Some folks might think the phrase "folk music trends" is a bit of an oxymoron, but I'd beg to differ. Folk music keeps itself relevant by evolving with, through, and yes often despite ongoing music trends. Here's a look at some of the trends which seemed to arise in American folk music in 2010.
Fledgling Music Festivals
We've all heard random years dubbed "Year of the Women in Rock" or "Year of Hip-Hop," but if 2010 was anything, it was the year of the fledgling music festival. Even now-defunct magazines (ahem...Paste) threw together roots music lineups and sent them on the road as a bit of a touring festival. The Infamous Stringdusters kicked off their Festy Experience. No Depression and Doe Bay each had their second annual festivals - both of which kicked up considerably more buzz than their first year. Bird on a Wire in Washington State welcomed roots/Americana artists. Even Lilith Fair (despite the fact that it had to cancel several dates) made another go for it.
Urban Ruralism, or "City Folk" Music
Journalist Kurt B. Reighley released a book this year titled United States of Americana, which traces the way ruralism and old school habits have found their way back into fashion in cities and larger towns across the country. The same can be said of the music of rural and "old school" people. This year, folk/roots/Americana music seemed to be pouring out of cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles - not exactly the kinds of cities you'd have imagined overrun with banjos and pedal steels ten years ago. They're putting a noticeable indie rock spin on these traditional forms, granted...making it easier to call it "city folk" music, perhaps.
If you trace the tradition of stringband music (guitar, banjo, fiddle, bass; sometimes mandolin and/or dobro), you'll find folk, country, bluegrass, ragtime, and several other styles. Nowadays, some of the most remarkable stringbands are pulling not only from those rich traditions, but also modern rock, soul, gospel, jazz and r&b. This year, it would seem, a handful of artful stringbands have the whole thing nailed.
New York City (and Brooklyn)
New York has long been a harbinger of great music, and a hotspot for emergent musical trends. But the past year saw two major releases from the folk and roots world, paying tribute to the city of New York (or, in one case, one of its five boroughs). The first was the Avett Brothers' big breakthrough-to-mainstream album I and Love and You in late '09 (but the disc scored much of its buzz in '10), whose title track pleads for Brooklyn to take the band in. Then was Justin Townes Earle's Harlem River Blues, easily the finest singer-songwriter record of the year. Both were from artists who have recently moved to the NY from somewhere down south. But they're not the only ones. NYC and Brooklyn are booming with folk and roots musicians.