Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The State of Americana, Folk & Modern Bluegrass in the Music Industry Today

July 25, 2012 by  
Filed under Droplink Studios' Blog

The State of Americana, Folk & Modern Bluegrass in the Music Industry Today

    Prior to the 1930’s in America, music was typically associated with one of two things – the theater or the night club, designed only to entertain and not to truly connect with its audience.  It wasn’t until America underwent severe growing pains and hardships that pioneers such as Woody Guthrie showed us music could be a voice of the people.  In a society where the media had overly bias and oppressive views, music really was the only pure medium.  Because of this, folk music was born and flourished into a creative channel that has never swayed amongst common folk as a vehicle for their historical longevity.

The 60’s brought a flood of folk artists, telling their stories from oppressed views to  pure freedom of thought.  Fortunately, this time artists had powerful outlets in radio and TV.  In a generation bred from social unrest and a yearning to move away from the so-called “American Dream” facade of the 50’s, folk music was propelled.  The youth of America wanted it given to them straight.  Influential artists such as Bob Dylan, of whom almost literally picked up the torch from Woody and kept it moving forward, along with many other artists, helped mold the Sixties counter culture and solidify the foundation of folk music.

Into the 70′s we see a grass roots movement.  Visitors from the North, like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, arrive on the scene.  Significant at the time, generations later their music still influences a large number of artists.  Down south, Townes Van Zandt was making his own waves.  A man who never made it big, but boasts one of the biggest legacies of songs he left behind.  He played dive bars until the day he died and never knew the big lights of the city, but what Townes did was show that nothing can leave more of an imprint than writing true and genuine songs from the heart.  No showboating, sequined jackets, or huge tour buses can compete with true emotion and vulnerability being left on stage after every show.

As we move into the 80‘s, the voice of the people takes more of a pumped up rock and alternative route, while Americana settles in the backseat.  Strong advocates for female empowerment and gay rights make their mark as key points and supporters for the anti-establishment aspect come in the form of punk music.

As the industry ebbs and flows, the people cycle back and we find ourselves returning to Americana in the 90′s.  Some people call it Alt-country others Folk, but the reality is Americana is just what the name implies, it’s stories about American life.  So, for a moment, we see a great rebirth of American storytelling through song and it sticks just long enough for the youth of the day to play it off as old folk music, and then seemingly disappears into the unknown.

And as for today?  With our senses increasingly muted by the onslaught of reality TV shows, such as American Idol and The Voice, we seem to wonder where have all the folk artists gone?   Well I’m here to tell you Folk, Americana, Alt-country, whatever you want to label any of it, is alive and well.

I find that we have two types of songs now within modern Americana music.  We have a “roots revival” style and our current songwriting style reflecting on the events of today.  An example of a more revival style would be Levon Helm, drummer of the critically acclaimed 1970′s act “The Band”,  who stepped back into the scene to give us a couple great albums before he permanently departed to sing with the greats of days past.  Gillian Welch is another who reminds us that you can’t compete with good songwriting.  She simplifies things with her stark, broken-down two piece ensemble.  One person, a guitar or mandolin, and her song can be enough to captivate you.  Not only that, but her songs do what folk music originally did for its audience, acting as a voice for its people, asking the questions we want to ask, and challenging what is questionable, reminding us that after all these years, it is still a powerful medium.

In the present day, we seem to be shifting out of the stereotypes of traditional music.  There are folk festivals all over the country, such as The Kerrville Folk Festival, held annually outside of Austin.  As we roll deep into the 2000′s, artists like Townes Van Earl carry on the legacy of his father Steve Earl in the Americana roots tradition.  This current re-incarnation of the “roots revival” is attracting more of a younger crowd than it has since the 60’s, with kids in their 20′s being quite commonplace among the audience these days.  Patty Griffith and Ray Lamontagne repeatedly show this same young attendance at their live performances.  Another great artist from Chicago and a recent implant to Austin, Joe Pug, drives this point home as his fans, a young hip demographic, show overwhelming support while he is out on the road.

Another man of whom seems to have sparked the current revival from the start, while contrastingly probably never intending to, is Jack White.  His music is genuinely raw, focusing on the message and melody itself and not the production.  Jack seems to only improve with every new collaboration and project that he does, creating increasingly vintage tones and vocal stylings the more famous he becomes.  Also, Ryan Bingham has established himself as a real figurehead of this movement by winning a Grammy with nothing but his voice, a guitar, and light backing in one of the most powerful songs of 2011.

We’re starting to see more roots music in general flowing through the mainstream, two genres I thought I’d never see in the same sentence.  Acts like Old Crow Medicine Show and Mumford and Sons with their traditional instrumentation and modern songwriting flare, draw sold out crowds at every festival they play.  Chris Thile & Michael Daves revive the old Flatt & Scruggs format of playing and it’s a huge hit in Manhattan, which was evidenced with Chris recently performing at Carnegie Hall with his mandolin.

So, keep in mind that this wasn’t an attempt to give you a history of folk music and the greats that paved the way, it was to give fans of the genre hope that it is far from dead and in fact lives stronger today than it has in some time.  A second “roots revival” is upon us, now get out there and support it!

 

-By Josh Wesley Woodhouse

©2012 Droplink Studios & Productions

 

 

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