I was once asked to identify what group or community I felt I belonged to most strongly. Without hesitation, I replied, "The folk music community." I grew up listening to folk music--that is, I grew up listening to my dad play guitar in the basement every night. When I was in eighth grade, he started to teach me guitar, and now Im a folk musician too. And when Im performing and I ask the people in the audience to sing along, then theyre folk musicians too. Its that easy! No down payment, lifetime guarantee, with nothing more to buy, EVER!
But if everyone is a folk musician, what is the "folk community"? Well, in a sense its everyone.
Maybe thats a bit simplistic, but it also reflects what I love most about my community. Anyone can be a part of it, even if they dont sing along at concerts. The folk community encompasses all people because it is music about all people. Folk music isnt too cool for anyone. And sometimes, its good for everyone. Folk music is the music that changes the world and makes us more human.
So now you might be asking, "Just what is folk music?" Are you ready for this? Its anything you want it to be! Folk music is everywhere, and its different for everyone. Folk music is the music that has special meaning for you. Its folk music, because you relate to it, and you--yes, you--are folk.
For me, folk music is the music that my dad used to play in the basement at night. Its songs like the Beatles "Come Together." Its songs like "The Titanic," the real verses and the ones we made up. (Any song you make up words to is automatically folk music.) And, of course, its songs like "Puff, The Magic Dragon" and "This Land Is Your Land," which are pretty much universally recognized as folk songs. Its also the songs we sang at my summer camp, songs by the Kingston Trios "One More Town," Suzanne Vegas "The Queen And The Soldier," the Violent Femmes "Blister In The Sun," and Dave Matthews Bands "Ill Back You Up."
For you, maybe its the songs that you learned in kindergarten. Maybe its the album you didnt stop playing for weeks when your boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with you. Maybe its the song that inspired you to run for student government, to organize a beach cleanup, or to write your own songs. And maybe its the song your best friend taught you to play a couple of nights before you both left for school.
The most important thing about folk songs and folk music is the connection they allow people to make, to their inner selves and also to each other. Folk music is the music that brings us together. Im on an e-mail list for fans of Dar Williams, and out of the 1500 or so folks on the list, Ive only managed to meet about 30. But all of us on the list have been brought together by our shared connection to and love for Dars songs, and strange as it is sometimes, I feel quite close to the people on the list, even the ones I have not met. What we do most of the time on the list is talk about our own personal experiences with Dars music. People have shared beautiful stories of love and hope, and terrible stories of pain and loss. All of these emotions have been evoked by Dars songs, and we share them in the knowledge that we are not alone.
And that is the folk community. The knowledge of a shared feeling or experience that brings us closer to each other--that is what holds the folk music community together.
Maybe right now youre thinking, "How cheesy! Sharing feelings, yeah, sounds like a lot of fun to me!" But I dont mind; Ive said all that I can say. Maybe its the kind of thing that can only be expressed through music.