Cambridge Folk Festival is an institution, of that there is no doubt. Although it has grown in size and form steadily year on year since its first year in 1965, it still retains the general ethos of a loose, relaxed festival scene. That is the appeal, along with an increasingly diverse and changing musical line-up that turn up to perform each year.
The festival, set on the grounds of the scenic Cherry Hinton Hall, had all of the usual accoutrements one would expect-rain sodden campers, an abundance of pricey food and merchandise stalls, crafty and enlightening workshops for one and all, and let’s not forget the people wearing absurd hats for no apparent reason. But, speaking in music terms, the festival grows ever more varied and yet still retains said laid-back vibe.
This year was no different. Despite an extremely undo amount of rain from evening one, the festival meandered on, if a little wet and cold around the edges (and through the middle as well!). Thursday evening we caught River Matthews’ set in The Club Tent and were blown away, as expected. I had interviewed him just before he went on and he was disarmingly easy in nature which spoke to his innate charm. But, to say he is a talented performer is a vast understatement. Playing solely with his acoustic guitar and a voice like a luscious, languid dream that both relaxes and reinvigorates, it was a performance not to be missed. You could hear the crowd commenting on the brilliance of his set as they huddled under hoods and umbrellas when they exited the tent.
We decided to return on Friday evening rather than the afternoon, hopeful the rain would abate and the mud would at least start to congeal rather than having to endure its molten state. We couldn’t face being in the rain for the duration of the day and the night as well so opted for a later arrival. We found our way to Stage 1 to see twin sister country duo, Ward Thomas. It was, admittedly, a must-see for me as I’m a big fan and can say they didn’t disappoint. The production is slick and tight with the backing band in all black to keep focus up front, a slightly too organised arrangement for some people’s taste I’m sure. However, I found their killer harmonies and perfect syncopation an identical sound to their album signalling their obvious talent and aptitude, should any ever question it. Their lyrics and music are so poetic, often lofty, and made for lovely lovers so I get that it’s not everyone’s taste but for me, they are an accomplished pair of artists to admire in my estimation.
Two other acts we didn’t get to see that we heard from other more intrepid attendees that were stand out acts were Cara Dillon on Friday and Robert Vincent on Saturday night. I am sorry I missed them to be honest, because we did intend to try and catch them but the weather got the best of us in the end.
The headliner that night, and a big nod to the equality of the festival’s intention, was the Indigo Girls. Despite the rain and growing swamp that the Stage 1 area turned into, the crowd never waivered on sticking it out-all very British spirit about it indeed!
Day three on Saturday, deluge again and tacky wet festival gear adorned, we trotted off later in the evening to avoid an overabundance of messy, slightly miserable conditions, as we did the day previous. We managed to see Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls followed by the headline act Skerryvore, on the main stage.
Turner has performed at the festival in years past and was a true crowd pleaser and given the state of the weather and subsequent effect on the festival grounds, he and his band were going to have to be otherwise there would have been a mass exit. But, he had everyone dancing and singing along and forgetting the wet for a time and making the best of soggy situation.
Skerryvore, a Scottish Celtic Rock/Folk band, had an immediate response from the first note and were a rousing, strong finish for the Saturday night closing slot. There were eight members on stage and an impressive amount of various instruments so the wall of sound, in the best way, hit hard. Every song was quite lively (as a lot of Celtic music is really), highly accomplished and polished in delivery. They were humble yet thankful to be there as they commented a few times. They were the kind of band I would expect to hear as a headliner for a folk festival and Skerryvore was certainly what the crowd wanted to be sure.
The last day the blessed sun finally made an appearance (until the evening at least!) and gave a reprieve to the growing quagmire that had developed over the three sloppy days prior. We hustled over to The Den where up and coming acts are showcased to see Sam Gleaves, an Appalachian folk singer/songwriter. His performance was inviting and captivating in the simplistic beauty of the songs. And, his musicianship was nothing but impressive. His set was easy on the ears and accompanied the lovely sunny Sunday afternoon feel. I interviewed him after his set and found him equally engaging and down to earth which married up with his stage presence and endeared him all the more.
We later heard Jon Cleary on the mainstage who was divine on the piano with true blues in his vocals, which was a refreshing sound. But, when things turned damp again, we decided against staying any later.
But, despite the weather’s attempt to dampen the jollity, pun intended, the weekend was nonetheless enjoyable if not dry. And, the musical entertainment did not disappoint. This is a festival I definitely want to attend again, sans rain next year please.
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