Cambridge Folk Festival 2012 review

'Creativity at its best'

30 July 2012

Cherry Hinton Hall in Cambridgeshire was transformed for 4 days from a green expanse usually populated by joggers and teenage cider swiggers into a sprawling, multi-coloured magical hippie arena.

Swept up in the bohemian flavour of it all, the crowd walked around barefoot in a haze of hemp waistcoats and flower headbands munching on top culinary delights. Festival goers could sample food from a fragrant and varied selection of stalls from Jamaican goat curry to beef burgers “recommended by Hugh Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall” and good old British fish and chips.

Tupperware pots were popped open filled with chickpeas and spinach and hunks of bread smeared with homemade hummus as smoky aromas wafted through the air. This was middle-class festing at its best.

Drifting around the festival, you could dip in and out of intimate, spontaneous performances or jostle to the front of the crowd and stare open mouthed at one of the main stage headline acts.

Arranged like a cosy lounge, The People’s Front Room was resplendent with fringed lampshades and birdcages filled with the remnants of children’s dolls. Decked out with gilt framed paintings, the whole tent had an eerie life-pausing sensation.

Festival-goers in floral attire lounged about with strangers on red velvet sofas like marinating chicken wings. The People’s Room are “a collective of artists and musicians who come together to create an interactive space to inspire and entertain.”

Each set lasts for 15 minutes and gives new performers the chance to showcase their talent. Jess, 22, from Cambridge took to the mic to perform 'Forget Me Not', a song whose melancholy tones hung in the air long after she’d stopped.

Pausing to ask for someone in the crowd to let her have some water, her nerves were evident in her trembling voice. She admitted afterwards that she found performing utterly nerve-racking but it had always been her dream.

Using music as a form of escapism, the shy 22 year old told us that she loved writing more than she did performing, but music was her lifelong ambition. Biting her lip, she stared at me and said slowly that writing music was therapy and the inspiration for it comes from “the shit that happens to me”.

Peeling mushrooms casually as she talks, founder of The People’s Room Sarah Gaiger smiles happily as she tells the story of the creative melting pot of eclectic artists. As a festival stallholder for years, night would fall and musicians would crowd around her stall and play impromptu acts.

Around her the group wash up and cook. Eyes bright, she says, “We’re a family, you see. We’re REAL. Everything you see is made by one of us or our friends. We get asked to play at more festivals than we can do.” The travelling group is magnetic, drawing a steady stream of people into their magical space throughout the course of the festival. 

Sunshine and pelting rain danced through the technicolour parade of picnic blankets and discarded lager cans as a cross-generation audience smiled and toe-tapped for four days.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday welcomed in ice-creams and sun lotion whilst Sunday saw a field transformed into a swampy bog and children happily paddling in ankle deep puddles. Nothing seemed to dampen the mood though and people happily walked around barefoot squelching in the mud, proving that folk festival-goers are a stoical lot.
Many criticisms of the Cambridge Folk Festival are that a lot of the acts aren’t strictly folk. This may be true but it’s certainly creativity at its best - pushing the boundaries of what has been classed as traditional folk music and welcoming in eclectic music and cultures from around the world.

-- Meg Roberts

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