Bristol Harbour Festival

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Bristol’s flagship event, the Bristol Harbour Festival returns to the city on the 21st to 23rd July featuring familiar favourites, new attractions and filling the harbour with two miles of vessels, food markets, circus acts, live music and performers.

Showcasing the city’s incredible maritime heritage, the historic floating harbour takes pride of place during the weekend, celebrating its rich history will free, family-friendly activity programmed on the water’s edge.

This year highlights include three visiting tall ships, all returning home to their registered port of Bristol, the Kaskelot, Earl of Pembroke and the Phoenix as well as the three-day Western Boat Show showcasing a large selection of boats, ranging from yachts, powerboats and canal boats to ribs.

The festival will open with an incredibly special ticketed outdoor concert with the Outlook Orchestra, featuring Roots Manuva to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Colston Hall and will close with a live finale performance by the Bristol Ensemble as they float along the Harbour to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Handel’s Water Music.

Stretching from Underfall Yard on Cumberland Road to the city centre and onto Castle Park, there will be something for everyone from dance, food markets, live bands, demonstrations, family entertainment and daredevil stunts.

 The festival, the city’s free flagship family and cultural event, has grown to become Bristol City Council’s largest event. It showcases the city’s talent and heritage, promotes the city as an attractive place to live or visit, boosts the local economy and is accessible to diverse communities as well as being economically and environmentally sustainable.

So what’s happening and where? Here’s our guide to the different areas of the Bristol Harbour Festival



 Following Friday’s night ticketed event, the Lloyd’s Amphitheatre will become the free festival’s main music hub in partnership with Ujima and BCFM on Saturday and Sunday with its natural acoustics helping performers put on a fantastic show. This year will see the stage bring music from all round the world to Bristol from Latin vibes and gypsy swing right through to West African dance music.

Opening the stage on Saturday 22 July, Elpidio Alegria & The Dockside Latin Orchestra will perform a lively cocktail of salsa, mambo and cumbia dance tunes. Joining them will be funk, afrobeat and soul hop from Soul Jazz Grooves followed by a helping of ska from the Baghdaddies. You can’t have a Harbour Festival and not sing songs of the sea, and the Frampton Shantymen will be bringing just that to the Amphitheatre. Saturday highlights also include the UK’s top trombonist Dennis Rollins who will be joined by saxophonist James Morton and voice Tanya Lacey for a truly talented trio.

Kicking off Sunday’s programme of music will be spanish guitarist The Flamenco Thief, followed by brass band Dakhla Brass who mix world sounds with our own British brass band tradition. Gypsy swing favourites Moscow Drug Club will be bringing a new latino sound following a sell out success at this year’s Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival. Finishing the music packed weekend the party friendly RSVP will be bringing Bhangra rhythms for a crowd-pleasing showmanship and high energy performances to close the show.


On the water

Bristol’s maritime heritage will be at the heart of the Harbour Festival as it’s history is celebrated on the waters of the Floating Harbour and the Bathurst Basin, next to the Louisiana. From familiar sights such as the Matthew, ss Great Britain and the city’s colourful ferries to the many visiting tall ships and leisure craft, the waters will be awash with colour and activity.

This years highlights include three impressive tall ships sailing into the Harbour, The Kaskelot, The Earl of Pembroke and the Phoenix who are all returning home to their registered port of Bristol. They will be joined by The Royal Navy’s Hunt Class Ship alongside two Archer Class P2000s, The Royal Navy’s fast training boats.

An exciting addition to this year’s festival is the Western Boat Show which will display a huge selection of both inland and offshore boats ranging from yachts, power boats, canal boats to ribs. Alongside the super yachts will be some impressive cardboard creations, with the cardboard boat race returning for its seventh year as teams race across the docks using only cardboard to propel themselves.

This year’s Bristol Harbour Festival will conclude with a 45-minute performance of Handel’s Water Music in the Floating Harbour at 5.30pm on Sunday 23 July. The Bristol Ensemble will perform on a flotilla of boats, with flares marking the finale beside Brunel’s SS Great Britain. The dramatic performance will mark the 300th anniversary of the first legendary performance of the famous piece.

Castle Park

Daredevil stunts, high quality circus, comedy street theatre and activities for children and families and will be on offer in Castle Park thanks to Bristol’s own Cirque Bijou, transforming it into a highly accessible and exciting place for families to enjoy a range of free performances and activities.

Don’t miss the huge array of top quality circus and street theatre that Cirque Bijou have expertly programmed for your enjoyment. Expect dynamic aerial acrobatics from world class artist Augusts Dakteris, rotating aerial hoop master Blaze Tarsha and Korri Aulakh on the swinging trapeze. The Bristol based internationally respected Circomedia centre for circus-theatre training will also showcase performers from the Youth Circus, BTEC, FdA , BA and evening classes. These top class performers will be joined by a range of circus acts including strong lady Betty Brawn, international comedy acrobats Head First and the festival favourite – Desperate Men’s Balloon Toss!

Alongside the circus stage, Cirque Bijou present a range of performance, activities and games for children and young people – from accessible circus workshops to wacky bikes, messy play to slacklining, a new storytelling tent (with BSL interpretation) and even the annual Baby Race. With support from Arts Council England, Cirque Bijou have been able to ensure the circus and families programmes are accessible and diverse, and that children of all ages are catered for.

Cirque Bijou’s programme will be joined in Castle Park by the rebranded Poetry stage. Expect variety and quality in equal measure, programmed by local poet and wordsmith Rebecca Tantony. There is plenty of talent to marvel at in Castle Park, so sit back, relax and enjoy the madness!


Queen Square

This year Queen Square will once again host the dance area but for 2017 the focus is all on participation. Working with dance community groups and art organisations across the city, a massive dance floor will be installed in Queen Square allowing Bristol’s dancers to showcase their skills and invite the public to overcome any two left feet concerns and experience a feel good moment of uncomplicated happiness.

 Surrounded by the ever-popular continental food and craft market, the dance area will offer a great mixture of styles and performances to create an A to Z of participatory dance from African dance to Zumba.


Bristol Plays Music

A great place to hear the future sounds of Bristol, discover something new and maybe even be inspired yourself, the Bristol Plays Music stage on Welshback will celebrate some of the unsung talent the city has to offer. The music education hub for the city, Bristol Plays Music makes sure every young person has the chance to express themselves and at this year’s Harbour Festival will be celebrating a diverse range of music with an eclectic mix of styles and genres.

On Saturday the stage will showcase talent from Basement, Knowle West Media Centre, Creative Youth Network, Trinity and Aspiration Creation Elevation CIC. On Sunday it will be the turn of the local music college’s to take over with performances from students at BiMM, Access to Music and Dbs.


 Cascade Steps

Acoustic Music will once again be at the heart of the Floating Harbour as Jelli Records present their Cascade Steps programme hosting a multitude of great local acts. As ever, this will be exciting and diverse with acts from folk country favourites The Shillings right through to the electronic pop of Knowle West’s Makala Cheung. Expect blues soul and jazz from Lady Nade, immense drums and crowd pleasing antics from Funkinsteins and a rock n roll attitude from the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

The Steps will also be showcasing young emerging acoustic talent from singers such as Susie Dobson, Isabella Alford and Pritta who is currently recording her debut EP.  Closing the Cascade steps this year is The Rosa Gray Band who are guaranteed to get you up and dancing with their upbeat jazzy-pop soul originals sound.



This Bristol landmark doubles up on the fun again this year with two stages – Dockside and Cargo Hold. For the fifth year running, visitors can watch and listen to melancholic pop, acoustic classics and indie rock with an English folk twist on the outdoor Dockside stage. Head below deck to the Cargo Hold for a stage filled with everything from funk filled dream pop and grunge psych to hauntingly beautiful songwriters that can be enjoyed until sundown.
Grain Barge

Hop on the cross-harbour ferry from Brunel’s ss Great Britain, or take a stroll down Hotwell Road, to the much-loved Grain Barge, where you’ll find horn fuelled skiffle-punk, modern country and sophisticated chamber rock performers take to the stage. This year, there’s an outside bar, street food and kids craft activities. Saturdays line up includes energetic performances from The Man & The Lake, La Trappistine and Dry White Bones followed by Sunday blues performances from Thomas Ford, Goodrich and B Moody & the Sky Pilots. When the outside stage finishes there’s live music in the Hold Bar until 11.30pm.

The Festival is managed and produced on behalf of Bristol City Council by Bristol based Richmond Event Management (REM)

For more information on corporate hospitality opportunities on the tall ships, trade and exhibition space or sponsorship opportunities please contact

For more information see, @Bristolharbfest and

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