Cambridge Folk Festival 2019
August 1 - August 4
There is no booming DJ tent, round-the-clock cinema or secret location, but Cambridge still stands as the most elegant festival on the UK summer music calendar. Set within the Edenic woodland of Cherry Hinton Park, the 53-year-old Cambridge Folk Festival continues to place one quality above all others: the power and authenticity of the performer and their ability to communicate with an audience.
This year’s line-up is typically strong and features headlining slots from two legends, Janis Ian and John Prine, whose spare, open-heart songs can only be meat and drink for the Cambridge crowd.
But it is the booking of punk grandee Patti Smith for Saturday night’s big tent show that might best demonstrate the festival’s content-over-style ethos, one that has brought Nick Cave, Robert Plant and Joe Srummer to the party in previous years, artists not traditionally associated with the folk scene.
“When you look at the tradition of folk music, social justice is at its very heart,” says Cambridge Folk Festival Operations Director Neil Jones. “And who better than Patti Smith to portray that, someone who’s championed so many causes over the years. So I would say she does make folk music. That’s what our public want, nothing fabricated, they want real singer-songwriters.”
For me one of the true pleasures of the festival is walking from stage to stage, from the Club Tent to Stage Two to The Den – which is our emerging talent stage – and being blown away by an act you’ve never heard of,
The festival’s special buzz is sure to intensify with a performance from Friday’s headliners First Aid Kit, the full-throated sister duo from Sweden whose album Ruins hit number three in the UK this year. Their music crosses country, folk and indie rock and is gratifyingly poppish.
Other young luminaries worth looking out for include Radio 2 Folk Award winner Daoiri Farrell from Dublin, who plays an Irish bouzouki, Liverpool’s Robert Vincent who brings a fuzzy alt-country and folk together and East London five-piece Stick In The Wheel whose energetic sets mix old English folk songs with their self-penned material.
“For me one of the true pleasures of the festival is walking from stage to stage, from the Club Tent to Stage Two to The Den – which is our emerging talent stage – and being blown away by an act you’ve never heard of,” says Neil.
“An artist might be unknown and playing to a handful of people one year, then on a big stage few years on. Jake Bugg headlined last year but when he first played Cambridge we payed him £50 and he turned up late because his car had broken down.”
One off the joys of Cambridge is the way established names and lesser-knowns jostle together. Peggy Seeger (who played the very first festival in 1965), Eliza Carthy and Grammy winner Rosanne Cash will play this year but the audience will always stick around to see who is on next.
“There’s no feeling of hierarchy,” says Neil. “We’re also one of the few festivals that encourages the audience to make music. We put on sessions in the evening, we say bring your guitar, it’s a safe environment. That’s very much within the tradition.”
Cambridge Folk Festival lineup
First Aid Kit, Patti Smith, John Prine, Janis Ian, Roseanne Cash … for a full lineup, click here.
Cambridge Folk Festival Campsite
The festival campsite is a short stroll from the main arena. It has all the necessary facilities including a bar, creche and paddling pool. There is a secondary campsite 1.5 miles away. For further details, click here.
Cambridge Folk Festival Tickets
Tickets vary in price depending upon whether you are attending for one day or the whole festival. A standard Friday ticket costs £62, and a Full-festival ticket £15.50. Click here for more information on pricing, and here to buy tickets.
Words by Robert Spellman.