Every year since 1965, one of the highlights of the festival summer in England has been the Cambridge Folk Festival. Mainly held in the beautiful grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall on the outskirts of the city, this annual feast of music has maintained its reputation of being one of the friendliest amd most musically eclectic events of the year.
The Cambridge Folk Festival posts ‘Sold Out’ notices well in advance of the three and a half days it occupies at the end of July or beginning of August each summer. Indeed, many people will proudly boast of their long-term allegiance to the event and will regale you with tales of their children being taken as babies and now attending as adults – Cambridge is that sort of place.
Musically, the word ‘folk’ doesn’t begin to be anywhere near adequate as a description of what is on offer at Cambridge. The idea of Ken Woollard, the first organiser, back in 1965, who had been inspired by a film of the Newport Jazz Festival, was to recreate the atmosphere found in the local folk clubs at that time. Since those beginnings – you can’t really call them ‘inauspicious’ as the young Paul Simon was amongst the first artists to appear – it’s not just been British and Irish music that has been showcased. Many world-famous international singers and musicians have appeared, from the fields of country, blues, soul, roots,jazz and many more. The Festival has been known as a place where ‘the new and the old collide’, with names such as Joan Baez, Judy Collins, James Taylor, Bill Wyman, Ralph McTell and even, a few years ago now, Bo Diddley all appearing at least once. Many artists, though, have taken Cambridge by storm that the majority of the visitors wouldn’t previously been aware of – Richard Hawley, a late ‘stand-in’ booking in 2008, being a good example.
Some artists appear almost every year – Billy Bragg comes to mind – and one of the festival’s great joys is the Club Tent, in which unbilled artists who have simply turned up at Cherry Hinton, join in with the scheduled guests. There are two other main venues, Stages 1 and 2, where a tight programme of events is presented but much of the magic of Cambridge can be found in the impromptu music that goes on around the site. Couple this fabulous music with clean toilets, the availability of good food, craft, music and instrument stalls, a youth area and creche and free internet access and you’ll begin to understand the allure that the Cambridge Folk Festival has.
There are two camp sites that are specific for festival-goers each year. The larger site, at Cherry Hinton, is a 15 minute walk from the main car park, although free shuttle buses are provided. There is a quieter – relatively – and more child-friendly site at Coldhams Common, nearer the city centre, where there is on-site parking, free buses to the festival and access to the enarby indoor swimming pool.
For those not wishing to camp, there are, of course, many hotels and guest houses in the Cambridge area. And, as it’s summer and the majority of students have gone home, it’s always worth checking out possible Halls of Residence deals, as they can be quite reasonably priced.
The Cambridge Folk Festival website provides details of ticket sales. Customers are usually limited to 4 festival tickets and 1 camping ticket per booking and tickets are available both online and by telephone. Only residents of Cambridge are able to purchase tickets in person.
For those people who have only seen the Cambridge Folk Festival when it has been shown on the BBC television screens, it is well worth going to Cherry Hinton Hall and joining in this wonderfully unique celebration of good music.