Fairport Convention

Festival

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The annual Cropredy Music Festival is one of the most important events on the yearly calendar for fans of British folk music; organized by members of Fairport Convention, it's not just a three-day concert but a gathering of the tribes for followers of the U.K.'s most venerable folk-rock outfit, and as Fairport traditionally closes out the last day of the festival with a marathon performance, it's not uncommon for former members of the band to pop by for the big show. The 2002 Cropredy Festival was an especially memorable event for fans; not only did it mark the group's 35th birthday, but nearly every living Fairport alumnus showed up for the occasion, and this two-disc collection of recordings from the 2002 event features near-complete reunions of the original 1967 lineup (minus only the late Martin Lamble on drums) and the 1969 Liege & Lief edition (with Vikki Clayton standing in for Sandy Denny and Gerry Conway taking over on drums for the more inexplicably absent Dave Mattacks). Disc one of Festival Cropredy 2002 preserves material from the Friday night set that focuses on Fairport's first years, while disc two was drawn from the Saturday concert that emphasized the years 1969 through 1973, from the epochal Liege & Lief through Rosie. While many linchpins of Fairport's noble past are on hand (with Iain Matthews in especially fine voice) and Richard Thompson's guitar adds an impressive degree of firepower as usual, the performances on Festival Cropredy 2002 tend to reflect the personality of the group in its 21st century incarnation; the reckless fire and musical derring-do of Fairport's first decade aren't as audible as the more polished and sober approach of a group that has not merely survived but become an institution all these years later. Still, if these recordings don't often suggest how innovative Fairport Convention's music was in their youth, there's no question that these musicians (both the current band and their many guests) love these songs and play them with the skill and the passion they deserve; it's an impressive performance, and when the musicians unite for a final chorus of "Meet on the Ledge," more than a few folk obsessives may find themselves wiping away a tear of joy and nostalgia as past and present come together for one beautiful moment. It must have been a remarkable show to witness, and this set offers a potent glimpse of what we missed.

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