Was it the best ever Festival?

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With Carnival and the Music & Arts Festival over for another year, it's always tempting to compare the weekend's entertainment with previous years. The weather may not have been too kind, except for Saturday, but at least the forecast rain on Carnival day held off. The weather apart, there's plenty of evidence that this was the best yet.

There was a greater variety on offer, thanks in part to the introduction of drama into the programme this year with the very successful performance by the Nantwich Players on Saturday evening. A good audience turned up and the Players' acting was of the highest order. The art on display was superb too. Controversial in parts, yes, but pushing the boundaries should always be welcome. It was good to see works being bought right up to the last moment which should help encourage the artists to exhibit again.

As we've come to expect, the music on offer was of the highest order. It was helped by having not one, but two 'new' pubs hosting events. The newly refurbished Bridge Inn had only re-opened a few days earlier so it was a fantastic effort to see the new team taking on the challenge of live music in their very first week. So to the White Lion in Hankelow. Again, it's only just back in business under new management and yet they joined the Festival for the first time. The Coffee Lounge was also a new venue, and coffee and live music was a wonderful way for many to start the day. It was good to have some 'Classix' too at the Scout Hall.

The out-door stage at the Lord Combermere, with the 'Beer Shack' and precautionary marquee two brilliant new ideas, was a huge success. It gave the Festival a really strong presence in the middle of the village and much of the music was awesome. Who will ever forget Festival newcomers Murphy's Marbles on Sunday — to see so many leaping to the feet and dancing to their rendition of 'Fairytale of New York' was fantastic — and it was the first Christmas number of the year in Audlem — sheer genius! So too was the invitation to the young bands — the faces on the audience, and the band members, as the youngest band in Audlem, The Strangers stepped on stage was magical.

From the opening performance by the children of St James' school in the Church, Festival favourites and locations like Blues Alley were on top form too. It would be unfair to pick any out, for the whole programme bristled with talent. One newcomer deserves a mention, however: the bass playing of Neil Simpson in the Shroppie Fly on Sunday evening will be talked about for a very long time.

Finally, a word about the organisition. Bands came and departed like clockwork, or so it seems. It was a very small army of volunteers who were constantly carrying around, setting up and managing the equipment. The Festival simply wouldn't happen if it wasn't for their enthusiasm, dedication and sheer stamina. Most of the team were also performing much of the weekend so it was an incredible effort.

The Festival's reputation is now such that people came from far and wide. We heard Australian, Geordie, Welsh and Scottish accents. A team came from Ireland — dressed in Heavy Weather tee-shirts too! And locals turned out in huge numbers. It must have boosted local business tremendously. For everyone, it was a stunning weekend and, yes, in the exhausting euphoria of it all, we hope you will agree with Audlem Online's verdict — Yes, it has to be the best ever!