Cambridge Folk Festival 2017 Roundup

By on Monday, 14th August 2017 at 2:00 pm

Header photo of Frank Turner from the BBC

Folk music is far more than just songs that take things back to basics and raw. Folk music is an idea of community and appreciating all that life has to offer, the good and the bad. The Cambridge Folk Festival has been one of the world’s premier destinations to celebrate this genre, and while it’s not quite got the pull of, say, Newport Folk Festival, it does far more than hold its own.

Spread out over 4 days in the picturesque little hideaway of Cherry Hinton in Cambridge, a place itself you should visit, this year’s event was a testament as to why it’s a staple. Although rain may have given a fair go at trying to dampen the folk spirit, it did very little in the long run. Especially with this year being specially curated by ex-Bellowhead frontman Jon Boden, a first for the festival, which also meant every act he’d chosen (six in total) were joined on stage by the man himself. A whole lot of Boden is never a bad thing.

While Thursday and Friday didn’t bring names that are familiar to the outer realms, those in the know experienced the beauty of folk and the festival. Irishwoman Lisa Hannigan, who closed out the Friday, managed to perfectly encapsulate what makes folk so special. The vulnerability with which her words are conveyed brings much more depth to the meaning you can find, and it makes it all the sweeter when the music matches perfectly. Elsewhere, the likes of Indigo Girls made a triumphant return, while newcomers Ward Thomas gave the younger audience their time to shine.

The real charm of the little festival lies in the atmosphere. Even stepping outside of the modest arena, you can find some form of ear-catching sounds in the smaller tents dotted throughout the camping areas. Impromptu performances and general niceties are rife, and it’s a pleasant sight to behold, especially when you’re more used to festivals filled with intoxicated revellers.

The day on Saturday suffered the most, with torrential downpours throughout. We can be sure that folk music would prefer to be associated with sunny, summer afternoons, but unfortunately, it was grey skies and unstoppable rain. For those who made it inside the tents, all was well. For those less fortunate, well, they had backup plans. A sea of umbrellas and chairs filled the site, while the sweet sounds of the likes of Fara, a Scottish four-piece who stick very close to the fiery roots / folk sounds of their homeland rang throughout.

Closing the Saturday night, Frank Turner returned to Cambridge once again, as a late replacement for Olivia Newton-John. And what a replacement he was. Turner is an artist who bridges so many genres that you find him at Cambridge Folk Festival, as well as festivals such as Download and Glastonbury. Barraging through his biggest hits, as well as a few under the radar numbers, the crowd were consistently engaged, even if a bit damp. Giving shoutout to fans who had hit their fiftieth show of his, you know Turner respects everybody in the crowd. Without them, he’d still be opening the Thursday of the festival instead of headlining the Saturday.

Sunday managed to stave off any more downpours. But of course, spirits were far from dampened. At lunchtime, Chris T-T brought the works of AA Milne to life with perfect execution, a lovely warming treat after the previous day’s torrents. Jake Isaac proved why he’s such a hot name in the genre. With a fresh songwriter sound and foot-stompingly powerful tracks, Isaac was a key draw throughout the weekend, packing out the Stage 2 tent.

Jake Bugg‘s acoustic set was an easy highlight and a triumphant return for the young songwriter. Joined by only a piano and guitar, his tracks found a new level of depth and feeling, matching with his storied words perfectly. The tracks that harness love felt more raw than ever, while those that talk of his life and growing up put more poignancy in the words. We were even treated to some new tracks from his forthcoming album ‘Hearts That Strain’, out the 1st of September on Virgin EMI, and they feel like a return to Bugg of old.

Finishing the festival off, Hayseed Dixie did what they do best. They brought a raucous and fun filled time with their bluegrass covers of absolutely everything you can think of, from Queen to AC/DC, and their own stuff in-between. Proving that the folk festival isn’t a pretentious gathering but a fun celebration, having Hayseed close out was an inspired move, one that paid off exceptionally.

As the grass returns to its natural state and Cherry Hinton empties, there’s already a level of excitement for next year’s installment. Returning with another guest curator, you’d be silly to miss out on such a special event. There’s a reason it’s been going since 1965, and if the rains of this year can’t dampen anyone’s spirits, nothing will.

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