I mention this on the eve of a folk festival that was originally slated to feature Neil Young, a man who apart from the song Ohio and an ill-advised album-length tirade against George W. Bush, has never exactly been a folk singer. Patti Smith, however, who in my folk-festival world would be headlining tomorrow night, is certain to direct our inward gaze to thorny issues. This is a good thing. And you won’t find much of it at Folkfest this year.
The mainstream has lost a few pop-music traditions in recent decades. Gone are the once-obligatory “answer songs” to hits of the day. Gone, for the most part, are the cash-in numbers recorded to capitalize on the latest craze, from streaking to Pac-Man to, uh, Wendy’s TV commercials. Gone too, it seems are instrumentals, once a common sight on the charts. Funny, given that today’s chart-toppers seem to have even less to say than the pop stars of old. Presumably, it’s just that today’s artists can’t shut up. And in the age of autotune, why would they? Topical songs, meanwhile — songs that chronicle this ever-changing world in which we’re livin’ — have long been absent from the mainstream. Continue reading