9 of the best festivals headed for Essex this summer

EA Festival 2021 will take place at Hedingham Castle

Hedingham Castle is a beautiful setting for EA Festival - Credit: courtesy EA Festival

Food festivals, music, culture and arts - festivals of all shapes and sizes are coming to Essex in 2021 with a mix of in-person and online events. Here's Essex Life's pick of the best...

1. EssexFest at Maldon Promenade Park
August 20

Frankie Boyle, Sara Pascoe, Milton Jones and Shappi Khorsandi are headed to Essex this summer for a brand new one-day comedy festival. Taking place at Maldon Promenade Park on August 20 2021, EssexFest will see the legendary Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle take to the stage in the headline spot. Andrew Maxwell, Glenn Wool and Simon Brodkin (also known for his work in comedy as Lee Nelson) also appear on the line-up. The event will also feature food and drink stalls around Promenade Park, as well as a large bar. Parking is available. Early bird tickets from £25. VIP tickets from £75.

2. EA Festival at Hedingham Castle
July 31-August 1

EA Festival seeks to invigorate the cultural scene in East Anglia by presenting exciting local luminaries alongside exceptional speakers and artists from the rest of the UK and beyond. It is hard to imagine a more idyllic setting for the festival than Hedingham Castle - the best-preserved Norman keep in the UK - yet despite the historical setting, this is one progressive event. Both in-person and livestream tickets will be available for all events and, should the need arise, in-person tickets will be converted to virtual ones. The festival features talks and panel discussions that interrogate the future of everything from meat-eating and sustainability to fashion, sex and the English language, featuring former Director of both the Royal Academy of Arts and National Gallery, Charles Saumarez Smith, music icon Evelyn Glennie, author Daisy Buchanan, model Arizona Muse and comedian Josh Berry. All-Access Day Passes are available for £95 and include parking.

3. Colchester Food & Drink Festival at Lower Castle Park
June 26-27

We love a food and drink fest almost more than we love a full-on music festival! Now in its 17th successful year set in Colchester’s beautiful Castle Park, Colchester Food & Drink Festival will feature plenty of old favourites, as well as new stalls and products to tempt you. The Pikestaff Inn real ale bar will have lots of different ciders and cold lager (you can even take a four pint growler to drink onsite or take home), while a new bar serves prosecco and the Celebrity Chef Kitchen serves up free demos all day. There will be live music too. Picnics welcome. Dogs with responsible owners welcome. Free parking in Kings Meadow. Adults £5, under 14s free. Look out for Colchester Medieval Fayre from July 31-August 1 too.

4. Estuary 2021, various locations
May 22-June 13

Take a walk along the coastline of South Essex and North Kent and you will not only be met with stunning scenery, you may also encounter contemporary artworks and performance. Estuary 2021 is a festival of art on a big scale, encompassing not only large-scale visual art, but more intimate pieces celebrating culture and creativity merging art with literature, music and film. A second edition of Thames Estuary Trail: A Walk round the End of the World by Tom King will be published to coincide with festival (launching on May 30 from Southend Pier, with readings and a walk led by Tom).

5. Essex Book Festival, various locations
June 6-August 29

Essex Book Festival 2021 is running as a hybrid festival with both in-person and digital events. The programme, themed Words Matter, will feature some 200 speakers taking part in 100 events at 40 venues across Essex, from Jaywick Martello Tower to Talliston House & Gardens and Canvey Heights. The digital launch event is not to be missed. We Need To Talk About Essex Girls will see three feisty and fearless women from Essex, Sarah Perry, Syd Moore and Sadie Hasler, will dismantle stereotypes and reshape expectations in a candid and comic discussion. There will also be eight intriguing artist-led walks, taking the festival to the great outdoors with hosts including Tom King, James Canton and Gillian Darley. Called In My Steps: Radical Walks in Essex, the series will explore the likes of Canvey Island, Marks Hall Estate, St Peter on the Wall Church and The Witches Trail from Mistley to Manningtree, all interwoven with the history and politics of the county. Plus, there will be the first ever Essex Book Camp with family writing workshops, storytelling, dance, circus, live music and drop-in family yoga sessions.

6. Tales of the Fanns Walking & Arts Festival
May 22-June 6
The Tales of the Fanns Walking & Arts Festival aims to connect local landscapes with heritage. The 185sq km of the Land of the Fanns spans towns and countryside in south west Essex and east London’s urban fringes. The festival brings together different strands of a community mapping project which began in 2019. Local communities were invited to take part in walks in the Land of the Fanns specifically to uncover the untold stories, the local legends and hidden gems that enrich and enliven communities. The project recorded 100 stories, which formed the basis for a series of walks and tales, all beautifully illustrated with 100 silk flags, costumes and characters, as well as fascinating short films and a major essay by author and social historian Ken Worpole.
Find details of the walks at landofthefanns.org

Community flag

Bob Steveson's flag Oak Wood & Ash Plantation Belhus - Credit: Photo Dick Williams

7. Thaxted Festival at Thaxted Parish Church
June 24-27 & 1-4 July 

Haven’t we all missed live music? Thaxted Festival is hosting a timeless musical experience that you may not want to miss. Performing at the beautiful parish church in Thaxted, expect to see leading artists such as Howard Shelley and members of the London Mozart Players performing Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, internationally-renowned vocal ensemble VOCES8, leading cellist Laura van der Heijden and one of jazz piano’s outstanding exponents, Darius Brubeck. 

8. Let's Rock Essex, The Retro Festival, Chelmsford
September 11

The UK's biggest retro festival returns to Essex on Saturday 11 September 2021. If you love the 80s and iconic pop anthems, then this one is for you. The line-up features the likes of Adam Ant, Howard Jones, Toyah Wilcox and Heather Small. Taking place at Kings Farm Festival Field in Chelmsford, the one-dayer let's your take in your own picnic (not your own booze though), and also has plenty of food and drink on offer within the grounds. Plus, you can upgrade your ticket for access to the posh loos. All tickets bought for 2020 remain valid for this date. Tickets from £42.

9. Chelmsford Fake Festival at Central Park 
July 3

After skipping a year, the Chelmsford Fake Festival is back with an unmissable line-up of tribute bands. This one is so popular it tours the country, so do book soon! Highlights include Flash, a Queen tribute band, The Fillers (The Killers, geddit?!), the Really Hot Chilli Peppers (you got that one, right?) and Blondied (that would be Blondie). There's also a Bowie and a P!nk tribute, as well as a licensed bar inside the marquee, food traders outside and children's rides and entertainment. Tickets from £27.50.



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