Musical genres are funny things. I remember in the early days of the Folkway Coffeehouse in Peterborough, there was a rule that no amplified instruments could be used. This was put to the test when Stan Rogers showed up for a triumphant return to the venue (he was an unknown when he first performed there), with an electric bassist to accompany him. There was much hemming and hawing, but of course Stan went on, and everything worked out fine. This was a little mini-version of the crisis Bob Dylan had instigated some years before when he electrified Newport. Sadly, Stan didn’t live long enough for us to find out where his musical explorations might have taken him. Dylan, on the other hand, is making commercials for Cadillac and Victoria’s Secret. He still makes great music, and while it is informed by multiple genres. I think you’d still have to use the word “folk” among them.
A couple of decades ago I went to a concert in Keene called “Masters Of The Folk Violin”, one stop on a tour sponsored by the National Council for the Traditional Arts.
I don’t recall everyone on the bill: it included Kenny Baker, Michael Doucet, and Claude Williams (Claude was a jazz violinist; apparently the program directors considered jazz to be within the realm of folk music). But the big surprise of the evening came from a perky sixteen-year-old fiddler named Alison Krauss. She blew us away with her technical proficiency and showmanship – we wouldn’t find out until later that she could also sing. Who would have thought, hearing her then, and seeing her rise as a bluegrass superstar, that she would ever join forces with a vocalist from one of the greatest rock and roll bands: Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. Their recently-released Raising Sand probably slants a bit more towards folk than hard rock but in fact it’s awfully hard to categorize. i-tunes puts it into “Blues”, which is not totally incorrect, but neither is it usefully descriptive. The fact is that no label does suffice, and we are fortunate that the artists were each willing to step out of their comfort zones and give us this great recording.
My kids, who are now on the threshold of adulthood, have sometimes lamented that they didn’t live in the sixties and seventies, and often I don’t blame them: the music (folk and rock) from that era has not been surpassed for sheer originality and total energy. But our culture today does provide us with opportunities to shake loose labels. Just as cuisine has evolved to represent various cultural mixes, music is creeping out of boxes and going where it wants to go.
While music benefits from cross-pollination, so to the ways we can experience music (and spoken word, and art) has expanded. With this new Web site we are in the nascent stages of this, but we encourage you to look at MFS TV, which features some video from local dances (and eventually other events), and we begin an ongoing series of podcasts with a 20 minute interview (interspersed with music) with Sarah Bauhan about her new album, Lathrop’s Waltz. If there’s an opportunity to support the music commercially through purchasing recordings or attending an event, we hope that these informational features of the site help you to assess your evaluate your choices. But more important, we hope that enjoy this opportunity to learn more about the folk scene in the Monadnock Region, or to get new perspectives on those things you already appreciate. We look forward to your feedback, and to any ideas you’d like to share. You can write to us, or use the Comments feature of this column (immediately below) to send a comment which may be shared with the general public through the site.