The 51st Cambridge Folk Festival returned to Cherry Clinton Hall for a weekend of superb acts, both upcomers and the biggest names in folk, country and world music. It was the American female performers that made the festival for me – namely Joan Baez, Peggy Seeger and Rhiannon Giddens – as well as a few genre-crossing bands.
Living legend, Joan Baez, 74, performed an elegant and emotive set that turned into an intimate singalong with the crowd, who followed her every word. She drew her audience in with a warmness and wit – including a cheeky joke about life’s hardships, like “Bob going electric” – and connected with them by singing muchloved songs, such as Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Freight Train, House Of The Rising Sun and Imagine, that went down a hit.
Peggy Seeger performed with equal humour and soul. The 80 year old played solo and told bittersweet tales that were honest and had us all chucking with her like old friends. Her performance of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face was captivating. Regardless of their age, both Joan and Peggy gave stunning performances, wh ere th eir voices h ad weakened a lttle, their spirit made up for it, uniting their audiences and showing us the true nature of traditional folk music.
Rhiannon Giddens mixed folk, blues, country and gospel, holding the songs together with beautifully powerful vocals, skilled banjo-playing and a wonderful stage presence. The Stray Birds also blended their influences seamlessly in a bluegrass, country, folk set that had its audience dancing, whooping and cheering for more.
But it wasn’t all about thought-provoking folk music, th ere were some truly fun and energetic performances from bands such as The Skatelites, The Proclaimers and UK festival favourites, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
More youthful acts Nick Mulvey and John Butler Trio effortlessly mixed their traditional jazz and roots elements with youthful indie stylings and both went down well with younger audience members. For me they were two of the strongest acts in delivering varied sets that ranged from atmospheric and sweet to darker, alternative musicality.
My first time at Cambridge Folk, I was wowed by the sheer quality and variety of its acts. The folk instititution certainly lived up to its name and, pleased to be a part of it, the performers brought their very best.
My one criticism: An impractical camping chair and picnic blanket culture that tainted the experience for me, just a little. The relaxed atmosphere is definitely a plus, but it at times limited those who sought the immersive experience of seeing a band up close, dancing without a care (or blanket to avoid). Charlotte Taylor www.cambridgelivetrust.co.uk/ folk-festival