Festival, 22nd-24th September
There’s nothing quite like enjoying a cold beer or local cider by the Cornish coast on a sunny day. That’s exactly what Newquay Beer Festival offers – and much more! Enjoy a wide selection of local craft beers and ciders and learn about the heritage of these drinks from the county’s finest breweries. As you relax, you can enjoy the entertainment of top local bands and artists, with previous line-ups featuring the likes of The Freedom-Guilt Equation, Sam Richardson and Third Age.
Phil Bunt, secretary of the organisers at Newquay Towan Blystra Lions Club, explains: “Now in its 5th year, this is a festival of 50 real ales and 20 plus ciders plus lagers, wines and soft drinks, all accompanied by three days of great music in a friendly, sociable environment.”
He continues, “Families are very welcome, as are their dogs, and there is always a really fun and friendly atmosphere. All the musicians give their time totally free of any charge and Lions Clubs take no money for themselves – everyone gives their time and effort voluntarily and everything raised goes to help others.”
The Little Orchard Cider and Music Festival, 8th-10th September
Cornwall is famous for its cider, so it only makes sense that there should be a top-notch festival to celebrate the refreshing beverage this summer. Anna has the perfect event to fit the bill: “I really love The Little Orchard Cider Festival held at Healey’s Cyder Farm in September; the countryside vibe and focus on local music, food and drink makes it a really fun atmosphere - and of course plenty of delicious Cornish cider too!”
Festival organiser Ben Hall comments: “Little Orchard Cider and Music Festival is a fantastic weekend for families, friends and couples alike. Each year the festival gets better and better, with new attractions being added and more fun for the children to have. This year’s event was a huge success and it was the first time we have fully sold out. I’m really looking forward to next year, especially since we have secured The Wurzels for Saturday night!”
An extensive range of ciders from around Cornwall, the UK and even further afield are ready to be sampled. However, this is more than your average cider festival – now in its fifth year, the charming festival has already gained itself a BBC Introducing stage, alongside lots of big live bands, a silent disco, glamping, hot tubs and more. Plus, of course, there are some great cider-themed activities, including secret cider walks and cider tasting!
Art and culture festivals
Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature, 6th-18th May
The Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature is another event recommended by Charlotte, and is the perfect festival for those who are passionate about culture, art and writing. Hosted by the du Maurier Festival Society, this is a sophisticated affair 21 years in the making, and so it follows that some of the country’s most renowned writers will be in attendance. Here, you can expect to delve into the minds of Michael Morpurgo, Tatiana de Rosnay and Veronica Henry, among others. Many other artists will grace the festival, such as the world’s most-performed living composer, Sir Karl Jenkins.
This year, the festival is hosting everything from writing workshops to interviews with philosophers, authors and politicians, reading groups and even live bands, history tours and talks. Families will also enjoy this festival, with everything from art trails to the Secret Gardens of Fowey to entertain the little ones, in collaboration with the festival’s Kids’ Lit programme. Whether your passion is for politics or gardening, paper-cutting or craft brewing, you will find events to enrich the mind and excite the imagination at this festival.
Penzance Literary Festival, 5th-8th July
The die-hard bookworm should head towards Penzance this summer, because the Penzance Literary Festival is set to celebrate words in all their forms, with some of the UK’s top writers in attendance. This year, the theme for the festival is ‘Unchartered Waters’, exploring the ways in which ‘our world changes at breakneck speed’. With writers’ workshops, musical performances set amid bookcases, readings, literary tours and much more, this festival is sure to get your creative juices flowing.
As Rachel Viney, Programme Editor at the festival, comments: “It’s easy to see why Cornwall’s friendliest literary festival just goes on getting more popular. With top novelists in this year's line-up, among them Tim Pears and Stella Duffy, plus intriguing talks from explorers, seafarers, archaeologists, rare manuscript experts and many more - all liberally seasoned with rap poetry, theatre and song - it’s a feast for everyone who loves words.”
Royal Cornwall Show, 8th-10th June
If you’re visiting Cornwall in early June, and wish to get a true taste of the county’s agricultural heritage, a day at the Royal Cornwall Show is a must. Bringing the real heart of the countryside to visitors from the region and beyond, this event is visited by thousands of people (and livestock!) each year.
Steve Michell from the festival explains: “The Royal Cornwall Show is Cornwall’s largest annual event, attracting around 120,000 visitors over its three-day run every year in early June. It’s a real celebration of Cornish farming, food and a showcase for everything that’s great about the county.”
So, if you’re curious about what life is like as a modern Cornish farmer, this is the festival for you! Steve continues, “The show is also big on entertainment from main ring headline acts wowing the crowds to live music and dance stages, roaming street performers and musicians. There are countless demonstrations and competitions taking place, with thousands of animals to see. A steam fair, retro vintage fairground and top-class flower show drawing in the crowds and with more than a thousand trade stands to browse there really is something for everyone to enjoy.”
Image credits: Rob Feather (Leopallooza); The Changing Room; Callum Morse (Boardmasters); Tropical Pressure Festival; St Endellion Summer Festival; Newquay Fish Festival; Newquay Beer Festival; Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature.