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Henley Festival

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by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
The Royal rowing regatta puts Henley on the map, but it's all over very quickly. So to make it worth your while making the short trip up from London, the people who organise things in the town of Henley decided to add an arts and music festival to the calendar in the week following the famous boat race. They re-use the regatta grandstand style set up, which could be a problem seeing as everything is set up facing the river - but the wise and wile organisers overcome this by having a floating stage. One that bobs gently in the river Thames.

The Henley Festival is run with a series of enjoyable contradictions which are part of what make it special. It's black tie, and while there's the option of fine dining you're also encouraged to bring a picnic. It's outdoors, but it also manages to be intimate, and there are deckchairs, but there's also dancing and art installations.

One of the other nice things about the way this festival is hosted is that there's only one ticket for each night of the event; so you're welcome to see as much as you can from the eclectic line ups that includes classical music and opera and performances of jazz funk, street theatre, rock and comedy in the same evening's programme. There are six timetabled events each evening, then lots of things going on within the grounds. Things like rambling performing players and musicians, randomly placed sculptures springing up out of flower beds and the odd impromptu art gallery to run into. Seeing everyone sitting down to their varied, but frequently candlelit dinners on the grass, on boats in the Thames or in the stylish, but impermanent, restaurants is often entertainment in itself.

But it's not just about the atmosphere the main event is the main events, and in 2010 the headliners are Will Young on Wednesday, Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel on Thursday, violinist Nigel Kennedy playing the music of Duke Ellington on Friday, stars from the West End doing Queen covers on Saturday and the festival finishes on Sunday night with Ronan Keating. Around these highlights there's a bit of burlesque, some modern and not so modern comedy, some jazz, big band, some cabaret and all sorts.

To keep things stylish they're strict with the dress code. And while they'll probably let you in with a suit or blazer and tie they'll definitely not let you in wearing jeans or trainers.
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Why? A black tie picnic with entertainment that's this good - do you need any other reason?
When: 7th - 11th July 2010
Where: 14 Friday St, Henley-on-Thames. The floating stage is set up right beside Henley Bridge, Henley. There are buses and trains to Henley from various places in London.
Cost: From 35 for one night to 240 for the whole season and many options in between
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