& WFDU-FM’s TRADITIONS Playlist for April 17, 2016
Folk songs, once recognized as transmitted from generation to generation in an oral tradition, took on a new method of delivery during the folk revival. Songs would be written and tried out on audiences in the clubs and coffeehouses. If the new song was good, other singers might pick up on it and share them in their performances in other venues, and the really good songs would be shared by folk music fans in their communities.
Jumping ahead to 1982, singer-songwriter Jack Hardy led a group of songwriting friends to create The Coop, a combination magazine and LP that showcased a new generation of artists creating their own version of a folk revival in New York’s Greenwich Village. In a time when the cost and technology required to make a record was prohibitive for most independent artists, The Coop, soon renamed Fast Folk Musical Magazine, provided songwriters a chance to record their songs and be heard by wider audiences. The project lasted until 1997 and documented over 2000 songs from more than 600 different artists, many of whom became staples on the contemporary folk scene.
In 2016, there are many new options available for both artists and listeners. Recording equipment is now within the budget for most artists and the ability to release CDs and file downloads. The result is not only a cost savings, but an opportunity to get their music out faster.
For topical songs, this has proven to be a blessing. Many artists are now seizing the opportunity by releasing single songs as MP3’s or videos to share on their websites and YouTube. They are also making these songs available to folk radio. I had the chance to play several of these songs on Traditions.
In last week’s post here in the Folk Music Notebook, I discussed reaction from the music community over the controversial HB2 law in North Carolina. Incensed by religious right’s reaction, singer-songwriter David Buskin wrote and recorded a song called “Cardboard Christians.”
I hope that David’s new song “Cardboard Christian” will be the first of many more songs from David. His talent for getting to the heart of the problem in a humorous but firm way will hopefully cause some people to think about their actions and reactions to such issues as HB2.
Satirical singer-songwriter Roy Zimmerman and his wife and co-writer Melanie Harby have started a new project in which they will post a new song each week on Roy’s website, right up until Election Day. It looks like he will have plenty of material for his weekly offerings.
Just in time for Earth Day, Christine Lavin wrote and recorded a brand new song called “Sinkholes.” The dangerous situation, which can be caused by natural as well as man made causes, is particularly a concern in Florida due to the high concentration of karst limerock. Just a quick note – while this is a new song, it was not a “fast” song. Christine did extensive research to make sure the information was correct, which makes the song even more compelling. I now I’ve been watching where I step since first hearing this song!
I’ve often felt that talented singer-songwriters see the world a bit differently than the rest of us, so it is no surprise that Christine used her special gifts to create a unique song to warn us (or scare us?) about the danger of “Sinkholes.”
Topical songs have long been a staple in folk music. Woody Guthrie and his peers would often create songs whose sole purpose was to be used on picket lines or political rallies. Songs of protest about current events can be found in most folk song collections. Yet most of these song are what Tom Paxton once termed as “short shelf-life” songs. Tom made several of these recordings available on his website in the hopes of reaching the ears of his audience while the topic was still current, rather than wait months or even years before issuing a CD. Today, using available technology, topical songs can reach people faster than ever.
Folk radio has long stood on the broadcasting of well-made studio recordings. Most of my peers still insist on professionally made studio recordings, delivered on CDs, and delivered by well orchestrated CD release campaigns by professional promoters. Airing songs from MP3 that were quickly recorded is still an issue with some folk radio hosts, but hopefully that will change.
I would hope that folk radio hosts around the country will embrace the opportunity. I also hope that more artists will contact folk radio hosts and offer songs like Roy, David and Christine have done. It is true that many of my peers still have reservations about downloading and airing files, but the ability to share topical songs that deal with fresh issues is an important facet of folk music. In addition to playing older recorded songs that have a relationship to a current issue, why not offer listeners a chance to a brand new song that might only be a few days or hours old? The reach and impact we can have on our audiences is an important link in the evolution and perpetuation of folk music.