The Cambridge Folk Festival Booker, Bev Burton – Interview

Praise the return of the summer sun and The Cambridge Folk Festival! The long-standing and iconic festival returns with yet another impressive line-up set to light up the warm nights.  It all starts on the 1st August, opening day.  We had the privilege to sit down with Bev Burton, who cleverly booked all the talented, wonderful collection of artists.  No doubt marking this year’s festival as another one to remember.

Q: How did you come to book the line up for Cambridge Folk Festival?

A: I have been booking festivals for over 10 years. I heard from an agent friend that Cambridge Folk Festival were looking for a new booker so I asked her to send them my details. I got a call, went to meet the directors and after a few meetings they offered me the job.

Q: What is it that inspires so many artists and festival goers to gravitate to The Cambridge Folk Festival?

A: The festival is an institution, it’s one of the oldest and most respected in the world. When you’ve been here once you see, hear and feel why CFF is such a special event. Whether you buy a ticket or you’re an act on the bill, you feel in safe hands.  You know that this is an experienced festival that looks after its audience.  Additionally, the bands know they are very well looked after. From the point of booking, through to the end of the event, it’s a very slick and enjoyable experience.

Q:What is it about folk and country music that generates such a great vibe?

A: Folk covers such a wide and wonderful amount of music and this is one of the attractions. You get to see and hear real artists.  It’s not a festival of a bunch of people playing manufactured rubbish and playing dress up rock star. Folk is genuine, honest, beautifully crafted music.   Folk music written by real artists.  That musical genre should be far more recognised than it is.  There should be more of the commercial festivals booking folks artists. The talent blows people away!

Q: Nick Mulvey is your guest curator this year, a local to Cambridge, how did you come about to choosing him?

A: Nick has been on the wish list for a while and this year it worked out, I’m really happy to have Nick onboard.  He and his team have been great to work with to shape his curation, I hope people like what we do on-site this year.

Q: What was your process for selecting artists for the billing this year?

A: I have an idea of who I want to book and am planning 2-3 years in advance.   However, until the discussions start with the agents, I won’t know who is available for the festival. There is a huge amount of scenarios that can affect a booking resulting in an agent/artist confirming to play. Booking is a fine art with a lot of moving parts, negotiation and a little bit of luck thrown in. I try to bring artists to the bill that have never played here before.  Artists like First Aid Kit, Patti Smith, Gordie Mackeenam & His Rhythm, Boys, St Paul and the Broken Bones, Irish Mythen, Jack Broadbent etc.  We ensure that the bands that have played many times before and are beloved by our audience play too.  However,  we try to do something a little different you won’t have seen before.

Q: What challenges do you come across when booking a line up?

A: Far too many to note down here! I have to roll up my sleeves and get in the ring with all the other bookers and make sure I get the best artists.  All whilst trying to keep everyone happy and that’s not an easy feat. Like I said before there’s a lot of moving parts to the booking process and some years you can get every artist you go after.  But, most years it’s hard work for one reason or another it just doesn’t work out or the artists you want just aren’t available.

Q: Is there any artist that has yet to play that you would like to?

A: The artist I ask after every year and have done so for over 10 years is Tracy Chapman. I would fight tooth and nail if/hopefully when she decides to play some shows again.  She is an incredible artist and woman, she’s the one for me.

Q: Do you think there will be artists that you will have back that have been a runaway success at The Cambridge Folk Festival in previous years?

A: You know when you hit a gem and when that is re-enforced by the audience then that’s it.  We know they belong to us! And as long as they keep doing what they do, I’ll invite them back. Finding those treasures around the world and bringing them to the festival and watching people love them is the best thing.  Irish Mythen for example was a great success last year and she’ll be coming back again soon.

Q: Do you think there will always be a Cambridge Folk Festival in that there will always people drawn to the folk and country music it so brilliantly delivers?

A: Festivals have to evolve, especially in the current overly saturated market. Not mention what is happening in the UK at the moment. We have to strike a balance that keeps our loyal fan base buying tickets and coming back every year.  However, we also have to ensure the festival is still around in 50 years’ time.  Therefore, we have to book artists that are going to attract a new generation of fans that will come.  We want them fall in love with what we do and stick around for another 20-30 years too.

 

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Dana Miller is the Head of Music News for GSGM

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