COMMUNITIES across Scotland should be encouraged to mark the birthday of the national bard, according to the executive producer of the world’s biggest contemporary Burns celebrations.

Graham Main began the Big Burns Supper nine years ago after discovering his home town of Dumfries had no major events planned for the occasion, despite being the final resting place of Robert Burns.

He wasn’t sure if it would be a success but the first year attracted 9000 people and has steadily grown since then.

The 11 day celebration in the rural town this year has 487 events with a predicted total audience of around 26,000 and an estimated £1.5 million boost for the local economy. Main, who has worked as a festival producer at events across the world, including the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Dublin, said he always organised Burns Suppers when he was abroad so it was “natural” to do something in his home town.

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The National: Folk pop troubadour Newton Faulkner will be at the celebrationsFolk pop troubadour Newton Faulkner will be at the celebrations

“I was quite envious of how the Irish manage to organise the big national celebration and when I was abroad I would do a Burns Supper but at home I don’t think we make enough of it – I don’t know why that is,” he said.

“We want to encourage more communities to do what we have done. We’re not making something new as his birthday has been celebrated for over 200 years but I think we have just forgotten how to celebrate it.”

He said that rather than recreate the poet’s works, the festival is based on the “bigger picture” which is bringing people together on Burns night. We wanted to create something unpredictable, imaginative and inspirational for people and I think we have stayed true to that,” he said.

“This is an isolated area but the festival represents the act of coming together which we have not invented. It was invented by those people that remembered their friend over 200 years ago. All we have done is modernise what that means.”

Although the festival is estimated to bring in £1.5m through visitor spending, Main said he had never had to use economic arguments to motivate people.

“What is really powerful is the turnover of over £1m in resources to deliver the festival and half of the events are free,” he said. “That would not happen without the local community and businesses sponsoring us. We realise that what has given the festival its magic is people coming together to make it happen.

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“Participation is at the heart of the Big Burns Supper and that is what a good Burns Supper should be. Sometimes you go to one and it is quite precious but for me there is much more enjoyment when everybody is singing and taking part. We don’t do that often enough now but we should because we are good at it. I’ve worked in festivals for years and the best are ones that allow people to be actively involved and not just in economic terms.”

He said the festival had become the biggest project of his life but producing it was “wonderful”.

“It’s like Christmas for the community,” said Main.

The National:

“Christmas is about family but this coming four weeks later allows people to touch base with the rest of the community.” The 2020 festival features performances from four-time Grammy Award winner, Keb’ Mo’, folk pop troubadour Newton Faulkner, noughties rockers Turin Brakes, electronic specialists Morcheeba (above), royal wedding stars The Kingdom Choir, plus Stornoway trio Peat and Diesel, Celtic rockers Skerryvore and rising indie-folk stars Elephant Sessions. This is on top of the wide array of local Scottish talent, family friendly events and a free Festival Hub.

There is also the home-grown cabaret Le Haggis which has received a wealth of critical acclaim and has been such a hit that Main has been invited to take it abroad to Australia and Asia.

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This year it features Celtic rock from house band Face the West, alongside variety acts from across the globe under the direction of internationally renowned artist, performer, director and producer Empress Stah.

Brand new for this year’s festival is the addition of Family Le Haggis, bringing all that is bizarre from the cabaret show but suitable for audiences young and old.

Brexit day is marked on January 31 as part of Europa Picnic – a farewell to Europe – when the local community will join forces with artists, poets and songwriters to pen a community wide poem, marking the UK’s potential last days as part of the European Union. Audiences will also be able to take part online.

“This year’s festival heralds the start of a new decade, with redefined borders throughout Europe, and collaboration is a key theme with lot of sessions featuring different artists playing together,” said Main. “Perhaps where politicians have failed, artists and communities might make more sense out of the last couple of years.”

The festival runs until February 2