Preview: Cambridge Folk Festival 2011

01 July 2011

Its not clear where along the line of pop history folk festivals became refined affairs, but its certainly the case that the Cambridge Folk Festival is more civilized than most. Not only it is possible for festival-goers to park next to their tents (anyone whos had to struggle through half a mile of knee-deep mud at Glastonbury with 36 lagers and a six-man tent, risk life and limb down the perilous bank from the car park to the campsite at Bestival or get all the camping gear and a toddler from car to tent space at any festival will appreciate the immeasurable value of this), there are also really quite decent showers, plus grocery stalls at the campsites (sometimes choosing sponsors carefully can really pay off) and a friendly, convivial atmosphere more akin to Glyndebourne than Glasto.

Folk festivals shouldnt be this way, surely? Arent they meant to be full of smelly hippies in open-toed sandals singing protest songs on acoustic guitars? In some of these areas, Cambridge Folk Festival stays true to its heritage sponsorship by a left-wing supermarket and Unison, the union for public sector workers, point to its political leanings, while similar support from Radio 2 and Mojo probably give an idea of the audience demographic. Yes, they were wearing flowers in their hair in the late 60s, but now they want room to lay down a picnic blanket and plenty to keep the kids occupied.

Theres perhaps a little less World Music this year than previously, though Cajun band Feufollet, Romanian Gypsies Mahala Rai Banda and afrobeat from Femi Kuti break through the likely suspects of acoustic Brit folkies and traditional Irish bands. Otherwise, the impressive line-up reads like a Whos Who of current UK not-very-twisted folk, with Newton Faulkner, Frank Turner and Laura Marling all on show, while former Fairport Convention man and more recent Meltdown curator Richard Thompson heads an oldie-heavy Saturday bill ahead of Pentangle.

Celtic and Celtic-influenced bands are out in force again this year, with Irish folk from Danu, Frankie Gavin & De Dannan and Martin Hayes (joined here by American guitarist Dennis Cahill), and Scottish offerings from BBCs hogmany house band Manran, Saltfishshorty and The Peatbog Fairies to name but a few. American folk holds its own with Caitlin Rose and Abigail Washburn & The Village, though again theres no alt. to be had before these folk or country singers.

Its this unashamed serving up of the best in traditional folk, unrepentant about its decision to overlook the likes of Vetiver, The Decemberists and Conor Oberst that give the Cambridge Folk Festival its charm. Without such modern pioneers, the folk path through R&Bs chart dominance might never have been ploughed deep enough for the likes of Laura Marling and Frank Turner to follow, but they have no place here.

A stones throw from the town where Nick Drake laid down his first demos, at the festival which arguably helped to kick-start the English folk revival before Glastonbury was even a hint in Michael Eaviss eye, the laid-back sense of gentle music having the power to change the world still prevails. On a warm summers day its glorious and if the weather doesnt hold out, hey, there are even marquees provided. You cant ask for much more than that.

Cambridge Folk Festival takes place from 28-31 July 2011 at Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge. Tickets and further information are available from Cambridge Folk Festival.

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