Following four days of outstanding music and glorious sunshine, the 55th Cambridge Folk Festival drew to a close on Sunday night. It’s estimated that more than 11,000 people passed through the hallowed gates of Cherry Hinton Hall to soak up the festival’s relaxed vibe and witness masterful performances from legendary artists and upcoming talent alike.
Proceedings kicked off in fine style on Thursday with the likes of Ben Caplan, The Rails and Sam Sweeney taking it in turns to remind everyone why this longstanding festival is so revered within the world of folk. Having Ralph McTell – a man who first graced this festival 50 years ago – round off the evening ensured everyone retired to their tents (eventually) in the very highest spirits!
Friday started with a first for Cambridge Folk Festival; a folk ballet, with the ethereal Sisters of Elva Hill going down a storm on Stage 1. The likes of RURA, Karine Polwart and José González (with a mesmerising cover of Massive Attack’s Teardrop) also delivered show-stopping performances. Elsewhere, The Tweed Project showcased the best of the youth folk scene while Holy Moly and the Crackers effectively ripped up Stage 2. The legend that is Graham Nash rounded the evening off belting out hits from his illustrious career, before Calexico and Iron & Wine closed another wonderful night.
With Zimbabwe’s Chartwell Dutiro, Canada’s The Once and Australia’s James Fagan popping up across the site, Saturday felt like international day at Cambridge Folk Festival. Diversity was also represented by Amy Montgomery’s electrifying rock and Masta T’s hip-hop set, both of which were enthusiastically embraced. A surprise guest performance from British folk royalty, Maddy Prior during Nancy Kerr and James Fagan’s set delighted the crowds, as did Lucinda Williams when she took to the stage with her Louisiana blend of rock, folk, country and Blues. The only way to bring ‘Super Saturday’ to a close was by going big and Talisk were more than up for the challenge, delivering a frenzied set of turbo-charged numbers that sent the crowds wild.
Sunday saw Roo Panes, The Unthanks and Jack Broadbent (performing slide guitar with a hip-flask) lay on the style. Not to be outdone, Jarrod Dickenson, Imarhan and Richard Thompson delivered superb performances of their own. And, as thoughts of packing tents up and heading home started taking hold, the likes of Amadou & Mariam, Blind Boys of Alabama, Fisherman’s Friends and Sarah Darling did a wonderful job of reminding the crowds why this festival in particular continues to hold such a special place within so many people’s hearts.
Beyond the music, the site provided a glut of activities and workshops to keep younger festival-goers enthralled and entertained, with everything from circus skills and face-painting to den-building and willow-weaving all on hand. The paddling pools over at the kids’ area were understandably popular, especially on Friday and Saturday afternoons when the mercury continued to rise, seemingly unabated. Up at Coldhams Common campsite, craft sessions, music workshops and storytelling proved a big hit too. However, the highlight for many school-aged attendees was the hugely enjoyable Folk Idol ‘competition’, where enthusiastic renditions of songs, poetry, dances and jokes earned participants kudos, a certificate and – for some unknown reason – a vegetable of their choice!
Speaking as the festival closed, Operations Manager Rebecca Stewart said: “Cambridge Folk Festival 2019 has been a truly special one. From the legends that grace the stage, to the moments of magic that happen across the site, no matter where you find yourself, you’re within a sea of excellence. Nick Mulvey as our guest curator this year has brought a flavour of the music he loves, to share with Cambridge and I think it’s safe to say his contributions have been a hit with the crowds. Thank you to the fans for making this year another resounding success!”