“Folk Music & Beyond” lately celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary! JoAnn Mar and Bob Campbell started the show in 1988 in response to the lack of alternative folk/acoustic-based music on the commercial and noncommercial airwaves. This was at a time when KALW had very few live music shows.
Our primary mission is to inform as well as to entertain, to challenge people’s common assumptions of folk music. It’s unfortunate that folk music has gotten a bad rap over the years. People often tend to have narrow stereotypes of what folk music is, most of them negative. Some associate it with music that’s naive, boring, saccharine, square, corny, and one-dimensional. Some automatically think of folk music as sounding like the Kingston Trio, the New Christy Minstrels, or The Folksmen. For others, folk music retains an unfortunate association with Nazi Germany. And then there’s that guy singing away with his hand permanently stuck to his ear. No wonder contemporary musicians want to distance themselves from folk music whenever the topic comes up!
The truth is that folk music is centuries old; it didn’t suddenly sprout up in the 1920s or become stuck in the ’60s. As we’ve discovered, folk music is wonderfully multifaceted, diverse, timeless, and multidimensional; the songs span the full range of human emotions from joy to sorrow, from rage and anger to ecstasy, from deep passion and desire to utter hatred and vengeance. Folk music is a repository of ancestral wisdom and a reflection of our growth and evolution as a culture; there’s a song for almost every occasion, event, or ritual. Folk music continues to surprise, delight, fascinate, and educate us, which is why we’ve been staying with it all these years.
Our mission is to reclaim the term “folk music” and take pride in its legacy; let’s redefine it, broadening the definition instead of narrowcasting it. While other forms of popular music have come and gone (i.e., ragtime, big band, punk/new wave, skiffle), folk music will still be with us for many centuries to come.
We ask you to set aside your preconceptions of what you think folk music is and listen with open hearts and minds. As the great Richard Thompson said, referring to the singing Waterson family and their small audiences, “This is the curse of this thing called ‘folk music.’ ... I think a lot more people would really like them, if they heard them but they don’t much opportunity to hear them. It’s time to drag down the barriers, folks! ... It’s great music, regardless of style, regardless of your conceptions of what you like to listen to. It’s enjoyable!” And that’s really the bottom line.