The Cambridge Folk Festival is a terribly civilised affair. So much so, in fact, that one can’t quite help but wonder if it actually exists at all, or if it isn’t rather an idea dreamed up by a conglomerate of The Guardian and Radio 2, and then simply willed into existence so that the Co-op can sponsor it.
What gives us this impression, you ask? We might start with the campsites – split into red and blue. Blue is much like a normal festival, with a sea of tents sitting beside the main arena (except that it has its own food shops). If you place yourself right, you can enjoy the Club Tent without having to get out of your sleeping bag.
Red, on the other hand, is a short bus ride away but has a most superb innovation for a festival: you can pitch your tent by your car. Yes! By Your Car! Tent! Car! Tent! Car! Together! This surely would have been the best news of the weekend if only The Libertines hadn’t picked this precise moment to announce that a reformation and third album might be on the way.
Having your tent and car side by side may not sound like big deal – after all, at every campsite in the country that isn’t attached to a festival, it’s standard practice – but the sheer convenience of it is something that either escapes most festival organisers or else they have a perverse pleasure in denying it to their punters for no good reason. Cambridge Folk Festival, we salute your common sense.
Tent pitched, bus caught, we make our way to what is, it has to be said, a very bijou festival site, though it’s perfectly formed. The three stages are less than five minutes’ walk apart and yet manage to avoid noise overlaps commendably. The staff and stewards are much friendlier than the pre-festival bumpf would have you believe too, with the folding-chair-and-blanket-police nowhere near as fierce as we’ve been led to believe. No-one measured our tent for its exact dimensions either.
The festival arena is divided into three main areas: first up is Stage 2, a large barn-like affair where today you can ceilidh to your heart’s content with children’s workshops and Steamchicken (twice), in between which Rupa And The April Fishes mix folk influences from across the globe and Carll Hayes sings the blues before The Demon Barbers dance out the night.
Round the corner you’re into the main arena, a slightly larger indoor space out of which everyone spills into the central concourse, unfolding their chairs and marking their patch with plastic-backed tartan blankets in gentle defiance of the rules. It makes you proud to be British. The Zutons headline tonight, pushing the boundaries of folk on an evening when American singer-songwriters Susan Tedeschi and Buffy Sainte-Marie, and jazz fusion powerhouses Bellowhead, have seemed to belong here far more.
It’s the smaller Club Tent, hidden behind the main arena round the corner from the food stalls, that proves to be the festival’s shiniest gem, however. A combination of the folkiest folk, mostly provided by local clubs and open mic sessions, it epitomises what the festival is about: showcasing new talent and celebrating all that is traditional, modern and experimental (in a firmly traditional way) in folk music from around the world. We linger here longer than we should and drink in the warm autumn air before making our way back to red campsite via the bus.
It’s in Club Tent we’ll spend most of our time when we return, we’re sure.