I had to get one more post in before bed. Just ran into this when I was cruisin’ the interwebs… written by Jerry Rasmussen in 2003, concerning the state of folk music. Pertinent now– take heed. And thanks Jerry… ~TH~
When I tell people I play folk music, the most common question I get, before their eyes glaze over is “What is that?” They’re not quibbling about “What is folk music?,” as we Mudcatters do in endless, repetitive threads. They don’t have a clue, what I’m talking about.
Maybe the term folk music is an oxymoron? Music of folks, when folks don’t even know what it is?
I’ve given a good chunk of my life trying to make folk music more accessible, with very limited success on my part. I ran a concert series for 27 years and a folk festival for 7. I’ve also performed in all kinds of settings, and the ones that are most appealing to me are those where there is a natural convergence of “folks”. My group has sung at an outdoor festival in Hartford several times, where there was no admission charge, and people who were in the park wandered over because they were curious. For some of them, it may have been the first time they heard “folk” music. But like most folk festivals, the attendance dwindled over the years and the festival became a one day event. And, rather than counting the attendance, including all the performers, their families, the organizers and volunteers, if you counted the people who just came to the festival, you could have gotten them all in to a house concert.
It just seems like folk festivals have become private parties for folkies, and a chance for us all to get together with friends. I love that as much as anyone, but it doesn’t draw many new people in.
I’ve had the honor of performing twice at the Big Muddy Festival in Boonville, Missouri, and to my mind, it is one of the most successful festivals I’ve ever been a part of… it reminds me of another wonderful festival… The North Country Folk Festival in Ironwood, Michigan. They share a common characteristic… they are folk festivals where folks come, as well as folkies. I ended up talking to a pig farmer at length, in Boonville, and when I walked down the street, half the people I met had come to the Festival. It was a community event and the community was a central part of the weekend.
Local churches were involved with the gospel workshop, and it was a rare festival in that there were actually a few black folks there.
I’d like to say that I know what the folk community needs, but I don’t. I just know that if folk music is going to have any relevance for every-day folks, it has to reach out to every day folks.
So,George, I think that you hit the nail on the head. Any way that we can get the music out to the folks, and not be content to keep it for the folkies, I’m all for.
Several years ago, I was asked to play music for a block party. I was standing off to the side, running through some guitar licks, and three little black girls came over and asked me what I was going to play. I didn’t say “folk music,” because I knew they had no idea what folk music is. I said “I don’t play top 40, I play lower 40.” When I got up on stage and started playing, a lot of the black kids (including the three little girls) got on their feet and started dancing… did a fairly good buck and wing, not having any idea that there ever was a dance called the buck and wing. They just liked the rhythm of the music, and were having a good time dancing. When was the last time you saw a folkie get up, spontaneously and dance to music? It has to be in a gymnasium with your shoes off…
For something that is by nature supposed to be “of the folk” how has folk music become so insular, and music of folkies, not folks?