What Was Fast Folk?:
Fast Folk was a magazine and recording co-op which grew out of a weekly songwriter series at the Cornelia Street Cafe in the Greenwich Village neighborhood
of New York City. The series began in 1977, inspired by a songwriters' night folksinger Jack Hardy had been holding. Once Hardy's songwriter night was discontinued, some folks from that group migrated to a different venue (Cornelia St) and developed a more formalized song-swap idea. Their weekly gathering was an opportunity for folksingers and songwriters to get together and share their work, get feedback on new songs, strike up collaborations, and work out some kinks in their live performances.
Fast Folk in the '80s:
After some evolution in the late '70s, the group started calling itself the Songwriter's Exchange and, together, they released an album in 1980 on Stash Records. Hardy played a big hand in helping the group grow, strengthen, and evolve. Eventually it outgrew the Cornelia Street Cafe and took over at another club called the Speakeasy in 1982. There, the Songwriter's Exchange became "The Co-Op" and, eventually, "Fast Folk."
The Original Indie Folk:
In the 1980s, with few exceptions (ahem, Paul Simon
), the mainstream recording industry seemed mostly disinterested in emergent singer-songwriters. So, Fast Folk filled in the holes by pooling resources, energy, and ideas in order to help these up-and-coming singer-songwriters launch their recording careers despite the expensive nature of indie recording and production. The Fast Folk group developed a magazine and recording collective that helped establish artists like Michelle Shocked, Suzanne Vega
, and Shawn Colvin
before they ever attracted major label attention. It also established a collaborative spirit which fueled the songwriter community. Colvin eventually toured as a backing vocalist with Suzanne Vega and, for a time, had a songwriting duo with fellow Fast Folk participant Lucy Kaplansky (who also has a successful solo career). Kaplansky joined with Richard Shindell and Dar Williams for Cry Cry Cry, and with John Gorka and Eliza Gilkyson for another collaborative project.
Who Were the Fast Folk Artists?:
Recommended Albums by Fast Folk Artists:
Suzanne Vega - Solitude Standing
(A&M Records, 1987) compare prices
Richard Shindell - Somewhere Near Paterson (Signature Sounds, 2000) compare prices
John Gorka - Company You Keep (Red House Records, 2001) compare prices
Purchase/download Fast Folk Artist Mp3s:
Where Are They Now?:
A number of Fast Folk alumni have had remarkably successful careers. In her memoir
, Shawn Colvin remembers Suzanne Vega being one of the early crossover artists who signed a major label contract and moved up in the world from her place in the Fast Folk family. When she toured Europe early on, she brought Colvin along as a backup singer. Colvin, of course, eventually inked her own major label deal and earned Grammys of her own. Michelle Shocked enjoyed some mainstream success late in the '80s as well as did Lyle Lovett. Many of the Fast Folk singer-songwriters continue to play the folk circuit, and remain hugely influential in songwriter circles. Both Gorka and Kaplansky now record for Red House Records, while Richard Shindell moved to South America and remains one of the finest unknown American songwriters.