this folk revival has legs

By Art Menius 3/1/2012

This folk revival has legs beyond what happened fifty years ago. This one is not as obvious because it has depth, built to last, no apt to make some pop stars then fracture into many different scenes. The 21st Century folk revival comes up from these many genre related scenes, not from the top down. This movement comes from a sustainable direction. The myriad musical interests of today’s youth connect these worlds in a way consistent with Clark and Elaine Weissman’s vision for the Folk Alliance

The folk big tent thrives. It covers old-time, singer-songwriter, bluegrass, blues, Celtic, Klezmer, New Orleans jazz, world, and more. It comes to life each year at the Folk Alliance International Conference. These last three years have seen the group grow consistently young with 2012 bringing the tipping point. I am as proud and excited as any grandparent.Image

The worm has turned. It is a great time to be an elder in folk music as the kids are all right – interested in learning trad and then using it for their own purposes. We have made it through the time when we disconnected from the roots and returned to where tradition informs innovation, where the past fuels change. Some of the young folks are into the politics too. Happy days are here again.


8 thoughts on “this folk revival has legs

  1. As another middle age approaching geezerdom, , Arts words ring in me with resonance. I’ve been Folklorist here at the John C. Campbell Folk School for almost twenty-one years. I have never seen nor heard a fresher batch of youngin’s. Miles Krassen, with whom I played music back in the early 1980’s in Bloomington, and I, as well as old friend Dr. Bruce Conforth and lately with Roy Book Binder, all three of us remark that we are now the age of the folk we were documenting as folklorists thirty-five to forty years ago. And speaking for myself these gnarly fingers can’t keep up with the 20-somethings who learned perhaps not because of us but in spite of us. All except for my peer Laura P. Schulman, who when she plays makes angels weep and saints dance in frenzy. I’m proud to have played with her as recently as a month ago. So the revival continues and continues, and these youngest players that come here to the folk school to study Appalachian music from us old scholars and geezers—speaking for me, I’m left eating their dust.


  2. I’m not sure that anything you wrote has any sort of relevance. The ‘folk’ revival is still not any closer to the sources than the last go-thru. it’s still college-educated city people copying uneducated country people, who, as they ape their culture, ridicule them and consider them backward and racist. The ‘folk’ experience is basically the desperate scrambling to replicate an authentic cultural experience while simultaneously working to destroy the sources of the experience. The phrase “Some of the young folks are into the politics too” is very telling; were actual “trad” “folk” all that pre-occupied with politics? I wonder if Roscoe Holcomb or Hobart Smith, among the actual folk that everyone these days copies, actually spent that much time with it.


    • While it is undeniable that urban youth fuel this folk revival, I would challenge you to produce evidence that the kids today “ridicule” rural people and “consider them backward and racist.” I don’t get that feeling from today’s youth at all.
      The rosters of actual “trad” folk interested in politics goes on and on: Aunt Molly Jackson, Hazel Dickens, Lula Belle Wiseman, Ralph Stanley, Woody Guthrie, Nimrod Workman, Jean Ritchie, Jim Ringer, Sarah Ogan Gunning, and that’s just off the top of my head.


    • I see a strong contradiction in your post. You assert that young, contemporary, educated folkies have a condescending attitude towards the southern rural Americans they study. However, you imply that the “”trad” folk”” musicians didn’t engage in political art. I know there are countless examples of early trad artists writing songs that recount the dehumanizing conditions of poor rural Americans-that is political song-writing. These were smart and insightful people who were well aware of where there were on the societal ladder and what kept them there. Do you really believe that all, or even most, rural American performers were politically inert? Are you saying that these were people whose lack of education kept them from having opinion? That seems to be ridiculing to me.


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