1960’s Folk Revival


Some people think that Woodstock was the place to be for live music in the 1960’s, but for me, the small New York coffee houses, boasting 60’s folk musicians, are equally alluring.  New York was the site of The American Folk Music Revival, a phenomenon, beginning in the 1940’s and peaking in popularity around the mid-1960s.  Six decades have passed since the sound of acoustic guitars and beat poets filled Greenwich Village’s smoky coffee houses and bars, or vibrant street protests.  Yet, the genre, popularized by musicians with something to say and young adults, very much like us, to listen, continues to influence the modern music scene. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7qQ6_RV4VQ


In the 1940’s to early 1950’s, folk music was associated with political rebellion. Singers traveled through “the coffee-house circuit” carrying with them left-wing associations and bluegrass sounds.  Barred from mainstream outlets, many folk artists were restricted to performing at colleges and camps and reached limited commercial popularity.  The movement, often followed by young social advocates, became associated with bohemianism.  But beginning in the 1960’s, the height of the revival, the genre boasted huge commercial successes for artists like The Kingston Trio, and a host of others.  The artist’s popularity signaled record companies’ growing tendency to sign and promote more traditional and politically minded artists.



During the folk revival there were two schools: the singer/songwriters—such as the well know Bob Dylan—who wrote their own music, and the “old timers” who stuck to traditional styles, inspired by Appalachian and Cajun music.  But whatever school folk artists belonged to, the popularization of non-mainstream folk, the adaption of folk structures and the incorporation of lyrics showcasing political awareness generally characterized the movement.  The new generation of college students continued to embrace folk music, as an alternative to the teen/pop listened to by some peers.

Despite their commercial success, folk artists stayed true to their roots, using music as a form of social commentary.  The peace movement was energized by folk music protesting the Vietnam War and British testing of the H-Bomb.  Voter registration drives, freedom rides, and lunch counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights movement also gave folk new visibility, while still acting in accordance with the political dissent which had always characterized the music.  Some famous singers like Bob Seeger, Josh White, Peter Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan even appeared at Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington singing “We Shall Overcome.



The 1960’s may have seen the revival of folk music in a big way, but its presence is still very much alive.  If, like me, you find yourself warming up to the old-timey folk sound, listen to the playlist below and go check out some contemporary folk singer-songwriters.  After all, it was college students that helped foster the revival in the first place.


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