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All About American Folk Music

Everything you wanted to know about American Folk Music


All About American Folk Music

Folk Singer/Legend Joan Baez

(© Dana Tynan, 2003)

Why do I care about folk music?

You care about folk music because you're a "folk." If you've ever opened your mouth to sing a melody – for better or worse – or have clapped your hands and stomped your feet in rhythm to your favorite song, then you've taken part in folk music. Folk music, historically speaking, has accompanied everything that's ever happened in the world, from work to love to entire revolutions. People have always sung to pass the time, to cheer themselves up, to speak their mind, and for any other species of reasons they could come up with.

Besides, the great thing about folk music is that you don't have to be glamorous and wealthy to make it happen. Heck, you don't even have to know how to play an instrument! It's a style of music that has been classified because it's of, by, and for the people.

Where can I find folk music?

Folk music is truly one of the most portable forms of music around. As a result, folk music can be found just about anywhere. Of course, as the cliché goes, live folk music often takes place in your local coffeeshop. Unitarian churches (as well as some other denominations) will often welcome folk artists to come put on a show for their congregations. Other places you can go to hear folk music include from the buskers on your locaal street corner, fairs and festivals, public and alternative radio stations, and, of course, on the Internet.

What Do Folksingers Sing About?

As I said above, folk music has taken part in just about every event in human history, and you can bet there's a folk song for every occasion. Many people think the majority of folk music was written in protest, but that's not necessarily true. Sure, there are a wealth of tunes that speak out about the social and political conditions of various communities of people, but there are also children's songs, love songs, and even completely nonsensical songs.

Who Are the Best Folk Artists?

Well, this is really a question of personal taste. Woody Guthrie is often considered the most important folk artist. Folk artists have rarely enjoyed much real popularity (in comparison to pop stars, for example). Nonetheless, the 1960s produced quite a few memorable singer/songwriters you've probably heard of before. Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell are among the artists who rose to considerable popularity during the folk revival.

The 1970s ushered in the sensitive singer/songwriters like James Taylor, Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, etc. Other greats since then include Greg Brown, Steve Earle in alt.country, and Allison Krauss in bluegrass.

The 90s brought us a new wave of women singer/songwriters: Ani Difranco, Gillian Welch, Nanci Griffith, and Dar Williams, to name a few.

What are some good magazines that talk about folk music?

Believe it or not, there are actually quite a few magazines that talk about what's going on in folk music. Magazines can be a great resource, not only for finding out who the hot bands and artists are now, but what great music has come before and is still relevant to the folk music scene. Folk music magazines range through several categories, and I would recommend checking out any of the following:

  • No Depression - deals mostly with alt.country, but also covers a lot of folk-rock and progressive contemporary bluegrass artists.
  • Sing Out! - this magazine is a great resource if you're interested in contemporary and traditional singer/songwriters.
  • Dirty Linen - also caters to the world music community.
  • Performing Songwriter - this magazine addresses all things singer/songwriter, occasionally including innovative rock and pop singer/songwriters.
  • Bluegrass Unlimited - self-explanatorily, this one covers all things bluegrass!

Anything Else?

If you still have questions about folk music that aren't answered here or anywhere else you can find on this site, please don't hesitate to ask. You can feel free to patronize our folk music forum, or email yours truly, your guide, directly with your questions!
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