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Suzanne Vega

Cambridge Folk Festival (continued)

A lot of festivals in the UK have grown into corporate behemoths, smeared with sponsor logos, surrounded by high security fences, with the average festival-goer herded around, forced to buy over-priced and undercooked food, which inevitably leads to a visit to a deeply unpleasant and overflowing chemical toilet. It's a grim experience, for which the public are expected to shell out, on average, 100. (A four-day ticket for Cambridge costs half that.)

Although CFF isn't exactly small (somewhere in the region of 11,000 people are on site over the weekend), it maintains a family atmosphere. And this is not just family as in people with kids (which are in abundance), but an extended family of familiar faces that you see year on year. The guy with the Viking helmet and water-pistol. The massive tattooed biker in his Alison Krauss T-shirt. Kirsty scooting about the site in her powered wheelchair. And the many festival workers, all from the area, who return again and again to invest of themselves--among them the security guard on the second stage who invariably claims that my backstage passes are forged. (Oh, how we laugh.)

It's hard for me to express how laid-back the whole experience is. I think of an older woman dragging her (initially reluctant) husband to his feet to dance to Edward II (a now-defunct band who successfully mixed up traditional English folk with reggae and African rhythms), the two of them dancing side-by-side, hand-in-hand in the sunshine. Or a group of kids whirling around in a big circle to James Taylor. And dancing's not confined to the audience--having just taken pictures of Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings cooking a storm with R&B classics, I walked backstage and past Suzanne Vega and her daughter happily jigging about by the stage entrance.

That's another thing--there's not the huge gap between audience and performer, as you'll often see artistes ambling around the festival site, in the beer tent, catching other artists, or just chatting with people. Joe Strummer, sadly missed Clash singer, came for years as a paying customer before finally playing a wonderfully rocking set.   continue

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