Americana music has long suffered from an existential split. Purists long for the days of the Bakersfield sound of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens but can only stand by and watch as Toby Keith and Tim McGraw top the charts and stake their own claims as representatives of real American music. However, the lines are not always so clearly drawn. Recently, popular bands have started to incorporate the sounds of Americana, blues, and bluegrass, with the traditional stylings taking on new and different forms. Frat boys all over have grown fond of Old Crow Medicine Show, and chances are you’ve heard a few songs from Mumford & Sons.
Last week on his show, Mark Waterman (SFS ’13) hosted a series of radio documentaries about the appropriation of Americana music in popular music today. Graham Wolf (COL ’11) produced the pieces as part of a capstone project in a recording class here at Georgetown.
“Over the past two decades, Americana music has surged,” says Wolf in opening the first part of his documentary series. “Pop and rock genres appropriate blues, folk, and bluegrass influence. Brooklyn hipsters play banjos. The White Stripes, Avett Brothers, and other roots bands enjoy the limelight. Americana is making a comeback, but why now?”
In a series of interviews with musicians, radio hosts, and professors around the DC area, Wolf tries to understand the recent popularity of these “roots” musicians and to further explain the reasons that they are where they are today.
The work, in three parts, attempts to answer that question. Part 1 is titled “Nostalgia” and it takes a look at the emotional connection we have with these traditional sounds. Americans can claim Americana and bluegrass as their own, Wolf says, as things distinctly American, and for this reason they are drawn to tunes that incorporate the national style.
PART I: “Nostalgia”
Part 2, “Pain” looks at the words that accompany these traditional tunes. Americana music has long spoken of heartbreak and hard times, and even today us poor heartbroken folks can find comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our suffering.
PART II: “Pain”
Americana Appropriation Part 2
Lastly, Part 3 looks at technology, and how increased access to recording equipment and technology has given musicians the chance to make a name for themselves with little more than a computer and a cheap microphone.
PART III: “Technology”
Americana Appropriation: Part 3
What do you think? Has Americana music really made a comeback? And if so, why?