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Finding Folk

Off Campus | October 10, 2011

Most Tufts students could go about their four years here on acampus without ever knowing about the surrounding area’s thriving folk music scene. Let’s face it: Tufts students live in a cultural bubble, where Ke$ha, Nicki, and dubstep are bumping in every basement. It’s not hard to see why folk music is so easy to miss here. Those who do have the desire to venture out of the ‘Tufts bubble’, however, will discover the vibrant and thriving folk scene we have at our disposal.
Hundreds of Bostonians witnessed folk music at its finest at the 8th annual RiverSing along the Charles River. At the end of September, just a few days before the Autumnal Equinox, RiverSing, a community folk song and poetry collaboration, welcomed the coming season by inviting residents of the greater Boston area to gather by the river and sing as one. Almost every song played at the event was a meditation on the river, from “So Sang the River” to “Sailing Down this Golden River” to “Down by the River Side.” RiverSing was organized by a group called “Revels”, which builds new seasonal traditions by restoring old cultural and artistic practices. The RiverSing festival managed to encapsulate the quintessential American folk experience by bringing together both country and urban roots, and creating a community through song.
All year round, this same folk community is alive. Club Passim in Harvard Square for instance, features folk musicians every night of the week. In addition to these nightly performances, the venue offers folk-related classes in a variety of topics, from American Fiddle Music to Songwriting 101. Highland Kitchen in Somerville provides a Sunday morning alternative to Soundbites with its weekly Bluegrass Brunches. The locally inspired menu compliments the Bluegrass music performances, which also draw off local talent. For the musical crowd looking to play some folk of its own, Boston offers options to meet all your pickin’ needs. The Folk Song Society of Greater Boston hosts monthly singing parties at members’ houses, and each month, MIT hosts a “Chantey and Maritime Sing” The average age of participants at both these events is bound to be much higher than at your typical Tufts party, but this in and of itself offers a good change from the usual scene. Finally, for the 21+ crowd, the Cantab Lounge jam in Central Square provides a great opportunity to experience bluegrass music every Tuesday night. Since 1993, the lounge has featured a set which sandwiches bluegrass acts between open jam sessions. On any given night there is a diverse crowd of old and young musicians and singers. To keep updated on the folk scene around the city, make sure to check out “Boston Song Sessions” online, which features a calendar that displays upcoming folk events.
Although it may not always be obvious, the folk scene is very much alive here at Tufts as well. Most recently, it showed itself in the living room of 3 Capen Street, where two folk musicians, John Elliot and Jack Wilson, performed a house concert. Tufts own talent, Sam Cantor, opened for the duo. The idea came to fruition when junior Ben Ross was approached by Sara Terry, a documentarian who is currently working on a film about the lives of American folk musicians. One of the documentary’s characters, John Elliott, happened to be coming through Boston with fellow musician and friend, Jack Wilson, so Ross offered up his house as an extra stop on their tour.
The concert was intimate, and the crowd, enthusiastic. “After the success of last night, a lot of people who were there have been saying that it was not only the highlight of their week, but that it has filled the void of something we’ve been missing here at Tufts,” Ross reported. As far as future concerts go, Ross seems optimistic— “This just got the ball rolling,” he said. There are plans already in the making for the coming months. To the performers, the fact that so many students showed up for their concert showed just how special Tufts is in respect to the American folk world. Considering the typical audience of Elliott and Wilson—mostly older women, they said—there is a spirit and enthusiasm alive on campus that isn’t found just anywhere.
If you open your eyes to folk music, you’ll find that it isn’t just about the performer and the audience, it’s about the community. Every concert and sing-along offers a new chance to ground yourself the core of an American culture and identity. Folk doesn’t just live on Facebook and YouTube though, so step out of your dorm or apartment and into the world of music.

RiverSing in Cambridge