You Write The Reviews: Birmingham ArtsFest 2008, Various venues

5.00

Birmingham's hugely successful ArtsFest, now in its 11th year and held last weekend, has become the UK's biggest free arts festival, and this year there were more than 4,000 performers taking part in 27 hours of non-stop entertainment.

It opened on Friday afternoon with a night-carnival parade that wound its way from New Street to Victoria Square. The wet weather might have extinguished the fire artists' performance, but it didn't dampen the spirits of the city's Irish pipes and drums and the samba band Oya Batucada. As the procession approached the town hall, the sounds of Rio merged with bhangra rhythms as the ever-popular Dhol Blasters took to the stage.

Other performances on Friday night included a DJ set from Manga, hip-hop and nu jazz from the locally based jazz saxophonist and rap artist Soweto Kinch, music from the home-grown band the Sub Ensemble, and Maylight, a new project led by the alto saxophonist Mary Wakelam.

For pure visual brilliance, the highlight was the spectacular projection on to the Council House. We were mesmerised by the transformation of the Grade II-listed building as a variety of images swept across its length. An image of sleeting rain, shortly followed by a tall ship, seemed especially appropriate as we sheltered under umbrellas.

Other weekend highlights included performances by a number of members of Town Hall Associate Artists, including the inspirational female vocal quintet Black Voices and the BBC Big Band showcase, conducted by Barry Forgie. Once again, Classical Fantasia brought the Birmingham Royal Ballet, the CBSO and the Birmingham Opera Company to one stage.

From street dance to salsa, choirs and capoeira and everything else in between, ArtsFest jam-packs the artistic, cultural and musical diversity of my home city into a wonderful weekend event. Everything is free, none of the performances can be pre-booked and almost all of the performances last just 30 minutes. It's a format that works brilliantly for people who just want a taste of something new, and for families, such as ours, who want to show their children what Birmingham's rich melting pot has to offer.

Sam Lloyd. Full-time mum, Birmingham

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