The Old-Time Herald Volume 11, Number 5

Do-It-Yourself Music for a Modern World
By Charmaine Slaven
The author and her partner Charlie Beck, busking at their local farmer’s market.
My generation is shouldered with some enormous problems.  I’m 27 years old, and every day I wake up to a barrage of depressing information about global warming, political crisis, and war.  This information isn’t exactly easy to swallow, but it does seem like some of my peers are beginning to take notice.  There are signs that members of the younger generation are shifting their consciousness.  Not only are we beginning to think twice about throwing that paper cup away, we’re actually taking on some major lifestyle changes.  There is currently a great movement among many young folks to seek a simpler way of life.  It’s become hip to ride your bicycle, grow vegetables, & shop at the local farmer’s market.  Many are learning traditional crafts and trades.  Do-it-yourself has become a slogan for this new subculture, referred to as DIY.

Old-time music has found a snug home among folks of this ilk.  Twenty-something musicians are coming out of the woodwork.  Banjo cases are regularly spotted on college campuses and old-time music festivals are becoming overrun with youngsters, many of whom, a mere ten years ago, could only be found at punk or indie-rock shows.  At first I thought that young folks like myself were anomalies in this scene, however I’m meeting more and more.  A couple years ago, at the community-organized Scare Dance Square Dance in Eugene, Oregon, I met Josh Rabie, a 20-year-old fiddler who performs with the Crooked Jades and Water Tower Stringband.  He notes that “old time music is making a comeback and this is largely due to its growing appeal towards a younger crowd… We mostly play for college-aged kids and they go crazy, making our gigs resemble a punk show. It seems like this American tradition has made a comeback. Almost in a rebellious fashion, old-time music has become ‘cool’ in the eyes of young alternative, teenagers who struggle to relate to current pop music trends.”

It makes sense that people trying to simplify their lives would seek out acoustic music that doesn’t depend on electricity, but what is the specific attraction to old-time music?  I think that part of the appeal of old-time is its earnestness, simplicity, and expression of joy.  Another draw is the sense of community, sharing, and equality that encompasses the old-time scene.  T-claw, a 22-year-old banjo and fiddle player in Olympia, Washington, explains “Most appealing to me is the community surrounding old-time music. I love the sounds and dancing, but mostly I love getting together with people and having a good time.  Also, if you travel or meet new people they are a lot less likely to know your favorite punk songs than old-time songs.  It’s like learning and sharing a language.” 

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