Chester Live Street Festival: Brook Street’s own little carnival

by Sam Warrenger
Chester Live 2018 Brook Street Festival

Taking a break from the big festivals last weekend and back at home near Chester, we headed into town to check out the Chester Live Street Festival.

The free event is a revival of the old Brook Street Carnival, which ceased several years ago. Having been organised solely by two volunteers from a local community group, the carnival grew too large for its operational requirements to be met.

Now part of the ‘Chester Live!’ brand, the festival has the backing of local event management firm Music Is Now.

This year, Chester Live was comprised of four days of live music at just shy of 20 venues across the city. Sunday’s street festival concluded the event with two stages of live music from midday to 9pm.

Organisers have since told local press that they experienced a bit of a lull during the England – Panama world cup game, which kicked off at 1pm. We were part of this, watching the crushing 6-1 defeat in the excellent Brewhouse & Kitchen before making the short walk to Brook Street.

The England game and the glorious weather probably added to the appeal of the day. It certainly helped draw loads of mates into town for the day at the promise of an expected England win followed by a street festival basked in sunshine.

Chester Live Street Festival Main Stage
Looking down Brook Street into the festival

The reported attendance of 11,500 nearly doubled the 6,000 at the first Chester Live Street Festival last year. A seriously impressive number for any live music event in Chester or elsewhere. It’s a testament to the efforts of those that have both revived the event and worked to promote Chester’s cultural scene.

The main stage takes pride of place at the top of Brook Street, just off the roundabout by the new bus station, conveniently sandwiched between two pubs. The Stanley Arms and St Werburgh’s Parish Centre stand at the top of the street serving festival-goers in plastic cups throughout the day.

Merely a few doors down the road from this is the acoustic second stage, snugly within a car park off James Street. Again it’s right next to a pub, this time the Olde Cottage. Further drinking options included prosecco stalls and temporary bars, one in the form of a fire engine. 

Brook Street also hosts several convenience stores, and whilst the Spar is nothing to get excited about, the Polish food store opposite is exceptional. They also have a massive selection of cheap, strong continental lager, and their £1.25 cans of 6% Perla went down a treat.

Exploring the festival on Chester’s most ethnically diverse street, we quickly stumbled across the stall of Chester Flat Earth Group. A somewhat gammony bloke seemed to be straining himself somewhat as he lamented his points to a small but attentive audience.

Chester Live: Chester Flat Earth Group
Chester Flat Earth News – Edition One

He pleaded with passers-by to ‘do some research’ for themselves. Presumably in the form of Youtube videos backed by spooky music, packed with transitions reading “expand your horizons” clearly made in Windows XP Movie Maker.

That’s what makes up the majority of their website anyhow.

In a short chat, he explained to us why gravity is a lie and handed us a copy of the Chester Flat Earth News, edition one.

Between the two stages, the street was lined with traders. Some of these were permanent Brook Street offerings that had opted to run a stall outside their front doors.

This meant a welcome reprieve from the £6 ‘Gourmet Hot-Dog’ vans found at most festivals, as independent Brook Street traders set up gazebos with sizzling barbeques and awesome local street food. Some reported a 200% increase in sales, which is expected to be followed by an ongoing boost in trade as happened last year.

Chester Live Street Festival
The main stage hidden behind a tree, as seen from across the main road.

We spent most of the day at the main stage, albeit usually hiding from the sun against the wall of The Stanley Arms. There was a great friendly atmosphere from start to finish, with an involved audience dancing along to each act.

The main stage offered a beautifully intimate performance space, overlooked on both sides by typically Chester Tudor-style buildings. The placement of the stage and the trees behind it did an impressive job of blocking out the main road behind it, such that you’d forget it was there.

That said, despite the drastic shift in the surrounding architecture, the acoustic stage off James Street wasn’t bad either. We took a break from the main stage for Eli S Star & Sarah Beth’s set, which featured not one but two renditions of Marilyn Manson classics. Both somewhat smoother than when we saw him perform them himself at Download Festival a few weeks ago.

Chester Live Street Festival
Eli S Star & Sarah Beth on the acoustic stage

On this year’s experience, Chester Live Street Festival seems to quickly be becoming an absolute highlight in Chester’s cultural calendar.

Hopefully, the revived Brook Street Carnival will continue to go from strength to strength, with all of the associated benefits for local traders, acts, and the wider community. Most of all, those festival-goers lucky enough to enjoy the free event year on year.

Though being a free event, it relies on the support of the community, and this year made a £1,500 loss. It seems that hiring stages, closing roads, employing security, and the countless other costs add up.

With plans for an even bigger and even better event in 2019, the organisers have launched a crowdfunding page on JustGiving to raise money towards the costs.

Chester Live have also posted this short video with highlights from the day on their YouTube channel:

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