There is a sense of prestige and tradition that surrounds the Cambridge Folk Festival, and for good reason. The festival is now in its 51st year and it's another sell out as around 12,300 like minded individuals have gathered within the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall for four days of relaxation and entertainment.
Over the years Cambridge Folk Festival has played host to a who's who of folk's finest musicians and this year is no different with a number of legendary artists topping a bill mixed with acts both young and old. From traditional folk to modern interpretations of the genre, this year's bill provides something for everyone.
This year was my first visit to the event and I was immediately struck by how it's both relaxed and regimented. Regimented for the staff who did a fantastic job in keeping the site clean and tidy as well as extremely organised. There was not a discarded cup in sight as the numerous bins were emptied constantly. This helped create the relaxed atmosphere amongst the crowd who were more than respectful to the beautiful surroundings.
Surroundings that include two paddling pools and play areas for the children and a lovely wooded area complete with stream for the older kids amongst us. The campsites were spacious and well laid out with clear pathways and lots to do. Within the campsites were numerous tents with live music to watch and various workshops to partake in.
My first port of call at the festival was the lovely little Flower Garden area. No more than a glorified gazebo within the campsite but the location for an intimate book Q&A with one of Friday's headline acts Frank Turner. With glorious sunshine gracing the event this was a relaxing start to the festival with now bestselling author Turner entertaining the lucky few gathered with tales from his career so far.
This is just an example of the many non-musical elements to the festival. There are plenty of workshops and sessions to join in with along with the likes of a signing tent and a great marketplace. Throw in the four main stages of music and the other smaller music areas then I'd challenge anyone not to find something for them.
Although the amount of food outlets is seemingly low for an event this size, the quality more than makes up for it. Not many festivals to this scale include a cake stall, or for that matter the fresh lemonade stand that I found myself indulging in. The good quality food at a reasonable price (well, for a festival!) is a big plus for the paying customers, as are the immaculate toilets. In fact they were probably the nicest toilets that I'd ever encountered at a festival.
So already this is probably the nicest festival that I've had the privilege to attend and I've not even mentioned any music yet. The two main stages at the festival, inventively entitled Stage 1 and Stage 2, are both tented affairs with plenty of room outside for a sea of camping chairs. Stage 1 even goes as far as to provide two large screens for the viewers outside the tent.
This leads to likely my only gripe with the whole event and that's the limited walkways from Stage 1 to the rest of the site. Although there were a couple laid out they were too narrow amongst the chairs outside meaning each time an act finished there was a crush to leave the stage. Not good if you intend to make a quick relocation to another stage. This was however the only real let down and could easily be fixed with either more walkways or a one way system being implemented.
On to the music then and following the Frank Turner book Q&A on Friday it was the turn of Wilko Johnson to take to Stage 1. The organisers do well to stretch the boundaries of the label folk and former Dr. Feelgood guitarist Johnson's presence on the line-up demonstrates this. Johnson draws a large crowd who lap up the likes of 'Roxette' from the heroic figure who's thankfully still entertaining us following his 2013 diagnoses of terminal cancer. Long live Wilko!
All acts get a good set length however this does leave the headline acts with a little over an hour. The headline acts also aren't necessarily the last on as Frank Turner
graces Stage 1 next at 7.15pm! Turner personifies what I earlier billed as modern interpretations of folk as he infuses it with punk rock to great success. Turner has gone from playing solo in people's houses to playing the monstrous O2 Arena with his band The Sleeping Souls.
For this performance Turner returns to his solo roots, although he is accompanied for most of the set by The Sleeping Souls own Matt Nasir. Turner owns the stage and elicits many a sing-a-long from the appreciative audience. Turner takes pride in being one of only a couple who can claim to have played both Cambridge Folk Festival and the metal monster Download Festival. It's a testament to his crossover appeal that he looks at home here at Cambridge and even the most hardened of traditionalists are won over by the time Queen cover 'Somebody To Love' brings an end to his set.
Closing Stage 1 on Friday were two acts at the opposite ends of their careers. Showing the diversity of what by definition should be a very uniform line-up, young singer-songwriter Nick Mulvey serenades the crowd before old timers The Proclaimers get them dancing. Two top performances by the two bands that bring to an end a great day of music.
The diversity continued on Saturday with young upstarts Skinny Lister bringing the party to Stage 2. As the compere mentioned at the end of their set they are probably the only band to crowd surf at a folk festival. Skinny Lister provided great entertainment for the crowd that swelled in size the longer the performance went on as people were lured in by their infectious tones.
The rest of Saturday continued to mix youth and experience as following sets from the likes of the enthralling The Unthanks on Stage 1 and the delightful Stornoway on Stage 2, the legendary Joan Baez takes to Stage 1. Baez proceeded to deliver a master class to the younger audience members in how to dazzle a crowd.
Sunday provided more of the same with the surprise highlight of the weekend The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain. The sevenfold group dressed to impress won over each and every audience member with their humour and musicianship. Covering hits by the likes of Pharrell Williams, The Zutons, Blur, Chic and that well known member of the British aristocracy Lady Gaga. This was great entertainment by a truly unique and talented bunch of musicians.
Another legendary Joan, this time Joan Armatrading and another young act in Punch Brothers brought the festival towards an end with decent performances. There was still time however for another huge name and one that represents all that's good about the Cambridge Folk Festival.
Passenger, aka Michael Rosenberg, last played Cambridge Folk Festival four years ago busking in the bars. This time he is helping close the weekend having gained critical and commercial acclaim. Passengers set sees him regale the crowd with stories of song origins and serenade then with powerful songs including mega single 'Let Her Go'. This was a great way to end the weekend and although he could have talked less and played more he sent the audience home happy.
In conclusion my first visit has enabled me to see what a thoroughly delightful festival this is. Smoothly operated and professionally produced a great time could be had even without any music. When you then pack in a line-up full of fantastic acts you have the recipe for success. Cambridge Folk Festival it's been a pleasure.
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