A fortnight on and we've still not quite come to terms with the fact that we're not filling our weekends with sunny festival vibes. Come back Grinagog, we miss you!
Now, we had a fantastic time, if you don’t believe us, check out our Day 1 and Day 2 Grinablog. The final day was just as good, the festival site mellowing out as everyone wound down and just chilled out in a third miraculous day of exceptional weather. So, in this final Grinablog round up, I could tell you a little about Day 3 and sing the festivals praises one last time; but I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to give a completely honest review, tell you where I thought the festival shone out and where, for me, it could have done better. Most importantly, I’m going to tell you why I will definitely be going to Grinagog 2019!
I’ve not got anything particular to report from Day 3, I was briefly accosted by a band of wandering nymphs who serenaded me with Eurythmics hit single “Sweet Dreams” and Cut Capers in the Spanish Barn frankly should have had a headline slot. And here’s my first niggle; it really felt like they stepped down the walkabouts this year. There’s only four that I can say I definitely spotted; the singing fairies I’ve mentioned; then there was Rusty the Horse the kinetic robot horse with uncannily lifelike mannerisms created by artist Simon Collins; the incredibly talented Ras King Bobo 1 was seen out on the lawns as well with a simple but sensational acrobatics and circus set, although he is officially listed as being part of the Saturday family line up in the Spanish Barn; and finally The Acid Morris, who we saw constantly throughout the weekend but not once did we spot performing. Similarly, I’m pretty certain I spotted the World’s Tallest Bubbleoligist, but without his bubbles it could have just been a very tall man. Now I’m fully prepared to accept that I may have missed a few performers – although the list on the Grinagog site isn’t all that long – but in my opinion, for whatever its worth, you shouldn’t be able to miss them! Clearly you can’t have a festival without music, but the atmosphere is made or broken by the bits in between, the mad and awe-inspiring sights that keep your disbelief suspended and make the festival ground such a haven. I want to be doing double takes every step, and if that means I’m tripping over walkabout performers, then that’s all the better.
This being said, the festival is clearly not lacking in atmosphere; it’s leant a healthy dose from the rustic setting of Torre Abbey, the intimate Chapel, reverberating Spanish Barn, secretive Undercroft not to mention the stunning grounds and gardens. One World Café too brings a huge amount of charm; I personally felt absolutely transported whenever I was in there. I’ve already lamented the loss of The Gathering Space and I really hope this returns to the line-up next year. I’d also love to see more busking, maybe the addition of some low maintenance DIY stages in the gardens for spontaneous acoustic sets. And now for what might be my most controversial niggle; the Riviera Centre needs to step up its game or step down and here’s why. Torre Abbey is the centre of the festival and that’s the way it should be, but if Grinagog has a Pyramid Stage then the RICC is it, and frankly, its uninspiring. And that’s not its fault, after all, it’s a Conference Centre and no matter how low you put the lights it’s exceptionally difficult to hide that fact, and the walk from the bag search at the door through to the centre of the Arena has a similar effect to letting the air out of a balloon. There have been improvements since last year; for one, bar service has improved hugely and there was at least an attempt at some set dressing but its still not enough filling in a sandwich built on carpet tiles and topped with ceiling tiles.
I fully understand why the RICC is a necessary part of the festival and logistically I’ll hold my hands up and say that I can’t think of an alternative venue that is both convenient enough and has the capacity required – can we put a big tent on Torre Abbey Meadows? – but as it stands, I just think this is the weakest link in Grinagog’s current offer. That’s not to say that what goes on in the RICC isn’t impressive and it is definitely significant to look at the calibre of performers the festival has attracted to this stage; Sam and the Womp, Rat Boy, Congo Natty, Electric Swing Circus, Craig Charles Funk and Soul, The Correspondents, Big Narstie, Dizraeli and Downlow, all in Torbay!
Sticking with the positives, the expansion of the market this year was a big improvement too. Don’t get me wrong I love Meat59, but I also love choice! Choice and jerk, the latter of which Monty’s Caribbean Kitchen satisfied exceptionally well. I also had the most incredible falafel wrap which I’m fairly certain could have fed a small family for a week or two, and my good friends at the Cognitive Coffee Company kept me in caffeine for the weekend! From chatting to the vendors though, there’s still work to be done here and I get that this element is pretty hard to balance, finding the right point between meeting all tastes and not spreading a limited audience too thinly across businesses who at the end of the day need to head home with some cash in their pockets. One minor niggle here, the location of the market; great for convenience, but entirely blocking the view of the sea from Torre Abbey which for me is one of the absolute selling points of it as a festival site! However, great to see that Grinagog got on board with reusable cups this year which we like a lot and also lovely to see a festival site so clean! I don’t know whether this was down to exceptional staff and volunteers on litter picking duties or a particularly well-mannered festival crowd, but either way it was pretty impressive.
And that’s one of the other great things about Gringagog, the people. I can honestly say that it is the happiest, most relaxed, festival or gig crowd I’ve ever experienced, and the event seems to be an absolute leveller with people of all ages getting into the spirit of Grinagog in such a singular way. We witnessed barely any trouble across the whole weekend, with everyone being respectful, friendly and good-natured. This truly is a family-friendly festival, without compromising the true festival experience. There were a couple of points where the site felt a little bit on the quiet side particularly first thing Friday and for the majority of Sunday. The last day certainly gave the impression of winding down and I feel like it would be nice to see the party go on a bit longer next year, maybe with a final headliner in the Spanish Barn finishing at 10 or 11. Also, wouldn’t it be great if we could make this a 5 day festival, drawing in a crowd on the Wednesday and Thursday to enjoy Torbay as a whole?! Add in more cultural venues for a Grinagog pre-show where we can really celebrate what the Bay has to offer.
Ultimately, we love Grinagog; a festival of this scale right on our doorstep is an absolute dream. World class acts, exceptionally diverse genres of music and for two years it has brought with it gorgeous weather which I’m sure was hard to arrange! But I think what is most important is how Grinagog levels the playing field. It is not a young person’s festival. It is not an old person’s festival. It is not a family festival. In fact, I would struggle to tell you what “type” of person goes to Grinagog, because at every stage and for every performance the audience was so mixed, with a fairly even representation from every generation. And this is so easily missed at a festival!
We’re now two-year veterans of Grinagog, Torbay’s very own mudless festival, and we’re excited to continue the tradition in 2019!