What The Folk? : All Songs Considered This weekend, we'll webcast and broadcast music from the Newport Folk Festival.
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What The Folk?

This weekend, we'll webcast and broadcast music from the Newport Folk Festival.

There'll be good music there, but folk music? The lineup includes Jim James, M. Ward, Brandi Carlile, Cat Power and Cowboy Junkies, to name a few.

The definition of folk music has long been an issue at this festival, but never more than now in my opinion. It's easy to trace a line from Guthrie to Dylan to Cash, but how do you get to Trey Anastasio?

When I worked in a record store, we'd have fiery debates about the folk section. You could walk into the store one day, and the entire Neil Young section would be moved from rock to folk; same with Randy Newman, who one day could find his stuff in the jazz section, then back to folk, then to rock.

Folk long ago went from being traditional music to introspective music by singer-songwriters. So these days, a Conor Oberst record would easily find itself in folk bins.

So what of folk music? A few weeks ago, I spent a week at the Swannanoa Gathering in the mountains of North Carolina playing Irish music — music you learn by listening to someone play. That's the oral tradition. It is alive and doing rather well. You might find a fiddler from Chicago like Liz Carroll writing tunes that get picked up and played in the pubs of Ireland.

So who are the folk musicians these days? Kimya Dawson? Devendra Banhart? Fleet Foxes? Joanna Newsom? Panda Bear? Trey Anastasio?