The term ‘folk music’ has a broad definition and the Cambridge Folk Festival is testament to this.
The British folk scene was well represented. Sea shanties from Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends, an English ceilidh from The Committee Band, lovely harmonies from the duo Megson, Seth Lakeman’s moving west country songs, Julie Fowlis’s beautiful Scots gaelic singing, Show Of Hands intensely articulate songs and the lush arrangements of The Unthanks. Top Irish traditional bands Dervish and Lunasa also gave notable performances.
Cambridge Folk Festival also brings together stunning roots acts from around the world.
The Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré played a powerfully rhythmic set, there were Balkan brass from the Serbian Orchestra of Boban and Marko Markovitch, veteran Jamaicans The Jolly Boys, and a blend of gospel, soul and blues from The Holmes Brothers. Seasick Steve was another highlight, with country blues.
The festival always features a strong contingent of American traditional and country performers. This year’s line-up included hot fiddle and tight vocal harmonies from The Quebe Sisters, singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters, the energetic string band The Caroline Chocolate Drops and a magnificent set from country star-turned acoustic folk performer Kathy Mattea. The legendary Kris Kristofferson also performed.
Also featured were some interesting fusions and unusual combinations. Irish soul singer Imelda May and traditional musician Sharon Shannon was a surprising collaboration, Mama Rosin must be fairly unique in being a Cajun band from Switzerland, Natalie Merchant’s wonderful acoustic set culminated in a guest appearance from Lunasa and The fusion project Imagined Village brought together top English folk musicians such as Martin Carthy, his daughter Eliza and Chris Wood with sitar and dhol from British-Indian instrumentalists.
What really summed up the musical breadth and multicultural spirit of the festival was the Glasgow collective The Burns Unit. The musicians come from radically different musical backgrounds and include folk singer Karine Polwart, Emma Pollock of the Delgados, alt-folk artist King Creosote and rapper MC Soom T. Their combination of folk, pop, indie, rap and dub was attractive and immensely entertaining.