The Folk Tradition
March 26, 2012
Whenever anyone asks me what type of music I like, I always struggle to explain what I mean when I say "traditional folk music." Many people think I mean country music, like the kind you hear on the radio- and yes, country as a genre shares a lot of roots with traditional folk. But what I really love are the old ballads, like those you hear sung by true folk legends like Jean Ritchie and Sheila Kay Adams. Those old songs have magic in them. Just listen to these lyrics from Lyle Lofgren’s song The Blackest Crow:
"The crow that is so black, my love, will surely turn to white
If ever I prove false to the one that I love, bright day will turn to night."
My passion for folk music goes back as far as I can remember. Growing up, my family always watched for events held by Connie Dover, an extremely talented local artist. When I moved to England, I was lucky enough to find a small group of local folk singers who would meet every Tuesday night in the back room of an ancient, smoky pub and sing old songs together until closing time. There is nothing that can truly compare to such performances, but these days, you can at least find a marvelous array of folk music, even at your local library.
The Internet is also a wonderful resource for anyone interested in folk music. One of the best places to find information on traditional songs—be welcomed by some very friendly faces—is Mudcat.org. Here you can find enthusiastic amateurs, exceptionally knowledgeable folk scholars, famous artists, and everyone in between.
But if you’re new to folk music, the best advice I can give you is to just choose some music, sit down in a quiet room, and listen. Sing along if you want—the folk tradition is a piece of cultural heritage that we all share, and it only truly comes alive when you make it your own.