A Brief History of Folk
The Tuttles, “Pins and Needles.”
Not too long ago, troubadours went from town to town performing original and traditional songs to the locals who would then teach them to someone else. Music was up close and personal, and a song performed on the front porch was only for the benefit of those in the neighborhood, and that was good enough.
Not that you would notice right away, but today is a lot like then.
The act of passing songs along goes back to when instruments were invented. It came into its own when it brought a bright light to the darkness of the Great Depression, if only to be able to put up a sign noting that Woody sang there.
Mass media raised the stakes. For a some time being in the music business seemed like a good idea, the potential payoff was tremendous. People still taught songs to each other but in a less organic way. learning it from a record rather from some guy who was passing through town.
The good news was that all of a sudden songwriters could reach millions of listeners The field was wide open, so lightning could strike for you, one of your friends, or someone in your neighborhood.
The bad news was that the game was fixed. A lot of really good people didn’t get the attention they deserved, or worse, didn’t get heard at all. There was a new front porch but nobody was on the steps anymore. They couldn’t get a record contract, or even find a way to play music for a living. It ended up that a lot of songs didn’t get written, which meant there was no opportunity to pass them from one person to another.
Technology saved the day. Musicians gained access to inexpensive tools, giving them the ability to record music with unprecedented economy. Once recorded, they had the ability to stamp out physical product for less than a buck each or make it available digitally, with zero overhead.
Again, good and bad news. Today, every performing musician can release a homegrown CD to be sold at each appearance, in the smallest clubs or on the street. There is a fair chance that you can go out wandering one night and hear someone outstanding, buy their CD on the spot, take it home and be dazzled for years.
Or not. Self-published music resembles a lot of blogs,with sporadic brilliance interspersed with a lot of amateurism. In both cases, the rough edges are a result of not having an editor who points out the bad choices. Sure wish I had one.
Same with video. Any band or solo singer can film a performance for anyone to see. The folk tradition of the near future will certainly rely on video and do-it-yourself CDs to teach a song or send a message. People are still on the porch singing a song for the benefit of those on the steps, but the porch and steps aren’t in the same place.
Some people will make the leap from the virtual porch to the big leagues. The Tuttles (above ) deserve to make the grade, there are countless others in every town. You can make your own list.
Songs written for the new economic cluster fuck use new tools for creation and distribution, but the sentiment isn’t all that far from Woody’s time. We still sing about the unjust and unfair, painting a pictures through words and music. Video is a bonus.
From the virtual porch your original music can be heard in places you have never imagined and by people you will never meet. The bad news is that you can’t see their faces.