Cambridge Folk Festival, Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

It may just have been a passing bush telegraph rumour but tickets for this year's 41st Cambridge Folk Festival - face value £80 - were said to be changing hands on eBay for up to £500. Having once again sold out in record time, the event entered its fifth decade in fine fettle, an operation graced with all the smoothness of a well-oiled machine.

For the festival's many annual regulars, stepping on site at Cherry Hinton, borrowed for the weekend from its usual role as a suburban park, is like entering a marvellously benign time warp. People have their favourite trees to camp under each year; the beer tent, infinite café, Japanese noodle bar and lost-children depository are reassuringly in their same places. The atmosphere of thoroughly chilled, richly seasoned enjoyment always prevails.

Despite a rival organ's advance sneer at the event as "a resolutely style-free bastion of earthiness and real ale", Cambridge's style is endlessly eclectic: sartorial trends this time ranged from the baggy and black favoured by the Idlewild contingent - who were treated to a compelling Sunday acoustic set from the Scottish five piece - to a number of men in frocks.

Idlewild clearly weren't worried about their standing in the style stakes being compromised, and neither was Mercury-nominated Cambridge debutante K T Tunstall. "It's totally absolutely marvellous to be here," was her verdict, during a categorically stellar performance. "I've wanted to play this festival for ever - because you listen."

As well as hot alternative properties like Tunstall and Idlewild, the choice of sounds encompassedeverything from barnstorming Scottish folk orchestra The Unusual Suspects to the Latin/hip-hop grooves of The Cat Empire. In between were American legends as diverse as The Blind Boys of Alabama, country-blues veteran Rodney Crowell, and soul/gospel princess Mavis Staples.

Also prominent were The Proclaimers, whose triumphant Friday night set - in the words of one observer - "left every Scotsman in the fields crying", and the multi-award-winning singer-songwriter Karine Polwart, previewing some excellent new tracks for her second album. The all-instrumental powerhouse that is Blazin' Fiddles, meanwhile, fitted in two thoroughly exhilarating shows around the small matter of a prior Saturday night engagement at the Albert Hall, headlining Fiddle Day at the Proms.

Christy Moore worked his customary magic in Sunday's headline slot, commanding pin-drop silence one minute, whipping up a riotous sing-along the next. Other highlights included the adventurous roots-funk of Spanish bagpiper Xose Manuel Budino, and the bruised, brooding lyricism of Louisiana songstress Mary Gauthier, but the true star attraction, as ever, was the Festival's own signature brand of quirky artistic intelligence and Swiss-watch logistical prowess.

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