Cambridge Folk Festival 2018 preview

The Cambridge Folk Festival returns to the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall in August (2nd – 5th), one of the longest running and most celebrated folk festivals in the world. Held each year since 1965, the Festival is renowned for its unique atmosphere and its eclectic mix of music: the best traditional folk artists from the UK and Ireland rub shoulders with cutting edge contemporary acts, the finest American country, blues and roots artists, acclaimed singer songwriters, famous names and world music stars.

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2018 headline acts include iconic singer-songwriter, poet and force of nature, Patti Smith (Saturday), acclaimed Swedish indie-folk sisters, First Aid Kit, exuberant Malian desert blues group Songhoy Blues (both Friday) and veteran American singer-songwriters Janis Ian and John Prine (Sunday).

Other highlights include folk royalty Peggy Seeger, Nashville Hall-of-Famer Rosanne Cash, and, at the other end of the musical spectrum, Pünk Flöyd will ‘folk up’ the back catalogue of Cambridge’s finest, Pink Floyd.

Also on the bill is Rhiannon Giddens, founding member of the Grammy award-winning folk band Carolina Chocolate Drops, who acts as 2018’s Guest Curator. Interviewed recently in Mojo magazine, Rhiannon Giddens praises the ‘beautiful vibe’ of Cambridge Folk Festival: ‘some festivals, people go to hang out and drink beer, maybe see a band or two. At Cambridge they really want to hear what’s going on.’

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At Giddens’ invitation, folk-elder Peggy Seeger, Canadian mountain-banjo player Kaia Kater, harmonising married couple Birds of Chicago, ‘Southern Gothic’ guitarist Amythyst Kiah and Bristol country-soul voice Yola Carter will share the bill with the headliners.

Giddens is connected to the idea of creating communities and making opportunities happen. Part of this involves addressing the ‘very narrow, white idea of folk musicians as ‘a guy with a guitar, or a banjo.’ As an African-American, she is interested in giving a platform to ‘people of colour’ and broadening the folk narrative, while honouring the longer continuum of the people’s music.

‘Peggy Seeger, every generation of music maker can learn from just watching her stage craft for 10 minutes. She always tells the stories that need to be told.’ Giddens cites Seeger’s song The Ballad of Jimmy Massey, ‘about a man who came back from Iraq’, which ‘does that thing that ballads have done for hundreds of years. The singer gets out of the way and the story comes through.’

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A big part of the Festival’s ethos is to celebrate and nurture emerging talent and in 2011 the Festival created a dedicated stage, The Den, to provide a platform for artists under 30 years old to progress their music careers. The Hub is another special area for young musicians to take part in workshops, sessions and perform. These performances spaces have opened the Festival to a new generation of musicians. The Festival still maintains strong links to the local Folk Club scene through The Club Tent which sees local Clubs from around the county performing throughout the weekend.

As well as a jam-packed music programme there is plenty to occupy you away from the main stages. There will be a variety of workshops and talks for festival-goers to take part in, T’ai Chi and all things therapeutic will be on offer and plenty of family-friendly entertainment for children, with a mouth-watering array of food and drink stalls to enjoy.

The Festival has won several awards over the last 50 years, including in 2014 the BBC Radio 2 Good Tradition Award and in 2016 the A Greener Festival Award, awarded to the Festival because of an on-going commitment to reducing its Carbon Footprint.

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