I'm just back from a great weekend with my friends Bon and Ann at the Cropredy Festival 2016. It was very civilised, as they live nearby, so we did the festival thing, but had proper accommodation and facilities to go home to each night.
I wouldn't count myself a proper 'folkie', although quite a lot of what is normally called acoustic music features in my playlists. However, I had always associated Cropredy with being a bit more full-on as a folk festival. In fact, it turned out to be more varied than that. That's not to say it didn't have its fair share of characters with crazy hats and wild hair and beards in the crowd and on stage (my friend observed that not all of them were very good at disguising themselves as muggles). And, of course, it has Fairport Convention at the heart of it - starting it off, choosing the acts, and providing the grand finale.
There's just the one stage, with a programme running from midday (4pm on Thu) to 11 or midnight. It's very friendly and probably a lot calmer than many music festivals, and the clientele is on average older, although there were younger people and families there too.
Day 1 illustrated the variety well. Fairport kicked off with a short set. Next came Gryphon, who were a folky prog rock outfit in the early 70s and reformed in 2009. Dreamy music that obviously meant a lot to those playing it, but I guess it would have meant more to those who knew the albums first time around. I took the opportunity to browse the excellent range of food stalls, find the beer tent and generally take in the venue. However, they were the first band I have ever seen use a krumhorn, which really ought to be a Harry Potter prop.
Things soon took an upbeat turn, with CoCo and the Butterfields. Any band that includes violin, acoustic guitar, beat box, banjo, bass, and drums as its instrumentation ought to be interesting, and they were. Great energy and rhythm with powerful vocals. Full marks to lead vocalist and violinist Dulcima Showan for carrying on having knocked a piece of wood out her violin playing so vigorously. Even more respect to the violin maker, as it stayed in tune and sounded fine.
One of the highlights for me came next when Hayseed Dixie provided what was, for me, the performance of the day. The basic idea is that they play rock songs with bluegrass instruments - hence their name is a play on AC/DC. But the energy, musicianship, vocals and sheer commitment to live performance is something else. They were absolutely extraordinary, and great fun to watch. I gather the band's line-up has changed a lot over the years; all I can say is that the present team are brilliant. Probably not a band to listen to a lot on CD, but a live must-see.
The first day was rounded off with Madness. They gave us a tour of their career with a setlist of greatest hits, and were very tight as a band. In some ways it was slightly less engaging with the audience than previous acts - they were following the Hayseeds - but if you grew up with the hits, it was a treat.