I went to a folk festival the other week. At least it was billed as a folk festival.
The top bands mainly played their own material. The guest Spanish band played ‘Sympathy for the Devil.’ Anyone seeking traditional music would be better off finding amateur musicians lurking in odd corners than watching the main stage. There was group singing after hours, although none of the songs everyone knew were composed before 1960. “Peggy Sue” and “American Pie” featured more than once.
Which made me wonder… exactly what is folk music?
First step was to Google the term. It returned this definition: “Music that originates in traditional popular culture or that is written in such a style. Folk music is typically of unknown authorship and is transmitted orally from generation to generation.”
Let’s challenge that. Traditional popular culture… what’s that?… “The Sound of Music” at Christmas…? The Notting Hill Carnival? Transmitted orally? If we’re talking three or more generations, I can only think of football chants and nursery rhymes. Contemporary singers might learn orally but the first modern performers mined “real” folk songs from the compilations of Francis James Child and Cecil Sharpe, among others.
So, I’m none the wiser. The songs belted out by the late-night singers have survived for fifty years for sound reasons. They’re arguably now part of traditional popular culture.
I fall back on the words of the great Louis Armstrong. “There is two kinds of music, the good, and the bad. I play the good kind.”
Folk music is therefore good music.