My co-worker announced the other day that she hates folk music.
“I hate folk music,” she said. “Peter, Paul and Mary make me want to vomit.”
Quite a bold statement, on her part, and I have to admit it flustered me. Yes, I too have occasionally felt like vomiting when Peter, Paul and Mary comes on the radio. Who hasn’t? But to hate folk music? All folk music? What does that even mean?
I tried to come up with a sufficiently cutting response, but the best I could do was stammer out some high and mighty hokum about ballads of the working poor and the traditions of anonymous musicianship. Even I didn’t buy it.
Her assertion continued to haunt me. As I thought about the conversation later, I began wondering about the degree to which the term folk music may have been permanently mangled by the worst of the so-called “folk revival,” a musical period that reached its commercial peak in the ’60s with horrible, sugary dreck best exemplified by Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and The Kingston Trio.
Sure, maybe I’m being a snob. Peter, Paul and Mary is folk music—or at least a disturbing derivation of it. But when I think about folk music, P, P and M isn’t what comes to mind. I think instead about the dark, weird stuff you get to when you jam your shovel into the base of the American musical tree. The roots of country, the roots of blues, the roots of gospel, fiddle songs, corridos, Cajun tunes. In my view,that’s folk music.
At a concert this Friday evening at the South Broadway Cultural Center, Blaine Sprouse, Peter Feldmann and Wayne Shrubsall will explore the origins of bluegrass, a genre that hasn’t been around that long, but that’s deeply linked to the ancient, weird, anonymous music sometimes called folk. The idea behind the show is to explore how old-time traditional music from Appalachia, along with elements from gospel and jazz, evolved into the musical form pioneered by Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys in the mid-’40s.
Legend has it that Sprouse learned to play the fiddle on a glued-up instrument he found in a dumpster. (He had to pick his first few tunes because he didn’t have a bow.) Since then, he’s fiddled with everyone—from Monroe himself to Jimmy Martin to the Osborne Brothers—and has performed at the Grand Ole Opry and on Austin City Limits.
Sprouse will be joined by multi-instrumentalist Peter Feldmann. Both are coming in from California for the show. Feldmann’s music started with cowboy songs, learned from the performances of legends like Ken Maynard, Peg Moreland and the Cartwright Brothers. From there, he gravitated to other folk forms: old-time country, country blues and, finally, early bluegrass. This year marks Feldmann’s 50th year as a performer. “I want to keep playing until I run out of notes or breath,” he says, “whichever comes first.”
Shrubsall, the banjo king of New Mexico, rounds out the show.
All three can play and explain this music extremely well. Feldmann, in particular, specializes in exploring the folk roots of the bluegrass form. So, if it’s a musical education you’re after, you’ll get one. For those of you who aren’t into musical scholarship: I’m told a wood dance floor will be open for anyone who wants to shake their business during the show.
Bluegrass Workshop With Sprouse, Feldmann and Shrubsall
In addition to the performance on Friday, the featured musicians will host a string band workshop on Saturday, April 21, from 2 to 4 p.m. Admission is $30. This workshop is supposed to happen at someone’s house, but just whose house hasn’t been determined yet—it’ll be somewhere in Albuquerque. If you’re interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Roots of Bluegrass Show
with Blaine Sprouse, Peter Feldmann and Wayne Shrubsall