Review: Cambridge Folk Festival Day Three, August 4

PUBLISHED: 14:34 05 August 2018 | UPDATED: 14:34 05 August 2018

Patti Smith at the Cambridge Folk Festival 2018. Picture: CELIA BARTLETT PHOTOGRAPHY

Patti Smith at the Cambridge Folk Festival 2018. Picture: CELIA BARTLETT PHOTOGRAPHY

Copyright © 2018 Celia Bartlett Photography. All rights reserved.

This was my first time at Cambridge Folk Festival but I hope it won’t be my last.

Eric Bibb at Cmbridge Folk Festival 2018. Picture: CELIA BARTLETT PHOTOGRAPHYEric Bibb at Cmbridge Folk Festival 2018. Picture: CELIA BARTLETT PHOTOGRAPHY

A friendly gold, blue and glittering robot, looming wooden sculptures of badgers boogying and Morris dancers in the August heat were just a few of the wonderful sights to be seen on the third day of the folk festival, now in its 53rd year.

Although I only attended for one day, it was clear other visitors had made the festival their home, planted firmly in their deck chairs, filling out crosswords with the Saturday papers strewn across their laps, or just taking a nap.

I spent the first few hours wondering around the site, weaving between stores selling baby mobiles with felt dragons made in Nepal and miniature carvings of owls, alligators and bison made from deer antler.

Massachusetts quartet Darlingside were something special. Gathered around a single microphone, their polished voices slid and burst together, the bows of their instruments often moving in a frenzy. Violinist and mandolin player Auyon Mukharji reminded the crowd of the band’s American roots by announcing it was Meghan Markle’s birthday and proceeding to list things the members had in common with the Duchess of Sussex (hint: not a lot).

Rhiannon Giddens at the Cambridge Folk Festival. Picture: CELIA BARTLETT PHOTOGRAPHYRhiannon Giddens at the Cambridge Folk Festival. Picture: CELIA BARTLETT PHOTOGRAPHY

Barack Obama was also born on August 4, Patti Smith informed us, adding: “would that we have those golden days back.” Smith paid homage to folk musicians by performing a Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, with the crowd joining and mouthing the words. As the crowd’s voice rose so did Smith’s and an unlikely duet was created.

Earlier in the day, a keen silence fell across Stage one as bluesman Eric Bibb recalled the stories behind his songs, such as On my Way to Bamako, about his excitement for his first trip to West Africa. A song about a “blues elder” of his included the line “rather be free than hanging from a tree in the Mississippi sun” and Bibb slipped back decades when he sung about workers travelling to find better employment at a steel factory in the Second World War. Bibb was not just performing; he was chronicling experiences, fears and hopes.

Classically trained and former co-leader of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens dominated the stage with non-stop energy. The concentration and sweat on her face showed on the big screen as she played a number of instruments. She sashayed from one side of the stage to the other, hand on hips, as she performed an Ethel Waters song which reclaimed and subverted stereotypes about African Americans. However, Giddens also knew when her voice was the only thing required, performing a haunting melody about a migrant’s experience as she prepares to leave her home country.

Rhiannon Giddens at the Cambridge Folk Festival. Picture: CELIA BARTLETT PHOTOGRAPHYRhiannon Giddens at the Cambridge Folk Festival. Picture: CELIA BARTLETT PHOTOGRAPHY

Plopping myself down in the club tent during the sign-up slots I not only discovered a Jeremy Corbyn look-alike introducing the artists, but some fantastic young performers, shuffling on the stage, including the trio Two Day Coma who performed a melancholy song about life’s repetitions.

I hope I will be back next year, to take in more talent, stories, robots and the vast range of whatever else is on offer.

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