Thought Yurts and Think Tents – Philosophy and Music in Hay-on-Wye

Written by Grant Mills on . Posted in Books, European Bazaar, Festivals, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Science, Society

Many British festivals are synonymous with the need to pack your best gumboots/wellies; Glastonbury veterans love to proudly compare the depth of mud they have slogged through for love of music.

What I didn’t expect was for my first mudslide festival to be at the world’s largest philosophy and music event.

Es Firo-4For my two days at the epic, 11-day HowTheLightGetsIn festival, rain was a constant peripheral accompaniment, but it only managed to accentuate the warmth and cosiness of the venues they have created for their fabulous buffet of musings, music and comedy.

HowTheLightGetsIn has run annually for the last five years, an initiative of the Institute of Art and Ideas (IAI) and mashes together one of the world’s premier philosophy festivals with an impressive music and comedy line up. Fittingly it’s held in the inimitable Welsh town of Hay-on Wye, the world’s largest secondhand and antiquarian book centre.

Surrounded as it is by the world’s collected knowledge, HowTheLightGetsIn is seeking to make Big Ideas sexy again, and it’s doing a compelling job. It seeks to reverse a trend that sees our society more and more obsessed with trivialities and narcissism.

Es FiroDescribed both as Europe’s answer to TED and, by the cracking young comedian Ahir Shah on the opening night, as ‘the most comfortably middle-class thing to have happen in the British Isles ever’, HowTheLightGetsIn attracts an impressive cross-section of people. Many come to sample the philosophy while soaking up the eclectic program of acoustic music. Others discover the music at their philosophy festival.

As night falls, the festival showcases the smartest comics around while the other stages attain a pulsing party feel, attracting some of the world’s best DJs. There is even a late night philosophy debate in which the crowd is a participant. Throw in gourmet food huts, delectable sit down restaurants and the reasonable, non-festivalesque prices and it’s easy to see why the popularity of the festival keeps growing.

Es Firo-2There are no large draughty auditoriums or mumbling lecturers here. Set on the grounds of what looks like an old, stately pub that has been transformed into the IAI’s headquarters, the festival’s seven stages range across intimate wooden-framed yurts to lavishly draped tents trimmed with flowers and lanterns.

Riffing across all aspects of philosophy from the Higgs Boson to the social and digital repercussions of Edward Snowden, HowTheLightGetsIn is firmly focused on dragging the public perception of philosophy into the 21st century and beyond.

With a packed schedule of debates, talks, breakfast and lunch philosophy sessions and short courses all run by the best UK and international communicators and thinkers, HowTheLightGetsIn is a tour de force of modern thought, packaged in an extremely welcoming festival atmosphere.

If good music, good laughs, and good arguments are your drug of choice then HowTheLightGetsIn might just be the best spring festival you head to this year.

Es Firo-2



When: HowTheLightGetsIn runs from the 22nd May until the 1st June 2014.

Where: Hay-on-Wye, Wales UK

How: See the website

Why: Fabulous atmosphere, pick and choose from a plethora of intellectual delights. Runs at the same time as the famous Hay Literary festival, which attracts such luminaries as Stephen Fry and Dame Judi Dench. Go to both!




Pick of the festival (well the 2 days I was there)


Climbing Trees: Quality beards backed up by swelling, endearing song writing from Wales.

Phildel: Gorgeous piano and haunting voice make for prodigious talent.


Ahir Shah: Sharp, smart comedy that accomplishes a rare level of big laughs. If you’re heading to the Edinburgh Fringe do not miss this riffing young comedian. A big future ahead of him.


Heresy, Truth and the Future – Can you have modern day heretics without an Orthodoxy? Or in our modern fractured society has the inquisition become more insidious?

Bang Goes the Big Bang – What more fundamental philosophy is there than the Big Bang. But what are the limits of the Standard Model and what will the future hold for it? Multiverses or Turtles All The Way Down…?

Es Firo-5


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Trackback from your site.

Comments (1)

Leave a Reply

Like OSW on Facebook

For more...