We spent the better part of last weekend at Ladyfest Boston - a communally organized event dedicated to representing women in music and the arts. Vibes ran high, crowds ran posi, and bands ran loud, with many fitting along the punk/hardcore spectrum. And that’s cool. Punk’s good for a revolution.
Not for nothing, almost all the folk musicians we spoke to on our “tour” told us they were heavily influenced by punk. Punk is the sound made by the energy released when you’re deconstructing an inadequate world. Punk is about possibility. Punk is the soundtrack of a community brought together by politics, passion, and an appreciation for drinking cheap beer and crashing into each other in sweaty basements.
But sometimes people chill out. Or get sad or old, or tired of screaming, or move to neighborhoods with stricter noise ordinances. Sometimes bands break up. And then, sometimes, people start up folk projects.
Cue the Waxahatchee set on Friday.
Waxahatchee is the solo project of Katie Crutchfield, formerly of pop-punk outfit P.S. Eliot. We loved the hell out of P. S. Eliot - the combination of poignant lyrics and pugnacious pop-punk got us so fangirl’d up that after seeing them at The Fest in Gainesville, “Tennessee” became the unofficial anthem of both our road trip and our whole year. (Baby, let’s push our limits.) Unfortunately, the band broke up shortly after moving from Birmingham to Brooklyn. (We paid our respects by road tripping down to Death By Audio for their farewell show.)
Waxahatchee, nostalgically named after Waxahatchee Creek in Crutchfield’s home state Alabama, makes it immediately obvious that Katie was P.S. Eliot’s songwriting half. On stage, her performance was as stripped down as it gets - lyrics, an acoustic guitar, and a whole lot of feelings.
Times must be tough in Brooklyn - the songs on American Weekend (released on Don Giovanni, streaming on Punk News) are way bleaker than anything off last year’s Sadie, and without the accompanying band, there’s a lot less variety in the songs and enough space around the bad-night-gournal lyrics to make us…well, a little worried. But at her best, like on “Grass Stain,” her lyrics hit on a universal magic that reminds me of Conor Oberst circa “June on the West Coast,” (off 1998’s Letting Off the Happiness) and if the Oberst parallel and PS Eliot history is any indication of things to come, upcoming albums may these might grow into songs people know by heart, songs people scribble on their notebooks and put into whatever 2012’s equivalent of the passive-aggressive away message happens to be.
So, is Waxahatchee folk? Depends on your definition. Traditionalists would probably say no - there’s no supplemental Americana-esque instrumentation, and Crutchfield’s voice is more scrappy and sulky than the gentle siren song of the archetypal female folk vocalist. (Though, if you ask us, that’s a plus.) But…if you’re characterizing folk by stripped-down instrumentation, strong storytelling, vulnerability, a sense of place, and an urban longing for simpler times in simpler places, then…folk yes.
American Weekend does mention catfish, whiskey, and Sam Cooke songs, but it’s also so bare-bones that it can really go anywhere from here. Since “June on the West Coast,” Oberst cycled through a number of sounds, before taking the full-on folk plunge with 2004’s I’m Wide Awake it’s Morning, 2007’s Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band record, and 2009’s questionably named Monsters of Folk. At this point, it’s too early to tell if that’s the route Katie’s going to follow. Either way, we’re listening.
Folk to Folk is an independent documentary project exploring how the inclusive spirit of folk music helps build communities and creates accessible, participatory spaces across America today. Through a combination of words, photography, audio recording, video, and online media, we've set out to explore different scenes across the country.
We want to share what folk means to those who keep it alive, revive and reclaim it to fit their own personal and communal definitions. Genre classifications are always problematic, especially since disparate influences are everywhere. Some perceive similar values we've seen in folk music to be present in hip hop and punk scenes, and who are we to disagree? We’re simply using folk instrumentation as an organizational thread to follow, looking where the spirit has continued to meet the sound throughout history.
Although there is always an element of nostalgia inherit in the terminology folk, there is something new happening here. This is not a revival of the sixties. Contemporary folk communities don’t deify Dylan-esque figures, they encourage a polyphony of voices. Shows are often horizontally organized on the internet, using a network of donation-based all-ages DIY spaces. Vulnerable songwriting and passionate performance strip away the veneer of untouchable hyper-ironic cool that has made a lot of popular music so alienating. Folk music is being used as a tool to connect people with people and empower rather than just entertain.
Take a look at some of the voices, both sung and spoken, that we’ve gathered so far. Please get in touch with thoughts, ideas or recommendations for this project at email@example.com . We value all participation and interaction.