Night Festival draws 500,000

The Singapore Night Festival literally ended with a bang last Saturday, and the verdict is out: Although the rain was a dampener, it did not seem to drown the spirits of visitors who came in throngs.

Rain fell on the outdoor festival in the Bugis and Bras Basah areas last Friday night. Nonetheless, the festival, which was held over two weekends from Aug 22 to 30, drew a crowd of just more than half a million this year, slightly more than last year's visitorship of half a million.

While human traffic jams had been a problem in previous editions of the seven-year-old festival, executive Charmaine Chan, 43, was not worried about the crowds. She went on the last night with her two children - aged six and nine - as well as her husband and mother-in-law.

"Everything is spread out, so it's not too crowded. I was more worried about it raining," says Mrs Chan, adding that they had attended the previous weekend as well.

Despite the bigger crowd, this year's festival felt less congested because the acts were spread out across a wider area. New venues such as Cathay Green - in front of The Cathay along Bras Basah Road - and the Armenian Church, helped to spread the crowds out. Auxiliary police were also on hand to help facilitate pedestrians crossing in the vicinity.

"It is amazing to see Singaporeans young and old coming out to support the festival and truly calling it their own," says festival director Angelita Teo, 42.

On Friday night, it rained heavily from 8 to 9pm, forcing organisers to postpone performances such as American artist and inventor William Close's Earth Harp, which transformed the National Museum of Singapore into a larger-than-life harp, and Austrian collective Phoenix's aerial shows outside the National Museum of Singapore.

A music performance by home-grown pop band Lost Weekend at SMU Green was also delayed.

Some of the Night Lights installations, such as Divine Trees by Clement Briend - with projections of Buddha on the trees next to the National Museum - and Spirits Of Nature, which transformed the facade of the Singapore Art Museum into a canvas of cobblestones and creeping vines, were also stopped for the safety of festivalgoers.

When Life! visited after the rain subsided, it seemed that the crowds had re-emerged, with a healthy number gathering to watch first-time festival act Singapore Pro Wrestlers "fight" in Armenian Street.

At the Festival Village at Cathay Green and SMU Green, where the grounds were muddy post-rain, the festival acts drew smaller crowds. However, local musicians The Stoned Revivals were greeted with an enthusiastic crowd on both days last weekend.

Ms Wywy Yeo, 33, a public relations consultant, says: "I last saw them more than 10 years ago. They sounded as good now as they did then, so my visit paid off despite the mud."

For the second year in a row, Armenian Street was closed to traffic and became an enclave for the Block Party, an area filled with eclectic programming ranging from the wrestling act to the sounds of Peranakan music alongside punk bands to free durian giveaways by The Substation arts centre.

That the festival was "curated into distinct zones that had their unique vibe" found favour with visitors such as Mr Keith Premchand, 23, a graphic design student, who went on both weekends with his girlfriend. He singled out "the wilder performances on Armenian Street" and "the more family-oriented pieces at the Festival Village".

The Festival Village, with its diverse mix of food and drink offerings and dedicated music programming, was a welcome inclusion. Beanbags and outdoor seating areas gave the area a relaxed feel and visitors a place to rest.

While feedback for the festival this year has been mostly positive, there was a furore online on Sunday when animal welfare groups SPCA, Cat Welfare Society and Voices For Animals circulated a flyer on Facebook from an event held during the festival period which seemed to promote the killing of stray cats.

The flyers turned out to be from an interactive performance by artist collective Vertical Submarine, which was part of an exhibition titled Eville at ArtSpace 222 in Queen Street. Although not technically part of the Night Festival, it was held in the vicinity of other festival acts.

The satirical exhibition, which explored the themes of evil in society, also included flyers which encouraged other vices such as lying and wasting food.

"The flyers were not distributed to the public for the purpose of advocacy, but scattered as part of the performance. We do not advocate or condone the killing of stray cats. On the contrary, we are pleased that the issue of cat abuse is highlighted," read a Facebook statement issued by the artists on Sunday night.

SPCA and Cat Welfare Society have since posted clarifications on their pages, although they both called for more mature discourse regarding cat abuse.

Nonetheless, there were plenty of festival favourites this year, including the wrestlers with their hammed-up theatrics outside The Substation.

"It felt like watching the WWE. It's something different. You don't see something like this every day," says Singapore Institute of Management graduate Pipop Chaisieng, 25, who went with five friends last Friday.

WWE stands for World Wrestling Entertainment, an American company which presents popular televised professional wrestling shows.

Besides festival headliner William Close, whose performance ended the festival with fireworks, and Phoenix's aerial stunts, Briend's low-key projections of Buddha was another crowdpleaser. Many whipped out their cameras to capture the ethereal images.

"They were equal parts stunning and calming. I haven't seen anything like them before," says consultant Varun Ponnuru, 25, a permanent resident here.

It seems like with more venues, the biggest complaint was, well, not really a complaint: Ms Faezah Kamsani, 26, an assistant marketing manager, wishes that she had more time.

"It's definitely bigger and grander than previous years. I went for three nights and I didn't manage to see everything because there were too many things to see."

This article was first published on Sep 3, 2014.
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