Jalopy

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from http://www.wonderingsound.com:

It’s a Wednesday evening in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Feral Matt Foster is playing an old acoustic guitar in front of a red curtain on a handmade wooden stage. The crowd in front of him sits on benches that resemble church pews. The space feels old, but it’s been operating for less than a decade. There are white-haired neighborhood folks interspersed among the mostly 20- and 30-something crowd. Halfway through the show, a basket is sent around to collect tips for the performers. Foster is hosting Roots and Ruckus night: a free, weekly folk show at the Jalopy Theater.

“Traditional folk” has roots in the recordings from the Depression Era or earlier — everything from Appalachian ballads to rough, unproduced field recordings. There is a profound, unshakable pain in that music. Though there are plenty of sorrowful songs from every era, there’s a specific rawness and deep-seated ache to traditional folk music that is largely foreign to contemporary folk and pop.

That’s largely because traditional folk music has typically grown out of rural America, and that America is shrinking. With rapid urbanization, cities have expanded and suburbs have transformed; a 2013 U.S. census reported that, from 2010-12, rural county populations declined as a whole for the first time in history.
“Though some small pockets may have access to the rich, rural roots of our past,” musician and Jalopy mainstay Eli Smith argues, “It’s not coherent or vibrant in the way that it used to be.” Farmers have been selling their land or paring down — and with it, culture is getting pared down. Traditional folk and blues often sounds like it’s from another world — let alone another time. Its reference points are becoming scarcer as rural America dwindles. For all of NYC’s history of folk music, a giant metropolitan city with no recent rural history to speak of is an odd place for a contemporary revival to take place.

A native New Yorker, Smith started out as a banjo teacher at Jalopy. In addition to being a musician, he also hosts the Down Home Radio Show and runs two folk festivals — one in Brooklyn and another in Washington Square Park. He helped launch a streaming internet radio station, Jalopy Radio, and is spearheading the relaunch of Jalopy Records — a record label that released Long Island country musician Pat Conte‘s] American Songs with Fiddle and Banjo in 2011, but went quiet shortly after.

Smith grew up yearning for a new folk movement in New York, but it wasn’t until his 20s that he began to see the outlines of a scene developing. Jalopy — and later, Brooklyn Rod & Gun — have been instrumental in its development.

The fast pace of cities and social media can become exhausting. The folk movement offers an answer to this conundrum: the way forward is to cultivate the past. As Smith explains, “We’re left with the cultural inheritance of that era which is incredible.”

Traditional folk music channels a very particular energy — its pared-down instrumentation and often gut-wrenching vocal delivery has a way of making it feel almost eerily personal. “I think [there’s a] key to humanity and psychological well-being that we’re searching for in the music,” Smith says.

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