Guest Post: Common Folk Music Blog finds “Folk Music”

Common Folk Music Banjo Cat

Today’s post from April over at Common Folk Music is one that invites you into her world and into the music that connects with her.  Considering she is one of my musical soul mates and we have been not so slowly becoming fast friends via the internets, I urge you to read the below and see a real person that just so happens to have excellent taste in folk and folk inspired music.

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You just might want to swing by her blog and check out some recent posts on her best albums of 2011 (and new contributor Andrew’s best albums) and if you wanted to discover new music via her growing collection of artist interviews.  You can also find April spouting wisdom in 140 character bursts via twitter @CommonFolkMusic.


I promised to write an opinion piece, but I can’t seem to get my thoughts together to write one.  My brain is a strange thing that stays cluttered with random ideas and obsessive thoughts, so often times it’s hard for me to give them a home in a cohesive sentence.  If I don’t makes lists, take notes, or make an outline, then, more often than not, I ramble or make a million and one mistakes as opposed to just a million mistakes.  And, it’s completely different when I speak, because, then, I lose my train of thought, stop in the middle of sentence until I figure out where I want to go with the statement and conversation. I’m rambling now so I will tell you that my guest post is about finding my way and self through folk music and how growing up in Appalachia has influenced that.

I can tell you it took a while for me to find my way to folk music. Growing up, it was the usual 80s music like WHAM!, Ah-ha, Warrant, Bon Jovi and other bands who capitalized on big hair and bad fashion. Then, in high school and college, I transitioned to R&B and Hip Hop with a little bluegrass mixed in (I’ll explain later), and I have no idea why I was drawn to all that bass.  The only bands I’m not ashamed of admitting to liking are R.E.M and U2, who have stayed with me until this day. In my twenties I discovered alt-country/Americana through Ryan Adams and Gram Parsons, then a few years later I found my way to folk music and all of its sub-genres. And, when I found folk, I think I found myself, and, thus, the beginning and basis for my blog Common Folk Music.

Folk music is an extension of oral traditions like folk lore. And, like folklore, it evolves through the generations.  The most interesting thing about folk music is that the narratives, ballads, instrumentation, and styles vary from region to region throughout North America. In 18th century Appalachia, the majority of the inhabitants were immigrants from England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland who passed down their traditions in the form of Irish reels, ballads like “House Carpenter” and my personal favorite “Wayfaring Stranger”, and dance tunes like “Cumberland Gap”.  These traditional songs were usually fatalistic narratives around themes of love, religion, and death usually sung with or without instrumentation such as the banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle and dulcimer.  Later on, in the 19th century, the folk singers and songs began to address the news of the day and region, natural disasters, war, and labor struggles.

16 Horsepower — “Wayfaring Stranger”
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While studying History at The University of Charleston, I became heavily entrenched in Appalachian and labor history.  If anyone is familiar with West Virginia history and the region’s history in general, then you should know that we have been heavily exploited, oppressed, stereotyped and forgotten about, but the one thing you do not know, is that we are survivors, we’re proud, and we’re extremely hospitable, charitable and hospitable. I believe that these honorable characteristics are the result of the troubles we have faced as well as the isolated environment.  These struggles and the isolation are also reflected in our music with the themes mentioned above.  And, my studies on Appalachian and labor history, mine wars, and our culture have greatly influenced my musical taste, and, also, who I am as a person.

Sarah Ogan Gunning — “Come All Ye Coal Miners”
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Jean Ritchie — “L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore”
Jean Ritchie – The L and N Don’t Stop Here Anymore by wirralite

But, not only are culture and physical surroundings influential on a person’s taste, family dynamics and environment are too.  My mom grew up in West Virginia and my dad grew up deep in the Allegheny Mountains of Covington, Virginia.  And, while mom was pregnant with me, my dad wanted to name a boy Willie Waylon, so it’s only fitting I have a deep and profound love of classic country, alt-country and folk music.  When I was ten, my mom and dad divorced.  I haven’t had much of a relationship with him since.  This caused a few identity issues.  I look and act exactly like my father, and, even though I lived with my mom and was closest to her family, I still felt out of place and different because I was nothing like them.

Then, on the rare occasion I did visit my dad’s family, I felt like I belonged, so this led me to bluegrass since that’s what my uncles and dad listened to.  Both my uncles and grandfather play guitar, but my dad could play both the guitar and banjo, so I can remember my dad and uncle playing some southern gospel and country tunes on the porch of my uncle’s house or in his kitchen.  There’s one song in particular that holds a special place in my heart for this reason and that is, The Carter Family’s “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”  It’s this introduction to bluegrass, southern gospel and country that eventually brought me to alt-country, Americana, folk and its subgenres. And, although my dad and I don’t talk or acknowledge each other often, he has unwittingly influenced my musical taste and character.

Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs, Roy Acuff, Bruce Hornsby, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, etc.. — “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”
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So, it’s these musical influences that have guided my decision to create Common Folk Music.  As you now know, Appalachia has not only affected me and my tastes, but the world around with its culture, history and music.  Though modern folk music does not strictly follow the traditions, it is still reflected in the spirit of the genre.  And, through Common Folk Music I wanted to share my love for these genres as well as others that catch my attention.  Music in general — no matter how horrible — is folk music because it’s for the people from the people.

Modern Folk:
Steve Earle — “The Mountain” (1999 album)
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HoneyHoney — “Don’t Know How”
04 Don’t Know How by LostHighwayRecords

(I’ve been listening to this a lot and feel like it fits)

Bryan John Appleby “Honey Jars”