Cambridge Folk Festival 2022 review

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

It’s easy to start by saying “another year, another Cambridge Folk Festival”, but this wasn’t “just another one”; it was the one that followed the two abandoned years.

Continuity is important for a festival reliant on such a strong ‘family and friends’ vibe. It attracts thousands of regulars who just want to relax and meet up with the same people as the year before, in the same place.

Would they come back?

Largely, yes, they did. I was told that the festival was 90% sold out – that’s not bad in the face of so much competition, uncertain economic times and that three-year gap since the last one. But the festival desperately needed to deliver familiarity. To be honest, that’s even more important than the lineup, which we could all see was going to be average at best.

I’ve attended the festival since 1993 without missing one, so this was my 28th. Changes over the years have been (very!) gradual, but this year had some noticeable ones. And they weren’t great.

Was money the issue? It normally is. There were missing merchandise stalls, inadequate toilets and inappropriately heavy-handed security. I’m guessing what we knew and loved had been priced out by lower bidders.

But people noticed, they really did.

As for the music, the artists who appeared were excellent, but it was an underwhelming lineup. Why were festival stalwarts like The Unthanks appearing in Kings Lynn at the same time but not in Cambridge? Why was the whole thing scheduled on the same weekend as festival darling Kate Rusby’s Underneath The Stars in Yorkshire? Why did the Wickham Festival the following weekend get the Saw Doctors’ only UK festival appearance? And quite frankly, where were all the traditional acoustic groups we most associate with the Cambridge Folk Festival?

The beancounters may have put a dampener on the event, but at least the artists and the local staff did their best to overcome it. For every subcontract security guy telling us we couldn’t bring that in here, there still seemed to be a friendly wave from a familiar face on the gate. And even if some of the performers we’d have hoped to see may not have been present, those that were invited put on a great show, and provided a number of special moments. I’ll never forget Billy Bragg’s set, as the ripple of applause developed into raucous celebration and a singalong as word spread of the women’s football victory. No performer in the world would have handled it better.

I think that the organisers may have to really pull something out of the bag to get a good attendance next year. If their instructions are profitability rather than keeping the crowds happy, I worry if it’s going to be possible. But I’d love to go to another 28 Cambridge Folk Festivals.