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Is Folk Music Cool?


Folk music. My mother played it on her guitar. The one I appropriated and broke. When learning to play the guitar as a child, the first songs were .. folk songs? "If you miss the train I'm on, you will know that I am gone.."

Why? Because they were three chord songs and the fastest and easiest to learn! You could sing them over and over. I was told that I played a folk guitar. It had nylon strings.

Later in life, when I could go into music stores alone, I discovered boys playing "Stairway to Heaven" loud and other such Van Halen electric scale-complex ditties that swam in waters above my head. I never dreamed I could pick up an electric guitar. Folk music was very safe for me. My parents liked it. I could sing it.

And it was very old music. I didn't have to be a cool kid. I could go to the library and check out books, songbooks with hundreds of folk songs I could figure out and sing. And I did. By myself. Which I do believe now is contradictory to what folk music is, really.

When I met Guy Carawan and Myles Horton, I started to learn more about what folk music could be. These guys had used music to bring people together during the civil rights days. Guy let me jam with him on my nylon guitar. And he never judged me. Guy knew Pete Seeger, so in a way I felt like I was getting close to that great troubadour.

In Scotland, I got up once and played one of my own songs, one I felt had folkish tinges. The organiser of the event rebuked me, saying my song was tuneless and did not fit in. To be in the club I needed to study the proper music and play it as the traditions dictate.

I never went back. I smashed my guitar in a drunken fit.

And I ended up falling for Kurt Cobain and getting an electric guitar, cutting my hair off and saying "Fuck it" to folk music.

Years on, and I find myself involved with a group of people who call themselves "The Roadhouse."

Terry Paul Roland describes the music played, at places like the Backstage Gallery, as "Americana."

It seems a lot of people are embracing this kind of music. Now. Tying themselves to influences like Bob Dylan. Tom Petty. Emmie Lou Harris. And Willie Nelson.

I feel like saying "Hey I hear the roots of your roots music. Scottish. Irish. English. Folk music." But I realise this is not the whole picture. Americana music incorporates these elements, for sure, but there is so much African-American influence here. Not to acknowledge melodies, rhythms and vibes that do not come from the British Isles at all would be deception.

What I have learned: We all come from somewhere. We listened and learned music as kids. We bring that to who we are now. And we mix it with what we keep learning and exposing ourselves to, in this really diverse musical universe.

So my conclusion is that Folk Music CAN BE COOL. If it is in your blood, you feel it, you know it, why not include it? I will never be a traditionalist, though I can admit those people serve their place in protecting musical history.

But what is cool is to know who you are, to bring that to the table, and then to mix it up with new musicians you are coming to know.

This is my current life situation, and damn, am I a grateful player, folk or otherwise.





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