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Cambridge Folk Festival

Cambridge Folk Festival

Cambridge Folk Festival is one of the premier music events in Europe and one of the longest running and most famous folk festivals in the world. It has become hugely popular attracting ten thousand people, many of whom return year after year.

The Festival is renowned for its eclectic mix of music and a wide definition of what might be considered folk. The best traditional folk artists from the UK and Ireland rub shoulders with more contemporary acts, the finest American country, blues and roots artists, acclaimed singer songwriters and even the odd pop star. Bluegrass, gospel, cajun, zydeco, jazz, world, klezmer and a ceilidh are also regular features. The line up has reflected the many changes in the music scene from the 60s to the present and is always a hotbed mix of the old and the new. The list of performers who have appeared reads like a who’s who and the Festival has been a launching pad for many now well known artists.

The story began in autumn 1964 when Cambridge City Council decided to hold a music festival the next summer. They approached local firefighter and political activist Ken Woollard who was a regular attender at the newly formed Cambridge Folk Club. Ken had been inspired by a documentary, Jazz On A Summer’s Day, about the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. He wanted a festival that preserved the values of the fast evolving folk club movement and expressed his socialist ideals, one which covered a wide spectrum of music, and most importantly had a friendly family atmosphere. The first Festival sold one thousand four hundred tickets and almost broke even. Squeezed in as a late addition to the bill was a young Paul Simon who had just released I Am A Rock.

Cambridge City Council decided to stick with the Festival and their confidence was rewarded as its popularity quickly grew. Ken continued as Festival organiser and artistic director up until his death in 1993. This was a great blow, but the team of staff and friends which he had built up over the years, backed by the commitment and resources of the City Council, pulled together to carry on the great tradition he fostered. To this day the Festival embodies the same philosophy from the early days, while it has grown into a major international event. It is now run by Cambridge City Council Arts & Entertainments, together with over two hundred event staff who know and love the Festival.

Most artists perform more than once over the weekend on the different stages: Stage 1, housed within a giant marquee in front of the main Festival arena, the Stage 2, a more intimate venue, and the Club Tent, hosted on the Festival’s behalf by five local folk clubs. There, in addition to invited artists, members of the audience including some well known names get up and perform. Indeed very often the real stars are not the booked acts but the audience themselves, who create their own music in sessions in the bars and long into the evenings in the campsite.

In 2011, The Den was launched, as a stage dedicated to emerging talent. It is located just round the corner from The Hub, away from the bustle of the main stages, and set within a beautiful Indian marquee, decorated to create a quirky, welcoming and intimate space. In addition to booked artists, 15 minute slots are set aside daily for musicians attending the Festival.

Throughout its history the Festival has applied the simple ideal of providing the best for artists and audience alike, and its site facilities are amongst the best to be found. Clean toilets, marquees to keep the audience covered in the event of rain, extensive provision for disabled people, award winning stage production, food from around the world, the Folknet Cafe with free internet access, craft, music and instrument stalls, friendly staff, campsite entertainment, a dedicated youth area called The Hub, a creche, a children’s concert and a variety of workshops are all part of the picture.

Acclaim for the Festival has grown in recent years and there have been a number of award nominations. The Festival regularly receives excellent press coverage and reviews in both the national and local press.  BBC Radio 2 have broadcast extensive coverage of the Festival for a number of years. BBC 4 have previously televised the Festival, it is now being televised on Sky Arts.


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