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Cambridge Festival 31st July - 3rd August 2003
Saturday Festival Diary

The sea of bodies is thicker than ever as the heatwave continues and more people cram into the site.

Cambridge Festival Diary
Josh Ritter Round at BBC Central, Josh Ritter drops by. The young American singer-songwriter's taking time out from touring with Joan Baez to hit Cambridge with his mature, conversational songs, and while he's here, he's desperate to make time to get to the University Library to feed his passion for books. We hope you make it, Josh!

Over at Stage 1, New Yorker Mindy Smith, hottest singer-songwriter property around, sings songs straight from the heart. A tiny woman with a huge voice (sweet, sexy, confessional, hard as nails) that hits you right between the eyes, she's refreshingly glitz-free and inhabits her music like nothing else exists. She must surely go down as one of the festival's biggest first-time showstoppers and wins a whole new batch of fans on her first UK visit.

Jarlath Henderson and Mike Harding Meanwhile, a splendiferous list of musicians and singers comes and goes on Stage 2, at the annual Big Session traditionally hosted by folk academic and ex-Battlefielder Brian McNeill. We catch the bit where Last Night's Fun join with newest BBC Young Folk Award winner Jarlath Henderson for a concertina/guitar/uilleann pipe-fest which is a hoot, followed by another new sensation, the Old Crow Medicine Show. This band of good-looking young ex-new York buskers are currently touring with Gillian Welch and causing much media sensation with their authentic bluegrass-oldtimey string-driven sound. They do a fabulous loping harmonica/harmony version of C C Rider and get our Most Personable Chaps Of The Festival award. Later they stand in for The Dixie Hummingbirds, who are stranded at an airport somewhere a long way away, and do their reputation no harm whatsoever.

Mark Radcliffe has tracked down a guy who's not missed a single Cambridge in its forty years. His name is John Macnamara and he runs Bishops Stortford folk club. Want to know about the time the beer tent caught on fire? He's your man!

Wasp Girl Out on the field, the acid-ochre dust from the path is causing a slight haze as people-jams clog up the routes from mainstage to catering area. Tempers are positively Zen-like, given the heat, and the blazing sun isn't deterring people from jiving to Levellers Acoustic's fiddle-driven, air-punching rock. It's the full band line-up but with a softer focus and sitting down, (which accords nicely with Tom Robinson's definition of acoustic music in his Friday night set) and they perform old and new material to a cheerily partisan crowd.

Perplexed toddlers commune with wasps, the freshly-squeezed lemonade stall is under siege, and elves, wizards and eye-wateringly sugar-pink-clad girls drift by - just the usual festival crowd enjoying a weekend out.

Back at the ranch, Jarlath Henderson has turned up to record a BBC session - part of his YFA prize - and do an interview with Mike Harding. He's an astonishingly good uilleann piper who's just finished his A-levels and is looking forward to a year out, probably in Glasgow putting a band together before doing "something medical" at Uni. He's got such a mature, easy personality he's bound to succeed in whatever he does and we wish him all the best.The boy done good!
competition winners At 6.30 we meet up with winners of the BBC 2 Cambridge tickets competition to see how they're enjoying themselves. As it turns out, it's the first time here for Tony and Jane Fisk and Mark McCormack and his friend (whose name we must chase up!) and they're having a great time. A couple of jugs of Pimms in the artists' bar later, we're all nicely refreshed and ready for more music. The temperature cools a bit and the jaunty melodeon of Sharon Shannon provides an aural backdrop for a saunter across the field in search of fortifying Caribbean chicken.

Snapshots of the evening: a very relaxed Mindy Smith delivering her fabulous version of Dolly Parton's Jolene in the Club Tent; the tall and very cool Keb' Mo filling the recording van with his gangly frame; a press of photographers in the pit doing a complex weaving dance around each other and the camera dollies, trying for that perfect shot. Alt-country singer Gillian Welch marks her first Cambridge visit by wearing a rhinestone suit (reserved for special occasions only), delivering her intensely intimate songs with a warm live spirit that CDs can't convey, and sharing deliciously iconoclastic observations ("people find a chick with a banjo inherently sexy"). As ever, David Rawlings provides a perfect symbiosis - such a writing partnership must have been made in heaven. A great set.

Keb' Mo' A quick check at Radio 2 reveals a grinning, gyrating crowd enjoying Amparanoia's final set of the festival, while across the field drifts a raucous, multi-voiced chorus of would-be Dylans suggesting "everybody must get stoned" as the mainstage audience marks time during the changeover. When Jimmy Cliff takes to the stage, the marquee nearly takes off. The unbelievably sprightly Jamaican legend rocks, bops, shimmies and shakes his way through hits old and new and the crowd lap it up, punching the air, shouting refrains and generally going wild. "This is a party!" yells Cliff, and no-one's disagreeing. Half the festival's headliners are seen grooving in the stageside guest area and bar and for a brief time reggae rules in the balmy air of Cherry Hinton Hall. Wu yeah yo indeed! Off into the night with the refrain to The Harder They Come echoing around the brain.
  Cambridge 2004
  2004 Gallery
  2004 Diary
  Cambridge 2005
  Radio 2 Folk
Who did you enjoy the most this year?

Christy Moore
KT Tunstall
The Duhks
Old Crow Medicine Show


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