Every year in January, a property hidden away in the South West town of Karridale transforms into a strange and wonderful circus and music celebration.

The Karnidale Circus Festival is an epic two-day camping adventure, which brings together some of the most incredible performers on the planet. The festival opened its big top 15 years ago, when juggler, unicyclist and comedian Matt ‘Fatso’ Yates turned dreams into action. Yates scouted the South West for the perfect plot of land, eventually discovering ten-acres, which he spent years developing into the perfect festival site.

“I used to live in England, and when I was growing up, I was inspired by the old English folk festivals and some of the larger festivals like Glastonbury,” Yates says.

Circus performer walking elevated tightrope

Fun for kids and grown ups

Today, Karnidale is home to four big tops, an amphitheatre, a converted double decker bus and the Dr Reg Bolton Cabaret Bar, which serve as epic stages for circus and cabaret performers, comedy acts and musicians.

The festival draws around 1500 revellers every year, with family-friendly performances and activities during the day, and adults-only entertainment after dark. There are often acts from Cirque du Soleil, as well as performers on the way to or from Glastonbury Theatre & Circus.

“Apart from Glastonbury Circus, it’s just one of the most unique festival experiences you’ll find,” says Yates. “A lot of people who come once will come back year after year after year.”

Just like Glastonbury, Karnidale showcases the music of extraordinary artists, like The Bambuseae Rhythm Section, who is just one of many bands set to play in 2022. The Aussie band is well loved for live sets brimming with everything a heaving dance floor requires.

Then there’s the eclectic market stalls, laden with curiosities, clothes and wares from talented makers. Not to mention delicious food trucks and hands-on workshops for kids, guided by Karnidale coaches who make learning new skills a blast.

“You’ll come and just go into another world,” says Yates. “There’s music happening everywhere, there’s market stalls, you can have a go at little workshops. There’s loads of great things to do and watch – from all of the family stuff during the day through to the adults only at night, there’s lots of magic this year.”

Apart from Glastonbury Circus, it’s just one of the most unique festival experiences you’ll find

Home grown talent

Karnidale has kickstarted international careers for many local performers, including young talent who hone their skills at the Lunar Circus Summer School, which is held onsite in the lead up to the festival.

“It’s a really highly respected event within the Australian circus industry, because it has spawned so many great performers,” Yates says. “A lot of those kids are off now touring the world with international companies and they’ve had the opportunity to have access to some of the awesome international artists that we invited over the years.”

Lunar Circus Summer School runs for two weeks, with coaching from world-class circus performers on purpose-built stages. Students get to showcase what have they learnt in special performances at the end of each week. There are training options for adults too, but places for all courses tend to go fast.

“The training is just fantastic, it’s awesome for the kids, they get so much out of it,” says Yates. “Then leading through to all of the actual shows during the festival for the community to enjoy, it’s all brilliant.”

Karnidale doesn’t just attract gifted performers. It’s also a space where performers get noticed.

“The organiser of the circus and theatre field for the Glastonbury Festival, he comes to our festival every year,” Yates says. “And so he sees lots of acts and lots of those acts then go and perform in the UK at Glastonbury in the summer, which is great.”

It’s a really highly respected event within the Australian circus industry, because it has spawned so many great performers

Tight rope walker

A different kind of Karnidale

As a result of COVID-related travel restrictions, Karnidale’s 2022 line-up will give centre stage to amazing local talent. This doesn’t mean the festival will be any less extraordinary.

“This year has been a bit of an anomaly with scheduling acts,” says Yates. “We can’t have any international acts unfortunately, so we’ve been focusing on the best quality interstate and Western Australian acts we can.”

Yates says he is in talks with a number of interstate acts who can currently come over, but they’ll have to wait and see what will happen with inter-state borders closer to the date of the festival.

“But as for Western Australian acts there are some great performers who are all locked in and ready and excited to be here at Karnidale.”

Get tickets to Karnidale 2022

Karnidale happens from 14 to 15 January 2022. Guests can buy weekend camping passes, or tickets for Friday or Saturday night only. There are also Priority Access tickets, which means individuals with access limitations can find a seat before the crowd.