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Gifts for Picky Folk Music Fans

My recommendations for your holiday shopping list


From movies to CDs, instruments and gift certificates, here are my recommendations for gifts for your favorite folk/bluegrass/alt-country fan.

Woody Guthrie: American Radical Patriot

Woody Guthrie - American Radical Patriot Box Set
© Rounder Records
It seems just about every year, there's a great new collection of Woody Guthrie's work to add to this list. This year, the folks at the Woody Guthrie Archive pulled together his five hours of interviews with Alan Lomax at the National Archive, as well as song he wrote for other government projects - from building dams to ARMY efforts to curb venereal disease. As Guthrie's daughter Nora Guthrie told me in an interview, the collection was intended to shed light on her father's relationship with the US Government, to underscore his patriotism and explore the fact that he was just as eager to participate as he was to dissent, depending on what was called for.
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One of These Artist Biographies

© Hyperion Books
From the incredible collection of Alan Lomax, to the life and times of Doc Watson, these artist biographies cover a wide array of music history and folk music traditions. There are stories about the music of the labor and civil rights movements, the music of displaced peoples and little-known communities, and some of the most important songs and styles in the modern history of American folk music. If you know someone who's a fan of traditional song, these books are all great reads to help them delve deeper.
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Tickets to International Folk Alliance

promo photo

In 2014, the International Folk Alliance conference will take place in Kansas City, Missouri, featuring keynote speaker Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young). As usual, no doubt, the IFA will include hundreds of unknown or little-known folksingers, and at least a few dozen who have entered the realm of folk-famous. From official showcases to the guerilla sort that take place in people's hotel rooms...the International Folk Alliance gathering is one of the folkiest places you could be every year. The 2014 gathering is sure to be well worth a music-lover's time. 

Dave Van Ronk - 'Down in Washington Square

© Smithsonian Folkways

With the release of Inside Llewyn Davis this winter, there is likely to be a new crowd of folk fans flocking to collections like the Anthology of American Folk Music and other such tomes, to learn more about the music that inspired the film. But, there is no greater place to delve into the music that inspired the film than the music made by the man who inspired the film. This brand new three-disc collection from Smithsonian Folkways is a wonderful introduction to the real Dave Van Ronk. 

New CDs, a Download Card, or a Music Streaming Membership

Jason Isbell - Southeastern
© Southeastern Records

Every music fan loves new music, so if you're looking to stuff a few stockings with great CDs, there's no place better to start than with the year's best records. Here's a look at the best albums of 2013 to give you an idea on where to start. Or, when all else fails, a gift card for iTunes or a membership to a streaming service like Pandora or Spotify is a failsafe fall-back plan.

Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest DVDs

Rainbow Quest DVD
© Shanachie

Newly un-blacklisted in the mid-1960s, Pete Seeger took to the television airwaves with a short-run show called Rainbow Quest. And now, episodes from that series are available on DVD. It's a great archival gift for any fan of American folk music, country and rock.

The Banjo Encyclopedia

Banjo Encyclopedia
courtesy Pricegrabber

Every good folk fan needs to try their hand at banjo picking. Trust me, it's different from learning to pick guitar. If your favorite folk music fan already has a banjo and is making a go of it, the Banjo Encyclopedia would be the perfect gift. It's perfect even for armchair banjo enthusiasts who wouldn't pick up an instrument to save their life. It'll teach them everything they need to know about bluegrass banjo, which will be delightful for dinner conversation.

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