We had the sincere pleasure here at The Music Site to sit down with Cambridge Folk Festival Organiser, Neil Jones, to discuss the wonderous and legendary festival, taking place on the 2nd-5th August and the thoughtful process that goes in to selecting the line up each and every year.  Neil filled us in on the must-not-miss acts this year and what it is about folk/country music that is so endearing.


The Cambridge Folk Festival has become such an iconic institution, embracing many acts and nurturing them through their careers, how does it feel to be such an integral part to fostering so many talented artists?

It feels great. Talent development is something that is absolutely at the core of the Cambridge Folk Festival and is something that we focus heavily on and invest into. It’s extremely rewarding when we play a part in the growth of an artist and see them start on our smallest stage and move through the various stages to, in some cases, even headline the whole event.

We take great pride in the way that we both help nurture artists whilst also continuing to preserve and develop the genre of folk music in the UK and it’s extremely rewarding when we get feedback from musicians who tell us that the event has been pivotal in their career growth.

More recently, you have created the Guest Curator role for the festival, how do you go about choosing the right artist?

Our starting point is always to consider what we want the role to contribute to the Festival. As well as the task of picking acts that are sprinkled throughout the artist line-up, we are keen that the curator role also adds an extra dimension to the bill.

Whoever takes on the role also needs to align with the festival’s overall ethos and ideals and be up for doing something a bit different, such as arranging a one-off collaboration or presenting something unique or brand new to the audience. We’re enormously grateful to Jon Boden who was our inaugural curator and to Rhiannon Giddens who this year has curated a fantastic list of artists and events which will make for an additional memorable strand to the whole event.

This year is full up again with so many amazing bands, was the selection process difficult?  Are there any highlights you recommend people not to miss?

The selection process doesn’t get any easier each year that’s for sure! As regular audiences will know, we treat folk as a very broad church and we always strive to ensure that we secure the best and most comprehensive bill possible that appeal to the wide ranges of music lovers that attend the festival each year.

In terms of highlights, there are so many to choose from but a couple I’d recommend not missing are Darlingside, the band who have been chosen to perform at both Cambridge and Newport Folk Festivals as part of our historic twinning of the two iconic events – they made a name for themselves at the Festival in 2016 when due to an act pulling out they ended up playing an impromptu second set of their day on the mainstage and ended up being one of the audience’s favourite acts that weekend.

I’d also recommend seeing St Paul & The Broken Bones who will close the Friday night after First Aid Kit. Trust me when I say they will bring the night to a soulful and high energy conclusion!

What have been the highlights for you in recent years?

Too many to mention but if pressed I’d have to include seeing Passenger in 2015 busking unannounced in the Festival bar ahead of his headline performance where he stood in the same spot he stood doing the exact same thing as he did in just four years earlier when he made his debut on the emerging talent stage (The Den).  Strangely he attracted somewhat of a larger crowd the second time round!

I’d also have to mention Joe Strummer, Nick Cave and Robert Plant who also turned in the expected superb headline performances. And more recently Fantastic Negrito who did a jaw-droppingly good mainstage set just last year.

What is it about folk and country music that is so unifying and levelling?

I think that at its heart the music is performed from the heart and as such brings with it a real authenticity, usually with a story or message attached. Essentially, it’s real music and audiences really identify with that.

How would you describe the vibe of the festival?

It’s totally unique. I go to a lot of festivals and have genuinely never felt such a welcoming, friendly and safe vibe like it and where music is made not just by the acts on the stage but also by the people who come. There’s also something about its location at Cherry Hinton which adds to that as it is a beautiful and magical place. Essentially, though festivals are about the people who attend and the and the festival audience, many who have been coming for years, truly make the event what it is.

The festival seems to go from strength to strength every year, do you see this carrying on indefinitely?  Is it sustainable do you think, will there always be an appetite for it?

As we all know the Festival market place is as crowded as ever and as event organisers we can never rest on our laurels. With 54 years of history behind us we would like to believe that the event can continue for another 50 years. We consider ourselves the torch bearers of something very special that we must nurture and eventually hand over to the next organising team. The event must be both preserved but also evolved – so long as we focus on the future and never stray too far from the core of what the event is then I’d like to think we stand a fighting chance of continuing for a long time to come.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us!

You’re welcome, thank you!


Get your 2018 festival tickets here!