Folk has a proud tradition. When I served on the Music Board of the Australia Council for three years my role was to fight for funds for folk music. I was asked to define folk, Australian Folk, as the board members held grave doubts that any such products existed and on top of that they wanted me to explain how it differed from Pop or Country and other genres. In order to make a start on quite a long paper for both the Music Board and the Australia Council itself I asked a classical music person on the Australia Council to define classical music. It seemed only fair to me that if I had to define my genre, so should they. He said classical music was the ‘Celebration of Skill’. Using those terms I defined Pop as the ‘Celebration of Marketing’ and Folk as the ‘Celebration of Life’. I now think I should have used the phrase ‘Celebration of Reality’. Such qualities of course may be present in all genres but it’s the degree in which they are required and I’d like to emphasise required, that is the main point. Alas, at folk festivals it seems both ‘Celebration of Marketing’ and the ‘Celebration of Skill’ have taken hold. Reality and the celebration of it is becoming a lesser component. I provided a paper and much longer presentation to both the Music Board and the Australia Council that filled out the role and presence of ‘folk’ in Australia. I must have been convincing as the level of funding rose considerably, but that is another story. As Keith does, I too question the right of some performers to be included at Folk Festivals. Their purpose, the level of their understanding of the word ‘folk’ and their knowledge of the culture of performance they have inherited are two points to question aside from those of skill and style. I won’t comment here on criteria for those last two aspects although they can be made. Then there is the balance of numbers of local or imported, new or old, and above all balance of content. Being amusing and instrumentally skilled give a higher level of entertainment for sure. For sure entertainment is a component of all performance including folk music. I wouldn’t want to not have those elements present in good measure, however I see as equally important components of Folk Festival fare, ‘perception’, ‘intent’ and ‘potential for re-use’.
All art is a perception translated into a form that uses one or other of these raw materials; sound, silence, shape, colour, movement, words and meaning. It may be a perception related to life or a perception related to the material that is being fashioned. Its form is accomplished using energy, experience, bodily facility and imagination. Each genre places emphasis on different components of the ‘art’ produced. One of the most important components for folk music is that it can be easily passed on, that is transmission.