The Cambridge Folk Festival is an annual music festival, established in 1965, held on the site of Cherry Hinton Hall in Cherry Hinton, one of the villages subsumed by the city of Cambridge, England. The festival is renowned for its eclectic mix of music and a wide definition of what might be considered folk. It occurs over a long weekend (3½ days) in summer at Cherry Hinton Hall. Until 2008 it was sponsored by BBC Radio 2, who broadcast it live and highlights were recorded and shown later and occasionally live on digital television channel BBC Four from 2002 to 2009 and from 2010 to 2012 on Sky Arts.
Recent histories have obscured the early origins of the folk festival. Ken Woollard's 1974 Ten years of folk: A history of the Cambridge Folk Festival mentions three councillors who had an idea for a festival (but doesn't name them).
Laing and Newman's 1994 book Thirty Years of the Cambridge Folk Festival (based in part on conversations with Ken Woollard) acknowledges the three councillors and names them on part of the first page that covers the setting up of festival. These key figures responsible for setting up and founding the Cambridge Folk festival are named as Paul Rayment, Philip Abrams and George Scurfield.
The role of Paul Rayment (1933-2013) is particularly relevant in the origins and establishment of the Cambridge folk festival (in the context of left wing 1960s political developments).
The setting up took about nine months and was developed by Paul Rayment, Philip Abrams and George Scurfield before Ken Woollard was asked to temporarily run the festival. In the 1960s the Rayments, Sharkeys, Scurfields and Woollards were all associated with Cambridge labour party and the folk club to greater or lesser extents. Jack Sharkey had the original idea which may have been linked to 'Jazz on a summer's Day' (1960) and he went to talk to Paul Rayment about this idea. 'Jazz on a summer's Day' the documentary film set at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island. Jack Sharkey also had the idea to hold the festival at Cherry Hinton Hall. In addition Jack Sharkey's engagement with folk music was instrumental to the original initiative.
Paul Rayment's initiative, drive, commitment and political skill produced the folk festival. Paul Rayment as a councillor suggested the festival the site of Cherry Hinton, managed the electrics of the first festival and volunteered to stay the night in the marquee for the first festival and there was no security. The other key figures that developed the festival were Philip Abrams, a professor of Sociology who saw it as a social initiative and George Scurfield the author, poet, and politician, whose abilities and sense of adventure and were vital to the establishment of the festival. The 1965 festival was the fruit of a labour party dominant council in a traditionally conservative area and particularly the endeavours of Paul Rayment. The founding of the Cambridge Folk festival reflects its subsequent diversity when a war hero poet and politician worked with an eminent sociologist and a politically driven electrician (bought up in a children's home) to bring something together representative of the 1960s zeitgeist in Cambridge. This was then handed over and brought to fruition by Ken Woollard, a local firefighter and socialist political activist, to help organise it.
The first festival sold 1400 tickets and almost broke even. Squeezed in as a late addition to the bill was a young Paul Simon who had just released I Am A Rock. The festival's popularity quickly grew. Woollard continued as Festival organiser and artistic director up until his death in 1993. In 2014 the festival celebrated its 50th event, including artists such as Van Morrison and Sinead O'Connor. Until 2015 it was run by Cambridge City Council. It is now run by a charity called Cambridge Live.
Rhiannon Giddens has been selected as the second ever guest curator of the Cambridge Folk Festival, taking place in 2018.
Most artists perform more than once over the weekend on the different stages: Stage 1, within a large marquee in front of the main Festival arena, the Stage 2, a smaller marquee, a Floor Singers stage at the Coldham's Common camp site and the Club Tent, hosted on the Festival's behalf by five local folk clubs. There, in addition to invited artists, members of the audience including some well known names get up and perform. There is a small tent called The Hub targeted where young people can practise together or attend workshop sessions.
As well as the more obvious folk singers, recent festivals have seen performances from Chumbawamba, Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros and The Levellers. 2006's line up included Emmylou Harris, Cara Dillon and Seth Lakeman. Artists such as Frank Turner, Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Idlewild, Jake Bugg have also all played at Cambridge in recent years. In celebration of the 50th festival Delphonic Music released a digital audio album featuring tracks from 50 different artists, including Joan Baez, The Proclaimers, Fairport Convention and Loudon Wainwright III.
In 2011, specialist music book publisher Rufus Stone released a limited edition book by rock art photographer Nick Elliott entitled TEN - A Decade in Images. The book features images taken at the festival by Elliott between 2000-2010 and was officially endorsed by the organisers. It includes quotes by some of the musicians featured in its pages such as Richard Hawley, Julie Fowlis, Sharon Shannon, and Cara Dillon as well as BBC radio presenters Mark Radcliffe and Mike Harding.Elliott released a follow-up book, 50Folk, in 2014 as a personal celebration of 50 years of the festival.