The weather forecast earlier in the week looked bad, as we packed for Cropredy, however it was just a case of packing the right clothes for the right conditions, as the compact well drained site was unlikely to turn into a wading mudfest even if we got sustained torrential downpours.
We were right not to worry about mud much, despite it's 24,000 capacity, the festival now in it's 35th year, was spared atrocious weather, and is compact enough - like a giant party in a field with one bloomin' great big main stage and beside it a tiny stage offering the occasional impromptu turn by bands throughout the day. The waterproof clothes, rain shelters, and multicoloured umbrellas bringing much colour to the welcoming field this year.
I said last year when I first attended how surprised I was with the love the audience had for the festival. This year I recognise many of the faces, there are a lot of regulars here, who stand or sit in the same places, and they are clearly passionate just about being at this happy family friendly weekend.
This year it seems dragonflies have replaced the more usual wasps. There's something extra colourful about the site, it seems so bright and welcoming even under leaden skies, perhaps its the decades of pleasure it's given music lovers that's somehow almost tangible. Perhaps it's a reflection of how happy the nature it's set in is to get some much needed rain after such a dry period. Who knows? It's certainly full of colourful characters, stories, and a feel of familiarity.
The festival has just the one main bar, open from noon until midnight, with Wadsworth beers and ciders priced from £3.50 and for a small deposit 4 litres can be bought in cartons making the trips to the bar less urgent. Folk fans can certainly drink and there's a lot of happy faces around but without a hint of trouble. Even so there were rarely queues, especially if you go while a band is on. The same advice is also recommended for using the clean and well stocked portable-toilets.
Around the large field with the stage at the bottom is various food outlets, and traders stalls. Vegetarian genius Leon is a regular trader and we were looking forward to his food before we even arrived on site. Prices for meals are under £10 mostly wherever you go and as long as you avoid the set feeding times, there's rarely a queue.
Cropredy's arena field slopes gently upward, with those wanting to stand and dance located in the first 20 years, before those seated in fold-up chairs, slope upwards with views of the stage and it's two flanking screens viewable over the heads of those in front. The screens offer a chance to those with mobile tech a chance to post a witty aside or image of their dog, child, large umbrella, gurny face on screen between acts, and the sound system is fantastic.
This year there's a big rule about flags and they are no longer allowed to block people's views behind them. The compere the amiable Anthony John Clarke warns there will be a command from the stage to take them down when the main acts take to the stage, but the command isn't issued as flag owners take down their erections (not in a Paloma Faith audience way) themselves.
This year perhaps because of the weather, the race as soon as the gates open people for people to claim their annual spot is much reduced on the first two mizzly days. In fact the crowd is much reduced too, perhaps the generally older demographic is more prepared to sit it out under canvas until the weather improves. There's space to breathe around the edges, and it's interesting how that's so noticeable perhaps Cropredy is actually quite a sardine tin on wall to wall sunshine years.
Of course the other possibility is that the less hedonistic folk crowd, who like a drop of ale are in the village under the marquees or stone of the local pubs enjoying the acts of the fringe festival until the skies dry up later in the day on Friday, and for those who persisted in the rain there was the reward of hot sunshine on the final day.
'The Cropredy Fringe' offers much in the village which can be easily accessed along the towpath beside the canal. The village school, church, cricket and canoe clubs offer breakfast and the brace of village pubs put on extra bars and have bands in their beer gardens. The Brasenose has the larger garden of the two and though The Red Lion is more compact it's weatherproof yard and burgers are a big attraction. The list of acts includes names like Kangaroo Moon, and Leatherat, plusAshley Hutchings and author Mick Houghton remember Sandy Denny in the village hall on the Saturday.
The other major visible thing about Cropredy is the dogs. There's a lot of man's best friends about. Though the damp mizzle leaves some of the less hardy breeds and smaller animals shivering, something I'm not keen on the dogs look cold and unhappy, and yet their owners seem oblivious. On the plus side all the owners all appear masters of the art of poop scooping and there's never any visible all weekend, although the thought of plonking yourself on the grass next to a pooch does make you think. Perhaps this is why some audience members put down large plastic tarps to sit on. Which in the rain appear to be unwelcome makeshift waterslides at times.
Talking of fun stuff the top of the field has a fair amount of stuff for kids to be kept occupied including a storyteller, and workshops, and the usual making cool stuff with left over stickers from supermarket produce, I don't know why but the idea really appeals to me every time I see it.
Saturday night's closing act is the Festival's organisers Fairport Convention, who also opened the show on Thursday with an acoustic performance of their latest record 'Myths and Heroes', and close the night and the festival with the miss singalong of festival anthem 'Meet on the Ledge', I wonder if the ledge is the field was passed above the site on the way in on Thursday. There we has passed a lone woman, still, looking out towards the cloud oppressed festival site with an air of thoughtful reflection.
Other headliners were Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, and Level 42. Both put on a great show. But for me it was the voices of country legends Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell that proved the highlight of the weekend. The pair were mesmerizing and had assembled a band behind them who really delivered a wonderful country infused sound. It was testament to their performance that the crowd remained despite the lashing rain through parts of their wonderful set.
Together with their band The Traveling Kind they kept us rapt for over an hour with 'Pancho and Lefty', 'Red Dirt Girl', 'Bring It on Home to Memphis' and personal favourite 'Love Hurts'. To hear those voices and guitars in a dark field in the driving in the rain will be a memory to treasure.
Dreadzone got the chair people out of their chairs for a dance to their reggae based tunes, and both Norwegian Gypsy-folk girls Katzenjammer and Skinny Lister (some git has nicked their rum jug - boo!) had mass appeal especially from the youngsters in the audience. The Proclaimers, and Fish went down well on Friday.
Harry Shearer (he of The Simpsons and Spinal Tap) popped up to accompany his wife Judith Owen borrowing bass legend Leland Sklar's instrument to sing a mickey taking folk song from the film 'A Mighty Wind' - a send up at a folk festival brave and brilliant.
Other highlights over the weekend included Iain Matthews and Egbert Derix, Trad Arrr, ahab, Skerryvore, festival regular Richard Digance, Kevin Dempsey & Rosie Carson, The New Grasscutters, Band of Friends, and punk icon Toyah (now with Wilcox added to her name).
The Cropredy policy of mixing the bands of yesteryear with the newest breakthrough acts saw the BBC Young Folk Award winner once again offered a slot at Cropredy, this year it was Talisk, with the trio delivering their high tempo blend of instrumental ceilidh reels on fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and concertina.
Cropredy is an event that continues to seep into me each time I go, full of history, and love it's a beacon to counter-culture put up by the Fairport protagonists many years ago that's grown into a colourful, friendly event that's as welcoming as a homeside hearth, particularly on drab days.
It may not have the distractions of more modern festivals but at it's core is a strong musical line-up of quality acts that entertain, happy faces, and a decent level of food and beer. What more do you need on a wet summer's day in August?
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