Monday, 28 March 2016

Washington DC, USA

After Firefly Festival 2015, which you can read about here, Emily and I drove to Washington, DC to spend a couple of days exploring the US capital. We stayed in an area called Adams Morgan, a couple of miles from the main tourist hotspots. We stayed in a quaint little guest house called Adam's Inn, which is located opposite an old fashioned looking fire station. 

adam's inn
Adam's Inn in Adams Morgan, Washington DC

Amazingly, in the months since we visited the area, I discovered that a US colleague, who is a firefighter and part time DJ, is based at that particular fire station and was on duty while we were there! It's such a crazy, small world we live in.

Fire Station in Adam's Morgan, Washington DC

white house selfie
Selfie in front of the White House, Washington DC

It goes without saying that we had to go and see The White House and get that all important bucket list selfie in front of it! As you can imagine, the security was incredibly tight, so you can't actually get all the close to it. We saw a helicopter land on the roof and we'd like to think it was someone important or even the main man himself!

washington history
Washington Monument, Washington DC

There are so many incredible things to see in Washington DC, all within a very small distance of each other. A few minutes walk from the White House, we checked out the Washington Monument and Lincoln's Memorial. Both heavily featured in movies and TV programmes including Homeland, Forrest Gump and Night at the Museum. We loved seeing all these famous places in person and it was such a lovely sunny day for walking around too.

forrest gump
Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC

abe statue
Selfie with Abe at the Lincoln Memorial!

After lunch we visited the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, which is another place we were keen to see, being big fans of Night at the Museum! It was nice to wander round here and cool down a bit with some air conditioning!

space museum
Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC

We later visited the Botanic Gardens, which was a relaxing place to chill out for a bit. We've visited the Botanic Gardens in many cities, including Sydney Australia and Singapore, and they're always a nice place escape the city for a little while.

botanic gardens
Botanic Gardens, Washington DC

As a big fan of Homeland, I was excited to see the United States Capitol and attempt to copy the photo of Brody from the shows credits. It was surprisingly hard to replicate, but you can see my efforts below!

homeland credits
United States Capitol, Washington DC

To round off an action packed day of sightseeing, we visited the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History. 

natural history museum
Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC

After a much needed lie-in, we headed to Georgetown in Washington, DC. This is a very pretty area, which has lots of great shops to explore and is home to the renowned Georgetown Cupcakes, which a friend highly recommended we check out. There was a big queue outside [for cupcakes!], so we knew this really was a special bakery. The cupcakes did live up to the hype and were a much needed sugar rush after lots of walking in the sunshine.

georgetown shopping
Georgetown in Washington, DC

georgetown cupcakes
Georgetown cupcake

We wanted to leave a huge amount of time to drive back to Philadelphia for our flight home, to allow for traffic and any delays along the way. We left mid afternoon for a mid evening flight and we were quite enjoying the road trip. The photo below was taken just before we entered the Baltimore Harbour tunnel, when the sky was only a little bit gloomy.

america road trip
Driving back to Philadelphia airport 

Shortly after emerging from the tunnel, the sky was rapidly changing to a very dark and stormy colour, which at first we thought was actually kind of cool. Then the rain started in abdundance and we became a little bit concerned, as surface water flooding started appearing on the roads. Emily and I both got automated Tornado Warnings pop up on our phones, which I have to admit was quite scary! The warning, along with messages on the radio, suggested we take shelter. We weren't really sure what to do, as we were quite a way from the airport and didn't want to miss out flight. We decided to try and seek shelter in a local hotel, but we couldn't find anywhere suitable, despite taking quite a big detour off our main route.

We ended up stopping at a Home Depot store, where we got out and sheltered inside for a little while. The locals were all calm about the whole thing, which made us feel a lot better. When we decided the rain had stopped enough to continue the journey, we got back in the car, only to find it making an awful noise when we started moving! The flooding on the road had caused a big piece of fibreglass to break off under the car, which was dragging along the road. A friendly worker helped us cut this off, but the damaged caused us more concern, with the possibility of water getting into parts of the car that it shouldn't, and of course returning the rental car with a big bit unattached! 

usa storm
There's a storm brewing!

storm alert
Tornado warning on our phones

By this point, we were starting to cut it pretty fine to get to the airport, despite leaving so hugely early to get there. We arrived at the car rental office just over 30 minutes before our bag drop was due to close. Emily got on the shuttle bus with our bags, as we thought it was much better to try and sort out a later flight for just me, if I did end up missing it. I returned the car, apologised for the storm damage and got on the next shuttle bus. I met Emily at the airport and we dropped our bags with two minutes to spare. We were so glad to get on the plane and relax shortly after, after an eventful and tiring few hours!

The whole experience was quite surreal and certainly an interesting story to tell. The whole trip to the US for Firefly Festival and to visit Washington DC was an incredible experience that I'll be thinking about for many years to come.

sunset sky usa
Beautiful sunset after the storm

Firefly Festival 2015

As I prepare for Firefly Festival 2016, I wanted to take a look back at Firefly Festival 2015, held at the Dover International Speedway in Delaware each June.

My girlfriend Emily and I flew from London Heathrow to Philadelphia and picked up a car rental. I was pretty apprehensive about driving on the 'wrong' side of the car, and on the 'wrong' side of the road, but it was actually a whole lot easier than I had imagined. It definitely helped that the car was an automatic, so I didn't have to negotiate a gear stick. 

driving in america

We stayed in a Red Roof Inn a couple of miles from the Firefly Festival site the night before and headed to IHOP - International House of Pancakes for breakfast. My American colleagues tell me that IHOP isn't exactly a place to get excited about, but as we have nothing quite like it in the UK, were were quite impressed with the huge pancake stacks and delicious American style hash browns!

america pancakes
IHOP breakfast pancakes

We met up with my American colleagues and picked up golf buggies, to help us get kit and crew around the huge festival site. They're surprisingly fun to drive too! 

Headphone Disco host three stages at Firefly Festival each year. The big Headphone Disco stage is in The Thicket, roughly opposite the Main Stage. This is a lovely self contained area, with trees and canopies creating an intimate space to enjoy two DJs battling it out for the crowds attention! The show times vary each day, but typically the DJs spin from midday to midnight each day in The Thicket. You can check out a short video of Headphone Disco at Firefly Festival here:

 
Headphone Disco At Firefly Festival from DEGY Dance on Vimeo.

Headphone Disco host a further two smaller stages, one located in each of the main camping areas. This is where we entertain festivalgoers after the main festival music programming, from around midnight until the very small hours of the morning.


golf buggy festival

headphone disco crew
Headphone Disco DJs at Firefly Festival 2015

In our free time, Emily and I enjoyed wandering around the festival in the sunshine and checking out new bands. There are many stages of different sizes of the festival and it's a lovely site to wander round and take it all in. We had catering provided for us on site and we loved the American food and drinks -- and of course the huge portions!

We loved the whole festival experience as there were so many small things that were different to UK festivals. Even things like being able to park your car next to your tent was something we were not used to, and was very helpful. This was only our second time in America and we were still very much enchanted by all things American. Every so often I'd have a surreal moment where I suddenly remembered where I was! As Delaware is not a particularly big tourist state, we were very much in the minority with our British accents, which a lot of people commented on -- which we found quite entertaining.

firefly festival delaware

The big highlight of the festival for us was watching the wonderful Sir Paul McCartney perform on the main stage, which we watched from the VIP area. It was so incredible to see him perform live and a show I will never forget.

Firefly is a wonderful festival that I am very much looking forward to returning to in June 2016. See you in the Woodlands!

beatles festival

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Download Festival 2015

The beginning of festival season has been a busy one this year, with five festivals under my belt by the start of July. This post is a little delayed, but I wanted to share a handful of photos and videos of my weekend at Download Festival, which was a few weeks back now. I had lots of admin work to be doing, so sadly I didn't see very much of the festival, as I was in the vans, so I'm afraid this post is a fairly limited snapshot of the weekend! I was managing Headphone Disco in the Side Splitter tent for the weekend, which was once again a huge success.

donington park racing
Getting to rag the van around the Donington Park Race Circuit [at 5 miles per hour]....

pot noodle
Trying out my new gas stove and tasty 47p noodles

festival arena
The Side Splitter tent, home to Headphone Disco for the weekend

festival mud
Good old British 'summetime' weather kicks in...


Check it out these short videos from the Headphone Disco at Download Festival 2015:



Sunday, 14 June 2015

Death Cab For Cutie in London

Last week, amidst a hectic work and festival schedule, my girlfriend Emily and I headed to London to see one of Emily's all time favourite bands, Death Cab For Cutie. Emily has loved the band for years, but has never seen them live. We so nearly saw them at Boston Calling last May [read here], when we were visiting the States for a week. Sadly it was raining so torrentially when Death Cab were due to play that we had to leave before they took the stage.

death cab london

We parked at Westfield London, which is conveniently located around a 10-minute walk away from the venue, which was the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire. We stopped for dinner at Wahaca at the Westfield centre, which is one of our favourite restaurants. After filling up on some incredible Mexican street food, we walked to the venue and arrived nice and early, bagging ourselves a good spot neat the front.

The support band were We Were Promised Jet Packs, who I had heard of, but never listened to. We really enjoyed them and will add them to the list of other awesome Scottish bands that we like, including Twin Atlantic, Glasvegas and Biffy Clyro. Fairly unusually, We Were Promised Jet Packs had four guitarists, along with a drummer. They multiple layers of guitar and vocals with a Scottish twang created a very cool sound. I'm listening to them on Spotify right now as I type this.

Death Cab For Cutie arrived on stage at 9pm and played for nearly two hours, which was awesome, as many headline gigs are closer to an hour. It was a fantastic gig, the highlight being a beautiful solo acoustic rendition of I Will Follow You Into The Dark by front man Ben Gibbard. The band are very well polished and have a lovely stage presence. Emily absolutely loved seeing one of her all time favourite bands and I left as a solid fan, having gone to the gig knowing only a couple of songs. I hope they tour the UK again soon :)

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Common People Festival 2015

A few months ago, we were excited to see the announcement of Common People, a two-day, non-camping festival on Southampton Common. I was born in Southampton and my sister Sarah and her husband Max still live there. We looked forward to being able to enjoy a festival and be able to walk a pretty short distance back to their house, to enjoy home comforts!

common people southampton

Common People had a lot to live up to, as it it run by the same people behind Bestival and Camp Bestival. I've been to Bestival twice and it really is a very special festival, with a huge amount of work put into creativity and generally creating an exciting and special atmosphere.

Perhaps we were expecting a bit too much, as this was essentially just a day time festival with no camping, but Common People was definitely not as awesome as we had hoped.  The main issue was the queues for everything. There were very long queues for the toilets [even queuing for urinals!], along with huge bar and food queues. We queued for 50-minutes for food and have friends who queued for over 90-minutes. There was just a big shortage of all facilities for the amount of people there, which was disappointing. This also lead to waiting around for friends all day, as our friends wanted to go to the loo / bar / get food and ended up taking forever to queue and get back. By the time they found us, someone else wants to go somewhere and you sort of end up in an endless cycle of waiting. Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly no stranger to festivals and events and I know there will be some queues, but these queues were exceptionally long.

festival art

We booked tickets before seeing the line up, which ended up being quite alternative. There were a few acts we were keen to see, but it mostly wasn't necessarily our favourite music. We enjoyed a very audibly and visually awesome show from Saturday night headliner Fatboy Slim, who incorporated a choir into his DJ set, which was pretty special. Jaguar Skills had the crowd bouncing earlier in the day, with one of his trademark mash-up sets. I've not seen Jaguar Skills for a couple of years and I think he's got even more awesome with time! Jaguar Skills was followed by DJ Yoda, who I've wanted to see for years. DJ Yoda was a bit disappointing, with the party atmosphere quickly sliding away and many of the crowd dispersing or sitting back down. 

Overall, Common People was a nice event to take place on Southampton Common and a great way for local people to experience a festival without a lot of the hassle that can go with it. I'd recommend you give it a visit next year if you're local to Southampton, but it won't be on my calendar next year.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Live Music in Cheltenham

It's taken me a little while to catch up on my blog posts, but I wanted to write a short post about a great weekend of live music in Cheltenham, three weeks ago. My girlfriend Emily and I bought tickets ages ago to see Beans On Toast at the Frog & Fiddle in Cheltenham, along with Nizlopi playing at the same venue the following night. We're trying to see much more gigs this year, as we've been a bit slack at that over the last couple of years. It's great to get out there and see live music and it's especially when it's in your home town, at your favourite pub!

frog cheltenham

We've seen Beans On Toast perform at festivals several times and have also seen him before at the Frog & Fiddle a couple of years ago too. He's an incredible and charismatic performer, with a great stage presence and lots of funny stories to tell. I could listen to Beans chat away for hours and his songs are just as entertaining too. I think the thing that's so great about him is that he speaks very honestly and I agree with pretty much everything he sings and talks about. His music is about sex, drugs, rock and roll and politics and everything in between. It's very hard to describe his music, so I'd hugely recommend you check out his videos below and go and see him live if you get the chance.

My sister Sarah and her husband Max came to visit for the weekend and came to the gig with us too. They're also big Beans On Toast fans. We arrived early and watched one support act, who was nice enough. Then a chap called Benjamin Folke Thomas took the stage and got our attention straight away. He played some fantastic folk songs, with a very strange and interesting stage presence, along with some great little stories to tell in between, including tales from his native county of Sweden. Sarah and Max text a couple of friends the following morning and arranged to go and see the same gig again two days later at The Joiners in Southampton, as they loved Benjamin and Beans so much!



Our friends Hannah and Dan also joined us for the gig, and a couple of drinks turned into a few jagerbombs and going 'out out' to the Two Pigs for some dancing, for the first time in a long time. The following day we were feeling rather worse for wear and Emily and I managed to drag ourselves to the Frog in the evening in time to see Nizlopi perform.

I discovered Nizlopi many years ago, when the JCB Song was a big tune on the radio. I checked out some of their other music and my sister really got into them too. I've wanted to see them live for years, but haven't had the chance, so was really pleased that they were playing at the Frog. They were quite different live to how I expected, with way more of an interesting performance than I  imagined and a great fusion of different music styles. This included some beatboxing and faux rap, along with a great energy that I didn't expect from a band which I always thought of as being quite folky. I'd love to see them again, so I hope they tour near my home town again soon!



Sunday, 7 June 2015

Wychwood Festival 2015

Last weekend was my sixth weekend at the annual Wychwood Festival, where I manage the awesome Headphone Disco show each night in the Big Top. This has always been our first festival on the calendar each year and is a lovely way to ease ourselves back into a busy season of running festival shows! Wychwood Festival also happens to be held in my home town, at Cheltenham Racecourse, only a couple of miles from my front door. It's lovely to be able to work at and enjoy a festival and then go back to your own bed each night! 

wychwood festival

Every year there's at least one other big Headphone Disco show that falls on the same weekend, as this year was no exception. I travelled down to DJ at a big show at the University of Surrey in Guilford on the Friday night, whilst we also had a show at Bath Spa University. Rolling back into bed at 6am on Saturday morning after a long drive meant I was very tired for the weekend, but thankfully I was able to enjoy free coffee backstage to see me though until the early hours! 

cheltenham festival

This year I didn't get to see too much of the festival, as I had a lot of other work to be doing, but I did get to enjoy some of UB40 and the Proclaimers and caught up with lots of friends who were also working at or visiting the festival. 

headphone disco

I'm very lucky to work with a great team of people, including DJs Josh Lovatt, Kelz and Peter who kept the crowd singing and dancing away until the early hours on each of the three nights, along with a great team of headphone distributors, who are super enthusiastic, even when the temperature drops as the night goes on. 

Next up is Download Festival in a few days time, where once again we will raise the roof on the Side Splitter tent on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, with up to 2,000 festivalgoers rocking with us at any one time :)

wychwood stage

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Kayaking in Cirencester

I've just got back home after a lovely day out in the sunshine with friends in the Cotswold Water Park, in Cirencester. The weather has been rubbish for ages, so it was nice to enjoy some warm weather for a change and have a BBQ by a lake.

cotswold water park

My friend Pob has visited the same lake recently, where Cotswold Water Park Hire operate, with a great jetty area and lots of kayaks, rowing boats and paddle boards to hire. I was lucky enough to paddle in one of Pob's two kayaks, so we just had to pay a small launch fee each, to use the lake.

picnic area cirencester

I've been kayaking a few times and was really impressed with how clean and well kept the lake and grounds were. The facilities were fairly basic, with gazebos for changing rooms and a couple of portaloos, but you don't need anything fancier than that for a quick paddle! 

There were a couple of stag and hen groups leaving as we arrived and there were a few families there. It's definitely a great place to chill out with friends on a sunny day and fairly cheap way to have a fun day out too.

kayak hire cotswolds

Monday, 25 May 2015

Cheltenham Jazz Festival

The internationally renowned Cheltenham Jazz Festival returned to my hometown a few weeks ago. It's become an annual tradition for local heroes Thrill Collins to perform on the free music stage to close the Sunday night and this is the third time I've been to see them at the Jazz Fest. The band are the first to admit that their skiffle take on popular songs is a bit of a loose fit for "jazz", but the band are perfect for this slot.

This year we headed up to the Cheltenham Jazz Fest on the Sunday afternoon with my girlfriend's parents and enjoyed wondering around the stalls on site and the little festival record shop. We popped into the free music stage, but it was what I considered to be pretty boring and "minimal" jazz music, the kind of sounds you might expect to hear in a lift in a swanky hotel. We headed up to the lovely India Lounge on the Suffolk Parade for dinner, before meeting up with friends later in the evening, ready for the much anticipated Thrill Collins performance. 

chelt jazz fest

The free music tent which had been full of people sat at tables and chairs listening to the "lift music" all day was starting to fill up. We stood at the front on the right hand side of the stage and were quickly scorned by someone people who said they had been there all day and had what they called the "right of way" and said we shouldn't be standing in the way. We were sure that they had no idea about the party that Thrill Collins were about to create and probably got quite a shock when the band started.

Thrill Collins quickly got the party atmosphere going, but sadly no one was dancing. The big space in front of the stage which had practically had dancefloor written all over it was full of people politely sat cross-legged. After a couple of songs, our friend Hassan lead the revolution, by carefully navigating around the floor-dwellers and started the dancing. We all followed and within seconds, we were joined by many other people who had clearly not wanted to be the first to dance, but had been dying to do so! 

cheltenham jazz

Before playing their skiffle take on Time Of My Life from Dirty Dancing, the band challenged the audience to impress them with the best attempt of "the lift". At the key moment, we took our friend Stefan [who also happens to be Thrill Collins' manager] by surprise and all lifted him above our heads. I was a little worried about him when he was lifted so high that I could no longer reach him, but thankfully he escaped unscathed and apparently quite enjoyed the whole ordeal.

If you've not seen Thrill Collins live before, I'd massively recommend you check them out. They played at my sister's wedding and they are without the doubt one of the greatest party bands on the planet! I've linked to a couple of their videos below.