What do we mean by Folk Music? It is sometimes hard to define but we often know it when we hear it. Usually, but not always it means a solo, or two or three piece group playing a softer, more acoustic type of music and often about social or political issues, but not always. Many folk songs are love songs as well. And just as often, songs which were once the popular songs of their day come down to us today as Folk Music.
So, I start the show with an old English ballad, which when it was written long ago was a popular love ballad, the venerable “Greensleeves”, a song of a broken hearted jilted lover who cannot accept that his loved one does not return his feelings. This song is also the melody of the Christmas classic “What Child Is This” and is a good example of what is called the folk process where over time songs are reused for other purposes.
I next sing an old American folk song called “The Erie Canal Song”, which brings up a discussion of the canal building era in our history and a further look at the end of that era around 1840 when the railroads took over as the prevalent form of commercial transportation, leading to a bust cycle when all the money poured into canals was quickly lost. This brings us to the “Panic of 1837” and the subsequent Recession of 1840 with its large scale human suffering and Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More”.
I move from there to looking at the music of Leadbelly (ne.Huddy Ledbetter), the great Africa-American singer-songwriter and his songs “The Midnight Special” and it’s look at prison life in Southern America and then his best known song “Goodnight Irene”, which was popularized by the Weavers folk group in the 1940’s. Then it’s on to Woody Guthrie and his protest songs and his best known work, “This Land Is Your Land”. Next comes a look at the Commie witch hunts which lead to The Weavers and Woody Guthrie being blackballed and banned from the radio leads us to the 1960’s Folk Revival which spawned the folk groups, such as Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio and many more, which brought that great music back into the public forum with greater popularity than ever before.
With the coming of the new young folk singers came a new appreciation of the role folk music can have in social change, exemplified by the song “Blowing in the Wind” written by Bob Dylan and made most popular by PP&M, a huge hit song they performed at the Civil Rights march capped by Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. I follow that with the Pete Seeger penned “If I Had a Hammer”. Also in the 1960’s I look at the popular folk group Simon and Garfunkle and their song “Sounds of Silence” about the commercialization of life and the alienation in human connections it engenders. That is followed by a song by Donavan from the English folk movement “Catch the Wind” another poetic and beautiful love song. I sing the Brother’s Four love song “Greenfields” very similar to the first song I did “Greensleeves” to show the continuity in form and content between an old and new folk song.
Next up I do “If I Were a Carpenter” by Tim Hardin, followed by another Paul Simon song “The Boxer”as an illustration of the narrative nature of his songwriting. Then comes John Denver and his popular folk style music in songs such as “Back Home Again” and “Take Me Home Country Roads” If time allows I do songs such as “City of New Orleans” and “Mr. Bojangles’, finishing with a song I penned myself entitled “Blankenship’s Mine”, about a 2010 mine disaster in Coalton,VW., a long standing folk tradition of songs about such man-made disasters