“The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune”
– Irish Proverb
Is the latest folk “revival” over? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately as Timber and Steel celebrates its fifth year of blogging.
A lot of signs point to fact that the folk flame is waning after burning so brightly for the last few years. The lineups of mainstream festivals like Splendour, Falls and Laneway have seen a decline in folk leaning acts on their rosters. The Hottest 100 this year saw acoustic acts woefully underrepresented. And the flag-bearers of the nu-folk movement, Mumford & Sons, have just released an album with not a banjo or mandolin in sight.
But the more I think about it the more I am of the opinion that folk music isn’t retreating back into the shadows. I think what we’re seeing now is the hipsters and the cool-chasers jumping off the folk bandwagon and onto the “next big thing” (whatever that is) but leaving behind a scene that is fresh and revitalised. We may not see another folk or acoustic band take out the Hottest 100 or headline Splendour in the next couple of years, but that doesn’t mean folk music is going away.
I’m based in Sydney, so maybe I’m looking at the world through a particular prism, but it seems that folk and acoustic music is everywhere.
As live music returns to the pubs of Australia (given an extra push by the “small bar” movement) it’s acoustic music that seems to be making the biggest in-roads. Venue owners are quickly realising that putting a singer-songwriter in the corner of your bar not only brings a crowd, it’s also cost effective and won’t result in too many noise complaints. The establishment of regular weeknight nights in the local pubs, bars and venues around Australia’s inner cities is a very comforting trend that I can’t see slowing down anytime soon.
At folk festivals the cliental has become decidedly younger. I go to A LOT of folk festivals and it seems theres been a seismic shift from old-men-with-grey-beards-and-fishermen-caps to a younger crowd in recent years – performers and punters alike. I think this has come down to progressive festival planners and artistic directors expanding their definition of “folk music”, “country music” and even “traditional music”, opening up the doors of their festivals to new acts without compromising on the quality of the music that is presented there. Artists who may have struggled to find an audience in inner city venues are now finding themselves on festival bills on the merits of their music, not because they’re members of a particular scene or sing a particular way.
Online communities celebrating folk and acoustic music continue to thrive. Along with blogs like this one, Post to Wire and Unpaved, online groups have sprung up everywhere discussing and sharing folk, alt country, traditional, americana and singer-songwriter based music. Just join a group like Waitin’ Around To Die on Facebook to see how many people there are out there passionate about this kind of music.
And finally while Mumford & Sons may have “banned the banjo” (if you believe the sensationalism of the music press) they’ve left a legion of fans in their wake who have discovered folk and acoustic music through them. I’ve always referred to bands like Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters and Men, First Aid Kit and Bon Iver as the “gateway drug” to folk music. For every hundred people pushing “Little Lion Man” or “Little Talks” to the top of the charts there’s a percentage of people who are tracing the music back and discovering Emmylou Harris, Fairport Convention, Gram Parsons or The Pogues. And these people haven’t just abandoned folk and acoustic music because Mumford & Sons wanted their new album to sound like Coldplay – they’ve stayed and fallen head over heels in love with it.
I can’t believe Timber and Steel is five years old today. I’m really proud of what I’ve built and how the folk scene has evolved with me since I first put virtual pen to virtual paper. We’re entering a very exciting time for folk music in this country with the glitz and glamour of the recent years starting to fade and the quality rising to the surface. Timber and Steel has no plans on going anywhere any time soon – we’re looking forward to another year of amazing music!
Happy 5th Birthday Timber and Steel!
Gareth Hugh Evans
Editor in Chief