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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Suffet Occupy Folk Music! (USA) (98* d) RE: Occupy Folk Music! (USA) 28 Nov 11


Greetings again:

When I created this thread I called it Occupy Folk Music! (USA) for a reason, which is to say that it about the folk music culture United States of America. Having spent some time in the UK, although not very much, I was aware that differences exist between the folk music cultures in those two countries. However, until today I was not aware of the extent of those differences, which run much deeper than I had presumed. As a consequence of that new awareness -- thank you, Mudcatters, for educating me -- I clarified my statements on this thread and at the same time I made several changes to the Facebook community page I created.

But awareness should be a two-way street, so let me point out some differences between the USA and the UK that many Mudcatters in the UK might not understand.

Folk clubs in the USA are not the same as in the UK. They are often organized as not-for-profit corporations with dues paying members who elect a board of directors and sometimes elect the other officers as well (e.g. president, vice president, treasurer, secretary). Those officers are the public face and the spokespeople for their club. More importantly, they bear overall responsibility for all aspects of the programs program, including the social and educational program.

Folk clubs in the USA do more than put on concerts. They often hold dances, they sponsor weekend getaways, they produce festivals big and small, they offer classes and workshops, they host parties, they run community sing-arounds, they sponsor Gospel and Scared Harp sessions, they organize one-day special events, and more.

Not just the titles, but the actual roles played by club activists in the USA are different than in the UK. Instead of a single organizer [Yank spelling], a folk club in the USA is likely to have a program committee which meets under the leadership of a program director, and which is in turn responsible to the board of directors. Frequently there are separate committees or directors for different events. For example, if he club sponsors a festival, the festival committee and festival director will likely be separate from the club's program committee and program director. In addition, the board of directors sometimes appoints an ad hoc committee to run a special event.

Unlike in the UK where folk clubs meet in pubs or other venues where alcohol is served, folk clubs in the USA usually present their programs in churches, schools, or other places where alcohol is forbidden. The most common model for a folk club in the USA is the coffee house, not the public house.

Many folk clubs in the USA are shrinking. Older members move away or die off, and younger people do not replace them. As a result, the median age keeps rising, and there are fewer and fewer people left willing and able to do the work. Nevertheless, not all folk clubs in he USA are facing such trouble. Why not? Because they have made the conscious effort to reach and and be welcoming while other clubs keep becoming more and more insular.

While many folk clubs have been withering away, independent house concert series have been exploding throughout the USA, and throughout Canada as well. There are many reasons for this, cost of operations being one of the major factors. However, the house concert circuit provides many more opportunities for many more performers and many more styles of music than do the old fashioned coffee house style clubs.

Given these important differences, the issues raised on the Facebook community page (which is what this thread is about) are likely irrelevant to the UK. Nevertheless, in spite of some rhetorical flourishes, I stand by my basic argument that getting (inspiring, prodding, challenging, leading) the folk music community in the USA to become more open, diverse, vibrant, and welcoming is a real issue. And, as my examples illustrate, it is not simply a question of who gets booked where. It is a much larger issue of behaving in a way that people, especially younger people and people from different social backgrounds, will feel at home.

--- Steve


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