I have to admit that the term “folk music” gets under my skin, but it’s still the best broadly recognizable label for noncommercial music created in a communal environment. The word “folk” might be annoying, but it signifies a crucial aspect of cultural experience for ordinary people. Participation and sharing becomes more important than competition and wanky virtuosity. Tradition and social conscience get higher marks than mass market fame and fortune.
Albuquerque's premier event for this increasingly endangered musical worldview is the Albuquerque Folk Festival. Erika Gerety, director of the festival, says we're lucky to live in a region of the country that's historically been rich in folk creativity, even if it isn't always appreciated. “New Mexico, particularly Albuquerque, has very active and diverse folk culture yet it's not always evident to someone new to the area or just visiting,” she says. “Besides the indigenous culture, cultures from all around the world are represented in Albuquerque.”
This weekend's event puts a spotlight on these cultures. “The Folk Festival attempts to bring together a rich variety of traditions that the city offers,” Gerety says. “Many of our presenters, performers and workshop leaders are involved in existing folk groups and many of them would love to encourage new membership.”
The coolest new feature this time around is the “band and dance scramble,” which organizers ripped off from the popular Santa Fe Traditional and Bluegrass Festival. “Musicians and dancers can put their names and what instruments they play and dance styles they do into a hat,” says Kris Jensen, a publicist for the festival. “We'll draw names and form random bands with dance accompanists. The bands and dancers have about 45 minutes to come up with a name and put together two tunes. The bands and dancers will perform on the main stage.”
There will also be the usual array of workshops (everything from old-time banjo to African drumming), vendors (everything from food to musical instruments) and performers. This year, the festival is headlined by folkster Jonathan Edwards. The main point of the festival, though, is to bring your own instrument, or borrow an instrument from someone else, and rock out (folk out?) with some complete strangers. Some of the best music at the festival is thrown together on a park bench by a bunch of yahoos who have never met each other. If you aren't into picking, strumming and bowing, bring your dancing shoes so you can take part in one of the many dance events.
In previous years, the festival has done a fantastic job of providing visitors with one-stop access to much of what Albuquerque has to offer in the way of folk culture. Of course, this is only an entry point into this colorful alternate universe. “The diversity offered at our festival is only a sample of the diversity that exists in the city. It would take a much larger festival and budget to showcase all the folk traditions.”
Gotta start somewhere, though, and it might as well be here.