Sweeps Festival returns to historic Rochester with music and Morris dancing this May Day bank holiday weekend

After being cancelled for two years, Sweeps Festival is finally making its long-awaited return to Rochester this May Day bank holiday weekend.

The festival, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, takes place from Saturday, April 30 to Monday, May 2 across the town centre.

Morris dancers will be taking over Rochester High Street at the Sweeps Festival this bank holiday weekend. Picture: John Westhrop
Morris dancers will be taking over Rochester High Street at the Sweeps Festival this bank holiday weekend. Picture: John Westhrop

A traditional celebration of folk music, dancing and live entertainment, the town will be transformed into a colourful parade for the three-day festivities.

Sweeps Festival kicks off on Saturday with an official opening ceremony by the Mayor of Medway Councillor Jan Aldous outside the Guildhall Museum. This will be followed by a dance showcase in the museum’s forecourt.

For those who are willing to set their alarms, it’s an early start on Sunday as the Jack-in-the-Green Awakening Ceremony takes place at 5.45am. You can join the ceremony and watch the sunrise at the Bluebell Hill picnic area.

To finish off the bank holiday weekend, the annual Sweeps procession will dance its way through the town on Monday afternoon.

Mike Billingham, Town Crier from Gillingham, led the Sweeps procession in 2019. Picture: John Westhrop
Mike Billingham, Town Crier from Gillingham, led the Sweeps procession in 2019. Picture: John Westhrop

Throughout the weekend, you will spot Morris dancers and musicians springing up all over town. From the main stage in the Castle Gardens, with the historic Rochester Castle as a backdrop, to the High Street’s many bars and venues, there will be plenty of places to catch fantastic live entertainment.

Expect to hear music from Medway favourites, touring musicians and rising stars, such as the Bounty Hounds, Tangled Elbow, Lemon and Paice, Medway Folk and Sur Les Docks.

You will also be able to browse the range of stalls in the castle grounds, which will be serving tasty food, refreshing drinks and handmade gifts from independent producers.

For those who plan to spend the weekend in town, you can also stop by Rochester Cathedral to explore the stunning Leaves of the Trees exhibition or take a guided walking tour of the fascinating historical town.

The weekend boasts a jam-packed programme of entertainment. Picture: John Westhrop
The weekend boasts a jam-packed programme of entertainment. Picture: John Westhrop

Sweeps Festival takes place from Saturday, April 30 to Monday, May 2 from 11am onwards. The event is free and no pre-booking is necessary, and you can find the full festival programme here.

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