Everybody is jumping on the banjo-wagon!
Brooklyn’s annual homegrown folk festival is back and still growing in its fourth year, evidence of a steadily expanding folk resurgence that has made Brooklyn — not that other borough to the west — the city and perhaps country’s folk capital.
“The modern folk music movement in New York City started in the 30s and it never really died out,” said Eli Smith, the festival’s founder, who teaches banjo and hosts the Down Home Radio Show. “But it is back in a major way now — and instead of being located in the Village it’s centered in Brooklyn now.”
The Brooklyn Folk Festival will take place this year in an old hardware store on Jay Street, which will be dressed up as a 1940s streetscape, and will feature such straight-shooting musical groups as the Blind Boy Paxton, the Whiskey Spitters, and legendary bluegrass singer Alice Gerrard, who will be coming in from North Carolina.
Despite a few far off zip codes like Gerrard’s, Smith said the majority of performers in the festival’s three nights of music will be from the vibrant scene here in New York.
“In the South there’s a lot of old-time music and bluegrass, but the place where a large scene of diversity and talent in terms of American folk is located — it’d have to be here,” said Smith.
Folk may be a traditional and seemingly antiquated style of music, but its appeal strikes upon something distinctly modern, the festival’s organizers say.
“There’s a desire to go back to the roots of everything right now,” said Lynette Wiley, the co-owner of Red Hook’s Jalopy Theater. “People are making their own clothes and building their own bicycles and there’s a real interest in studying what went before. So people are looking for the music of the past to put their own take on it.”
Not that music is the only thing the festival is offering.
Last year’s banjo toss — in which participants competed to chuck a banjo furthest into the East River — is out, but this year’s festival will include an entire banjo-themed carnival, a harmonica battle-off, a reading and a workshop or two, and a tribute to onetime Coney Island resident and folk legend Woodie Guthrie, who would have turned 100 this year.
And it might be the thing you need to take the edge off your hyper-New York mind.
“Folk is straight up music that gives us a certain feeling of ease in our crazy modern world here in New York,” said Smith. “Just seeing some down home, homemade music makes people feel good!”
The Fourth Annual Brooklyn Folk Festival in Downtown Brooklyn [345 Jay St. Between Metrotech Roadway and Willoughby Streets, (718) 395–3214]. May 18 – May 20, $20 day pass or $45 weekend pass. Visit www.brooklynfolkfest.com
Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.