American folk music was popularized in the 1930’s when Woody Guthrie emerged from the Great Depression as a voice of downtrodden American people. Folk acts like The Weavers and Guthrie achieved some popular success in the 1940’s but the glory was short lived. The folk music scene was forced to retreat to the underground when the Red Scare hit the US in the 1950’s and paranoid people sought to exterminate anything remotely associated with left wing politics. Throughout this period, most folk music was played on what was called the Coffee House Circuit where singer-songwriters played small intimate shows in coffee houses and other small venues. It was here that Folk musicians spread ideas that would inspire the countercultural movement that followed it a few years after.
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Folk music has always existed at an intersection, carrying the heart of country and flair of blues while owning its own unique brands of storytelling and intimacy. The genre has always been wonderfully complicated, the most exemplary moment being the year of our lord 1969. By the end of the decade, all creative boundaries had been blown wide open. Icons like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young were becoming living legends, and Van Morrison had just reinvented folk with Astral Weeks the year before. In the adjacent spaces, Jimi Hendrix was taking over mainstream rock, and the Beatles were elevating to new heights with The White Album. All areas in the larger rock umbrella were peaking, and the 60s ended with a subtle boom: the warm hurricane of rich croons that came out of the folk movement.
In an era of face melting guitar solos and opulent indulgence, late 60’s folk offered a more meditative approach. The calculated layered instrumentation and rich storytelling brought something to those standing in the back rows of the concert that were more focused on observing the bigger picture rather than the fleeting excitement. It rewarded patience, thoughtfulness, and empathy. To sit back and enjoy a true work of folk was to absorb a human condition.
This is not to say that the genre was lacking musicality or precision by any means. Folk brought wildly precise acoustic instrumentation, a staggering sense of pace, and some of the most gorgeous harmonies music had ever seen. But the technical chops at play were not presented as the main attraction, but rather a vessel to deliver the intangible talents of the soul. The legacy of iconic Folk artists like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell can still be felt today, reborn into modern Indie Folk acts like Big Thief, Phoebe Bridgers, and Bright Eyes. The genre hasn’t died because it will never die. Music will always need a space for peace.
Joni Mitchell – Chelsea Morning
The Band – The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Leonard Cohen- A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes
Nick Drake- The Thoughts of Mary Jane
Neil Young, Crazy Horse- Round & Round( It Won’t Be Long)
Crosby, Stills & Nash- You Don’t Have to Cry
Tim Buckley- Buzzin’ Fly
Bob Dylan- Lay, Lady, Lay
Humble Pie- Every Mother’s Son
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