Hay-on-Wye, it seems, is not short of festivals. As well as the well known Literature festival there is also an annual flower festival, film festival and beer festival that presumably prosper from their piggy-backing on the one and a half week stint of wordy events that swells the population of the small welsh town by 80,000 over its duration.
There is, however, one other festival that is emerging strongly under its own convincing credentials. How The Light Gets In, although running at the same time as the Hay festival, is attracting its own independent crowd that have largely sought it out for an experience that differs from what the festival’s founder Hilary Lawson calls the ‘conference hall’ feel of events at the other, longer established festival. How The Light Gets In, now in its third year, was borne from Lawson’s belief that the “combination of music and erudition”, as he describes it, creates a fertile environment for the fierce debate of today’s social, political and artistic issues.
With the sounds of acoustic music and the smell of chai wafting over the strewn cushions one could be forgiven for suspecting that the focus of the festival falls heavily to one side of its “philosophy and music” strap line, but in reality this atmosphere is Lawson’s careful formulation. With the introduction of music comes, he believes, the removal of the “reverence attached to status”, meaning that during the events – which are mainly in the form of discussion panels – the audience feels able and encouraged to engage in the conversational tone of the festival. The residual hum of learned joie de vivre that hangs over the site is testimony to the success of this intention.
With the site being recently extended the festival is enjoying a flourish of interest and the attraction of big sponsors such as The Independent and Prospect magazine is set to further increase its profile. This is mirrored in the recent attraction of well known speakers with Vince Cable, Emilia Fox and Polly Toynbee all scheduled to speak this year.
Lawson, however, is determined to keep the integrity of the event intact and heavily embedded in the “philosophy and music” of its mission statement, meaning it remains a relaxed but engaging festival. Whether regarded as a supplement, replacement or brief addendum to the festival up the road, it’s worth a look at next year: even just for the opportunity to dance with your favourite philosopher.