I didn't realise festivals could exhibit love. I mean festivals are inanimate, yet coming away from Fairport's Cropredy Convention (for the first time) I'm struck by how much of a loved event it is.
It's loved by the audience, who on hearing I'm new are eager to discover what I think of it. It's loved by the bands (though playing to such a huge stationary crowd must also be an attraction), and it's loved by Fairport themselves who are clearly touched by this year being a sell out year. It's also loved by the traders we speak to, the musicians we rub shoulders with, the families we camp by, and the old guys across the fire lane from our van who turn up on Triumphs. It's also loved by the river folk, the local traders, the pub landlord, and the villagers I speak to.
Nearly everyone I speak to has been before, I only find one other 'Cropredy virgin' like myself who is in agreement and delighted how friendly everyone is. At this point I'm unsure, I'm tall and imposing, I guess, and I find people tend to not start conversations until I do. He tells me that it's my 'look', and I'm an exception. I think he's being nice.
His mention of look, makes me realise I stick out, I'm not in folk uniform, I'm wearing a Glastonbury T-shirt rather than a folk band shirt, old Cropredy shirt, band playing over the weekend/Pink Floyd shirt, or folk festival shirt. Nearly everyone in the crowd appears to have the 'Cropredy look', though once the rain/evening sets in everyone looks much more the standard festival types in their coats. There's lots of leather hats, with feathers, and kilt wearing. I don a wacky hat, and buy a limited edition festival shirt for £15, and more folks start talking to me, and from then on I'm part of the Cropredy community.
The festival has been around for a while now, this being the 34th anniversary, and clearly they've perfected what they're doing, and resolved any issues any festival goer may have had a long time ago. I can't find anything to fault about it, good choice of food, good facilities, good provision for the disabled, good line-up choices - all good.
The festival hosts only one main stage and a giant sloping bowl of a field that's full pretty much all day. There was also the small Oxford Radio stage which hosted short acoustic sessions between acts.
I thought this would be a festival for old folk, and whilst in my dotage I'll probably be a regular as it's so easy, I was surprised at the mix of age ranges. Despite the sedate pace and one main stage it's not just firmly attracting the grey hair brigade, there's kids, teens, young couples, and dogs, lots of dogs. I rather like the canines being about, they're all well behaved, and seem happy to be there. My mind is less made up when at the end of the night I see how tired and confused they are walking back to their beds in the campsite in the dark, then realise most owners have taken the dogs back before nightfall.
The kids too look a bit exhausted, and whilst there's not loads for them to do, there's enough to keep them occupied. Great storytellers for the little folk with tales about how bears lost their long tails, puppet shows about white horses, a play area, and best of all sticker label fun. A whole load of supermarket goods labels to create things with, simple, but hours of fun.
Our bed was also a fair distance away, we parked up in the furthest field (7d) possible from the main stage, but even so it wasn't too much of a walk, it took us nearly 20 minutes to walk into the arena, along good paths, over a bridge and whilst being happily acknowledged by the many (mainly Welsh) stewards. That time was doubled at the end of the night when thousands of us all had to cross a tiny bridge 3 people wide. Even so the banter was terrific from those in the queues and it flowed constantly if slowly. The festival shout of 'Allen' has evolved here into precipitating a whole hilarious sketch, that is repeated like a scene from Monty Python.
Once back at our beds, there was the rare bonus of camping next to your car, with small campervans in the same field, something newer festivals don't offer but here as it's not been a problem, it continues to happen. The bonus for us in vans with no 'en suite' is that as we're in the same field as tents there are plenty of clean loos.
We're also in the same field as many of the artists with Blackbeard's Tea Party camped behind us, the nights are clear when we return home, and we sit up having a drink and a quiet chat, there are babies sleeping in the tents either side of us. A walk about the camping field reveals enclaves of late night revellers, telling humorous tales of festivals passed, and passing the bottle and smokes around the fire.
Out in the field, each morning an extended Callum's Coffee stall is the campsite cafe and offer us pig based and veggie breakfasts, and strong coffee, cakes and more at reasonable prices. There's also proper breakfasts on offer just down the road at various village venues including the primary school, to fuel us up whilst we wait for the arena gate to swing open.
In the arena food was expensive it seemed to us, with us paying £20 for two evening meals on the first night. After that we were more astute, and just ate at Leon's Vegetarian place offering delicious stew at a more reasonable £4, and a fantastic plate of salad that could feed 2 at £9. Other meals we liked included Oggie Pasties, and the Caribbean doing jerk pork, rice and peas for £5. Even the coffee prices were expensive ranging from a reasonable £1.50 to a wallet stinging £3.
Beer was reasonable and the queues short, we went first for the 4 pint offerings in plastic bottles at £16. I was delighted to see proper Old Rosie cider, alongside the gassy Stowford Press, plus a couple of tasty Wadsworth special festival real ales, a Corvus stout, and Tuborg lager.
There were also a large number of tankard carriers who prefered them to the plastic glasses on offer. With these and all the empty 4 pinters I was expecting a sea of rubbish but no, during the daylight hours at least the field remained litter free (thanks in part to Ron's Crew - the litter pickers).
I'm not used to the layout and assume all the fields around are campsites, only to be told on the final evening there's a real ale festival offering more ales and ciders for £3.50 a pint including Gun Dog Ales in the field beside the arena. Of course the fact I'm a 'Cropredy virgin' could mean this information is a wind up.
I'm also not used to a festival where there's just one main stage, were you can put your chairs down and relax all day in your spot. However we didn't come with suitable low backed chairs, and I can't believe we actually talked about buying chairs at one point, we didn't have to sit in them they would reserve a space for the whole day. This is the only festival I've been to where people are running, sprinting when gates open to secure the best site within the marked out seating area. We opt for the sitting in the grass option and are able to do so all weekend, apart from the Friday night when it rains throughout The Australian Pink Floyd's set.
The line-up was much more enjoyable than I thought it would be and introduced me to a couple of new acts. My highlights were the main acts that attracted me to attend this year - the captivating as ever The Travelling Band, Treetop Flyers (an emotional song to lead singer Reid Morrison's dead father had us all in tears), and a fantastic guitar masterclass with the unassuming Al Stewart accompanied by Dave Nachmanoff, and Tim Renwick, and Al's a good raconteur too, and the king of name dropping.
I'm also really impressed by my first viewings of Churchfitters, Benjamin Folke Thomas, Reg Meuross, Blackbeard's Tea Party, and even regular Richard Digance (I think the talk of the government's response to the winter flooding had me on board). All were acts I'd happily see again. These augmented by top notch shows by Marillion (surprisingly good), The Waterboys, The Wonder Stuff, Edwina Hayes, Deborah Rose, and Cara Dillon meant I went away having enjoyed some excellent talent. The only downside personally was Chas & Dave - the first time I've ever had to put my fingers in my ears. I wasn't in the UK in their hayday and just don't get it - gertcha tinkle tinkle - what's that about?
However I also enjoyed all three headliners The Waterboys, The Australian Pink Floyd (so much so I like much of the audience remained despite the rain) and our hosts Fairport Convention (first time I've seen them), and that final moment of crowd bonding 'Meet On The Ledge'. All festivals put on by bands need a theme tune - Levellers have 'Beautiful Day', and Blyth Power have 'Better to Bat'.
The real surprise was how much of the Fringe Festival there is away from the 'big field' - the pubs also have acts playing with The Duckworths appearing in the Red Lion which was also host to the last ever gig by a 79 year old local legend, whose name escapes me. While The Brasenose offered Benjamin Folke Thomas, Leatherat, Wille and The Bandits, The Proof, and more.Robert Plant is also wandering about one of the bands in the Red Lion reveals, whilst we wait for them to play.
The open spaces along the canal side were packed, the young juniors from the Canoe Club offered us a competition to complete as we lazed in the sun beside the gravestones. Around the site were clothing, instrument, and record stores, appearances and signings with the likes of Ashley Hutchings, and local arts from Tree Pirates, and vintage album and poster artist Peter E Pracownik, among others.
There were also narrow boats selling their wares, and a whole buzz to the place, I wonder how many people in the big field that were there for the first time were unaware of all this other festival. Plus whole areas of the village have been yarn bombed - covered in random knitting - making it seem a bit Royston Vaisey to me.
The best thing about the festival was it ran Thursday to Saturday, which confused the hell out of me all weekend, as I'm used to festival time running Friday to Sunday. It meant the journey home was much easier for us with the roads quiet. We missed the cricket match on the Sunday, and listened to all the new CDs I'd bought and had signed by the artists, while we made our home in truly awful weather. It was a good thing it had not struck while the festival was still in full flow. I guess it's impending arrival before the Sunday had led to the reduced crowds for our hosts, and their lack of special guests apart from Sally Barker (career renewed from appearing on The Voice). Though members of Treetop Flyers, and The Travelling Band join Fairport Convention for the finale arm waving, life affirming, singalong that 'Meet On The Ledge' turns out to be.
All in all a terrifically high standard event, with a surprisingly high standard of acts programmed. For those prepared to wander into the village there's much on offer to augment the event.
When the line-up suits, and the dates are good, then we'll be back to Cropredy again (I'll be wearing my 2014 Tee). A big thanks to all those who make it feel like a festival which just happens and feels spontaneous, rather than the carefully planned event it must be by now. Thanks also to the audience who foster such love for this event, it was tangible almost from the moment we walked onto the site.
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