The Recorder – Roots and Revival in New England Folk Music
Posted: 09/19/2021 12:45:07 PM
I Believe I’ll Come Home: Roots and Revival in New England Folk Music
By Thomas S. Curren, Bright Leaf / University of Massachusetts Press
When people talk about the revival of folk in America in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the focus seems to be on New York City, where Bob Dylan made his debut and where artists like Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Dave Van Ronk and Peter, Paul & Mary have also become big names.
But in “I Believe I’ll Go Back Home,” Thomas S. Curren examines how the folk revival unfolded in New England during the same period, in cafes and small clubs in Boston and Cambridge, and in other places that have helped launch the careers of artists such as Joan Baez, Tom Rush, Buffy Sainte-Marie (a former UMass Amherst), Dayle Stanley, Bonnie Raitt and Chris Smither (who lives in Amherst).
Curren, the executive director of the Franklin Land Trust, grew up attending many of these folklore shows himself and brings a lot of enthusiasm to his book, published by Bright Leaf, an imprint of the University of Massachusetts Press. He is also chairman of the board of directors of Folk New England, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that preserves material documenting the cultural heritage of folk music in the region.
Indeed, Curren’s book examines not only the folk music scene circa 1958-1968, but also the roots of folk music in New England for 250 years. As he writes in a preface, “I wrote this book because I believe that … the Boston-Cambridge folk revival of the 1960s is a crucial hinge that connects the roots, revolution, and reform movements of the 18th and 19th century New England with today’s deficits, possibilities and perils.
For example, Curren examines the growth of “singing schools” in colonial New England, sparked off by “traveling song masters” who traveled the countryside to teach harmonious singing, moving away from rigid church hymns. and thus helping to thaw “the ice crust of a severe clerical regime” long maintained in the region.
“I Believe I’ll Go Back Home” also looks at the important contributions enslaved people, Native Americans and others have made to the tradition of folk music, and not just in New England. But the heart of the book examines the growth of the folk scene in Boston and Cambridge, the rise of music publications, and the feeling, as Tom Rush told Curren, that “something unusual was happening here. ; that it was something really special.
Curren also puts the revival of folk music in the context of the times, such as the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, as well as the general music scene in Cambridge and Boston and their surrounding areas: at Club 47 [now Club Passim], come listen to Jeff Gutcheon’s barrel piano in Orleans, then pick up Jesse Colin Young’s latest set at the Unicorn.
The author adds that the revival of folk music was linked to the feeling that mainstream America, with its materialism, segregation and other issues, needed to change – and he wrote the book, he adds, in the hope that “he could be a resource for all who feel called… to bear witness to the truth, the beauty, the need for contrition and the unrequited love that coexist at the heart of American culture.
Steve Pfarrer can be reached at [email protected]