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Jack in the Green performers participated from the comfort of their own homes!Virtual Jack in the Green proves worldwide success

May Day means Jack in the Green, but in the era of coronavirus the festival had to go virtual. It proved a rip-roaring success, with viewers and participants joining in from around the world, JitG chair of trustees Keith Leech told Nick Terdre. Below HOT’s music correspondent Brian Hick describes the novel experience of joining in the fun from his living room. Screenshots by Erica Smith – there are more below Brian’s piece.

“It was utterly superb, it exceeded all our expectations in every way,” Keith said. “Looking at the number of Facebook hits and all the Facebook engagements across JitG and Isolation Station, there were 20,000 people watching.

“We know there were people from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Shetland, Canada, the US. And some people have said, ‘Can you please do that every year so we can go!’”

Jack in the Green in the era of coronavirus.

This year the organisers asked people to dress up, decorate their homes and join in  on Zoom – 800 signed up. Keith and Dan Matthews from Isolation Station did the technical organising and Keith’s wife Heather anchored the event on Saturday night and on Sunday.

Sunday’s event was a real marathon, running for more than five hours from the release of the Jack through to his slaying, which was preceded by a collective banging of drums for the NHS.

Along the way there were live performances from across the town and further afield, including a special dance from the NHS front lines, morris dancing, drumming from the likes of Section Five, Raven Drummers and Sambalanco, and music from such as Blakeley & Son, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band with John Spiers and the Edgelarks, Rattlebag and Jo and Paul Dengate.

There were appearances from all over, Keith said, including one guy in Canada and another, a local man, who was stuck in New Zealand. “We had one person playing a tune in one house and dozens of people morris dancing on their own in other houses.”

NHS charities sere the beneficiaries. So far £3,257 has been raised for them. Donations can still be made.

On the hoof

For the production team it was the first time, and they flew on a wing and a prayer. But it all went well, and there were no glitches apparent to those watching. “It was all done on the hoof,” Keith said. “There was plenty of pre-planning, but when you try and bring 800 people together on a live show – imagine what it was like! Incredible that you can produce a show from 800 locations.”

A virtual barn dance on the Saturday night provided a practice run. “We had people dancing with make-believe partners, or teddy bears, or their own partners. And it worked – it was like you were in the real thing.

“It took everybody’s mind off everything, they were just having a good time. It was an exciting experience just playing some folk music over the internet and watching people jigging around in their living room.”

Left in no doubt of the popularity of the festival around the world, the organisers now have to answer calls to make future editions available to a worldwide audience.

“We’ll look at doing a video broadcast of the festival in future, we’ve just got to work out how to do it,” Keith said. “We always knew there were people around the world who loved it. Someone in Germany told me, ‘I always wanted to come and I’ve finally done it, without leaving my home.’”

Jack in the Green from the living room

For most of the years since the celebrations restarted in 1983, writes HOT’s music correspondent  Brian Hick, we’ve tried to take part. I can recall basking in spring sunshine, escaping the wind as soon as we had got our leaves safely collected from the slain Jack, and even joining the procession in full costume. But this year was very different – yet in the long run just as memorable.

All togged up and nowhere to go: Brian and Sally Hick were among the 800 who joined in the festivities via Zoom.

We caught up with the drumming online on Saturday morning, and then joined the ceilidh on Saturday evening. This was led as if we were all there in one place and ready to form square sets, circles and stars as appropriate. A strange experience at first, with the dances called in full, but we soon got acclimatised and by the end of the evening felt as tired as if we’d been dancing with a full company. It is surprising just how energetic you can be even within your own living room.

The lock-down has brought many of us into regular contact via Zoom, so it was no surprise to find we were using the same system on Sunday over the six hours or so from the release of the Jack to the slaying. We donned our regular costumes and had picked greenery for the front of the house as well as leaves to scatter when the Jack was slain.

The links online worked with surprising ease, and we even had our own moment of fame when Heather called us up, alongside many from far further afield. I gather there were up to 800 people involved across the day, which may have been fewer than we might have encountered on the West Hill, but a wonderful cross-section of those who have been faithful supporters for many years.

The Morris worked surprisingly well and the drumming spectacularly so, and if the slaying was not quite as exciting as usual we surely felt that Summer had duly been released again, and our leaves were there to prove it. Next year, hopefully, we will be back on the hill, but until then sincere thanks to all who made the weekend so special and memorable for all of us.

Videos of the virtual Jack in the Green can be seen on the Traditional Jack in the Green FB page and the Isolation Station FB page (keep scrolling down).

Posted 12:50 Sunday, May 10, 2020 In: Festivals

2 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Millie

    I watched from Kazakhstan, it was fantastic!
    Joined in with a carnival on my tiny balcony. Though a local I work abroad during Jack in the Green season, so would love it to be broadcast in some way again!

    Comment by Millie — Monday, May 11, 2020 @ 14:51

  2. Bevali Francis

    I noticed you missed out that thousands of people from Frockupfriday.com. Dressed up for the occasion ! People from all over the world came together to celebrate Hastings Jack in the Green and had never heard of it before. It’s worth having a look at just how Fabulous folk dressed up and so many have commented they now want to visit Hastings at the next JITG.

    Comment by Bevali Francis — Monday, May 11, 2020 @ 09:22

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