Strawberry Fair 2019 gallery: Sunny side up in Cambridge
Strawberry Fair showed its kinder face for the love-themed 2019 extravaganza as around 30,000 festival fans from all around the country converged on Midsummer Common for the annual free event.
Saturday's weather held up nicely - lots of sunshine, some welcome breezes - as the fields by the river filled up with traders, musicians, travellers, families, friends and revellers for a summer fair that was first initiated in 1211, when it was a trading fair with horses and bare knuckle fighters on the agenda, alongside some of Europe's finest wares - wine, lace, spices and cheeses were especially popular. The free festival concept rebooted the event in 1974, adding music and the arts to the mix, and today it is one of - if not the - biggest one-day free volunteer-run music festival in Europe.
Yes it's had its troubles - in 2011 the fields were fallow as the organisers regrouped and returned with fencing, security guards and extra policing to ensure that the event remained family-friendly. But if today's Strawberry Fair is a gentler occasion than in days of yore, it has something to offer pretty much everyone - and it's still capable of delivering some really bizarre musical moments. And that's just at the Scarecrow Corner stage where Mr Marcaille, a Bulgarian cello player who also thumps a bass drum and sings, produced a new musical genre in his own right, and Dissident Noize Factory generated a strange fusion of White Stripes-ish drum'n'guitar wedded to a mystic female singer and violin player.
There's music stages all over the site. The Flying Pigs pub stage showcased some of the best Cambridge musicians playing today. Then there's the 'Love Music, Hate Racism' stage set up in the open air, The Cambuskers Showcase stage, the Wigwam stage, the Morphic Resonance stage, the Love Rebels stage... okay some of the band's were a bit awry, but move 50 yards and there'll be someone better.
Nor is it just about the music. There's all sorts of arts and causes to engage with. The arts area features talks and works from Kettles Yard, Cambridge Community Circus, Oblique Arts, Haddenham Arts Centre, the Wild Strawberries stage for wordsmiths and those trying to raise awareness of all sorts of issues, plus newcomers like Aurora Arts Collective, whose prints and tee designs are guided by a fine artistic eye.
The local community engages fully with the event too. Local film maker James Murray White was on hand at the Johnny Marvel yurt, along with Jill Eastland, who guided me through the various art and poetic/musical works by the 'King of Mill Road' whose life ended too soon at the age of 51. But he's kept alive by friends and well-wishers, and a Facebook page in his honour.
The main drag on the event is replete with food stalls, and jewellery and clothes traders who all put in a decent shift. There's a funfair area for the youngsters, and reasonable access to alcohol, even if I still find it a bit weird to be separated from the Fort St George by a fence, but people are easy-going about these things - whatever it takes to keep the county lines crews out, I suppose.
Bravo the organisers, you put on a great event, and help generate some really fun times. Just how it should be.