15. Dream Festivals

Now entering a second lockdown, perhaps it’s time to indulge some dreams of escape. I thought of festivals because they are the very opposite of current social distancing and restrictions on behaviour. I was lucky enough to be free and have the money to go to Glastonbury once, and also have great memories of WOMAD and The Canterbury Fayre in the 1990s-2000s.

“Here’s to the nights that turned into mornings, and the friends that turned into family” — Unknown

“What I like the most about music festivals is the atmosphere. In just a couple of days, strangers of all places and generations become friends gathered around a shared passion: music” – Juliette Hannesse

a poster for the Sziget music festival in Budapest


  1. Play a few short excerpts of music by your favourite artists – Who is this? What type of music is it? Does it sound fresh or dated? Ask students what kind of music students liked to watch live before the lockdown; they could discuss their favourite styles in the main room. It’s worth asking them if there is any kind of music they don’t like, and why not. (Be prepared to help with vocabulary at this stage – words to describe music with any precision aren’t among the most common adjectives.)
  2. Show a poster for a music festival and ask whether students have been to one. The one above is from the Budapest festival, Sziget, which takes place in August in an island in the middle of the Danube. It’s a colourful and exuberant event which is family-friendly with a wide range of music on offer. Would students go to a festival like this, or would they prefer something more edgy? 
  3. Tell students they are going to curate the line-up for a two-day music festival for next summer. They have a large enough budget to book any artists so long as they are still alive and performing (students can research using their devices which these are).
  4. To model the task, ask students to listen to this recording of my colleague Yaya and I discussing our ideal festival line-ups. They can note who we chose and the reasons we gave for our choices. The artists mentioned are: Julia Holter, Roy Harper, Michael Kiwanuka, Alpha Blondy, Damian Marley and Morgan Heritage.
Yaya and Neil present their music choices

Main Task:

  1. Students individually download and use the worksheet to list performers and artists in any category of music. If you like you can encourage individuals to focus on one style of music for one stage. To begin with, they should write down anyone they like – these can be whittled down later. 
  2. Now, in breakout rooms, which you can configure to comprise people with similar or different tastes, tell students they will first think of a name and location for their festival. Then they should share their musical choices and explain to the others in the group who they have chosen and why. Tell them that in the end they will need to agree who will be appear at the top of the bill – on each stage, if they have separate stages, and for the festival as a whole. Give a good amount of time to do this – perhaps 10 minutes.
  3. To support steps 1-2, they can use a Google document if you share the link with them in advance. Each breakout room can have a separate document, or you can assign cells in a table, clearly labelled with the room number.
  4. Early-finishing groups can continue to add to their line-ups or add some artwork to their document.
  5. In the main room, a spokesperson for each group should report back on the details of their festival, using the Google doc as a prompt. In new roles as neutral participants, all members of the class decide which festival they’d most like to go to.


You can make this a festival for all times, so no problem to book the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin or Bob Marley. You would have to push students to explain their choices in ways that aren’t bland and repetitive, however!

The task can be “modular”. You decide the name and location of your festival in the main room, and then each breakout room is dedicated to one area of the festival: the main entertainment; the food village; the craft beer tent; the global handicrafts and clothes area. Allow learners to freely move between rooms by selecting the “Let participants choose room” option.

This task can focus on different kinds of festivals: a film, book or food / cuisine festival, for instance – depending on your students’ interests.

Instead of Google Docs, you can use Jamboard e.g. https://jamboard.google.com/d/1ct2m3–eQ_BTnAOXcKtwcUihcZIiWd_aCCo0RHLi2Ew/edit?usp=sharing

Language Focus: grammar

Comparative and superlative structures: X is a much bigger draw than Y; more likely to bring people in; not quite as well-known as Z; getting better known now; the most popular.

Modal verbs / second conditional: That would be amazing to get them; They might attract a lot of people; No one would come to see them.

Quantifiers and “extreme” adjectives: They’re absolutely huge; they’re not all that great live; they’re a bit too mainstream. I think that there would be quite a lot of people who would like / there aren’t many people who / not that much interest in…. They’re too bland; they’re not well-known enough.


To describe music (a huge range) as well as the names of different styles of music here https://www.musicgenreslist.com, music can be lively, energetic, upbeat, banging, inspiring, pleasant to listen to, or harsh, grating, tuneless (etc) The nature of the task accentuates the positive ones.

To talk about combinations on the bill: X would fit well/better with Y.

To talk about tastes: I really love X; I’m (not that) into Y; I know a lot about / I’m a real connoisseur of Z. I’m a fan of classic rock / a (bit of a) metalhead / a Goth in my spare time / I don’t care that much about genre. They don’t really float my boat / do it for me. 

To talk about trends, approvingly: – They’re current / hip / They’d draw a crowd / It’s fire / It’s lit (youthful, colloquial)

To disapprove – No one likes them anymore / That’s going back a few years / That’s Boomer music! They’ve flopped.