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Where the wild folkies dwell

December 28, 2005

My wife and I occasionally think about moving to the United States from Europe, where she is from and where I have spent the last (yikes!) 19 years. The desire's been strong enough recently that we often take out the battered Rand McNally atlas and consider places we might want to hang our hats.

The criteria are somewhat vague but we'd like to land in a place with a thriving acoustic music community. The America I left all those years ago was Denver/Boulder which, in the early- to mid-eighties had a great scene. I know that it's easy to romanticize the past but the number of fine musicians who still influence American roots music and who lived there at the time convinces me that it really was a special place to be (at a special time).

When Jonathan Byrd and Dromedary were here in Switzerland a few weeks ago (what a great act and swell bunch of guys, by the way—they averaged well over a CD per audience member in sales, deservedly so) I asked where they thought the best active folk scenes in the US are. I think it'd be difficult to get Rob and Andrew away from Athens, Georgia. Jonathan felt that Nashville would make a certain amount of commercial sense for a writer with his sensibilities but also pointed out that different places in Texas have supported him enthusiastically over the years. For now, I get the feeling that he'll stay in North Carolina.

So, fellow Folk Alley-ites. . . where are the happening scenes for acoustic music enthusiasts? It'd be great to have a talent pool of local musicians to play with and at least one venue daring enough to book interesting national acts. With Folk Alley around, a broadband computer connection will matter more than local media. We also place a high value on nearby wilderness. Any nominations?

I wish you all a very happy beginning to the new year!

Posted by Stephen Ferron at December 28, 2005 7:21 AM


Arizona is getting better, but still seems to lack a sense of itself. A few small companies are trying to make a difference for folkies here, most notably AMAZ Records and Rustic Records, but it is an uphill fight.

AMAZ books several national acts a year, but their focus is on old-school folk rather than the newer talents. This is due to the median age of their audience, most of whom are near or past retirement age.

With a population of six million, Arizona certainly has the potential.

The availability of wilderness is not a problem, but if you want to work fulltime as an acoustic musician, Arizona might be a tough row to hoe unless you tour constantly.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at December 28, 2005 7:41 AM

You can't beat Boston for this sort of thing!

Posted by: ML at December 28, 2005 8:52 AM

Well Stephen, now that I left I would cast a vote for the Portland, Oregon-Seatle, Washington area. Wilderness to suit, and also a fairly thriving folk scene, although I've away long enough to not be able to verify this anymore.

Remember, this is just my opinions and opinions are like tushies. Eveyone has one.

Posted by: Joshua Brande at December 28, 2005 8:56 AM

Well, Boston does have a wilderness nearby. They call it New York City.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at December 28, 2005 10:34 AM

Chicago - the Old Town School of Folk Music, the UofC and other folk festivals, a number of folk music radio shows that promote local talent, and very nice folk - for example, see -
there's always somehing going on, and it's not a day-trip to go almost anywhere in the metro area to an event, we moved to the west suburbs because of the Plank Road and Fox Valley events. Highly recommended.
Chris in Wheaton

Posted by: Chris Jones at December 28, 2005 11:27 AM

That's wilderness Jim, not jungle. But Stephen, I'd second Chris's vote for Chicago. While it's true I left there years ago, The Old Town School of Folk Music and the Uof C are still great folk culture and venues. He's also right about getting around da Loop and out lying areas. But during this time of year, wear something warm.

Posted by: Joshua Brande at December 28, 2005 2:54 PM

Wear two somethings warm. Put something warm on over them.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at December 28, 2005 3:42 PM

Hi Chris!

Thanks for the plug! (I do the Plank Road web site and Chris does the links page for interesting and wild and wooly sites he finds).

And Jim, this ain't Minneapolis. Real Men wear vests.

Posted by: Scot Witt at December 28, 2005 3:50 PM

OK, put on a vest, too.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at December 28, 2005 4:03 PM


There are so many options.
and we all have pride in our own little place in the world.
But I would have to say that hands down Austin Texas is the place to be if your priority is music.

I currently live in Cleveland Ohio, I have lived in Dallas , Huston, & Ft Worth Texas.....never in Austin. But it is THE place if you are seeking the singer songwriter types

hope my $0.02 is a little help. I'm sure there are many more opinions yet to hear.


Posted by: Brian Schmuck at December 28, 2005 6:26 PM

Well, I'm partial to Southwest Virginia, Western North Carolina, East Tennessee. We've got wilderness in spades. And while it may be hard to make a real living playing music here, there is no shortage of talent. Besides, the mountains are lovely, and the climate is not as harsh as that of the Northeast or Chicago.

Posted by: Jonathan DeBoe at December 28, 2005 10:18 PM

Hey Jonathan, you been down into Linville Gorge, or over into the Pigeon River country?

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at December 28, 2005 11:30 PM

Hey Stephen, check out the Twin Cities! MSP has a great folk/acoustic music scene thanks to Bill Kubesczko and the legions of volunteers who run the Cedar Cultural Center. There's also the Ginkgo Coffeehouse in St. Paul, and a number of other club venues and theaters. The Twin Cities are crawling with some great musicians too - some of my fondest memories of living there include nights at the Viking on the westbank of Minneapolis listening to Spider John Koerner .[ ] If you haven't heard of Spider John - I highly recommend you do! He's one of my musicial heroes.

Another great venue - one of my all-time favorites- is about an hour or so south of the Cities. Oak Center General Store - It's run by really great people and it has a great 'vibe.'

Don't be scared off by all the 'scary winter' PR hype you hear about the Twin Cities. I guess it's all relative - if you're from AZ or TX it will be a shock, but after living in Saranac Lake for over 10 years, I found the winters in St. Paul to be a welcome reprieve from Adirondack winters. And as for wilderness - I suppose that's relative too, but northern MN is quite beautiful.

Posted by: Linda Fahey at December 29, 2005 8:04 AM

We can see snow here in Arizona too - but then we can drive back down to the house and spend the afternoon by the pool.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at December 29, 2005 8:16 AM

Wow--some great places listed already. Linda, I certainly agree with you on the Twin Cities' virtues but the weather isn't too appealing in the winter OR summer. Great scene, though. Jim, are you saying that even the folkies have pools in Arizona? Get out those Speedos!

Posted by: Stephen Ferron at December 29, 2005 11:40 AM

Well, some of us have pools. None of us look good in speedos.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at December 29, 2005 11:43 AM

Hello Stephen!

Some great places have already been suggested and I want to ditto a few of them: BOSTON! Never been there myself but a fellow I met at the Falcon Ridge Festival in New York this past summer who was from San Diego, CA, went to Boston, rented a room for a month, and said he went to a different venue every night and that the folk music scene was great! Ashville, North Carolina is great! Oregon has a great folk community. Say, around Portland and Seattle. Then there is the Sister's Folk Festival every September in Sisters, Oregon. Fayetteville, Arkansas has a great folk community.
Since I live in Dallas I want to say that Austin, Texas is loaded with music and lots of great musicians live there, too. And of course let us not forget the Texas Music Scene including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and the GREAT Kerrville Folk Festival every summer! HOUSE CONCERTS ABOUND IN TEXAS!!!! Here's another suggestion: go out on the web and do a little surfing of your favorite folk acts - see where they go to play - check out the festivals - see who's playing - go to their web sites and see where they are traveling - lots of information can be found tracking the links.

Happy New Year!

Joseph Leavell

Posted by: Joseph Leavell at December 29, 2005 12:33 PM

Well...New York City may be a jungle, but it's also still the great melting pot and if you're a folkie, it's certainly a great thing to be in this environment. Every culture and tribe and ethnicity is represented in New York, and you can find venues all over the 5 boroughs of New York City featuring folk singers from these cultures. True, it is a lot of people crowded into a small space (both public and private), so it requires an extremely tolerant and patient mindset to navigate through this, and to appreciate it. The great thing is: you don't need a car in this town! In fact, a car is a liability. And riding in the subway has given many folk singers inspiration for great songs!

Posted by: Penny Stanton at December 29, 2005 3:39 PM

Interesting thing about Austin Texas. When I was living there, it was called "the live music capital of the world." And now that I'm not living there it's called "the live music capital of the world." Yeah, 6th street has a lot of venues, as does other parts of town. But the thing is, it was never the musicians who called it this. For what it's worth though, it's a great band town, but for the single folkie, I don't think so.

Posted by: Joshua Brande at December 29, 2005 4:17 PM

I've heard the same - a lot of work for alt-country & americana bands, but the scene seems too up-tempo for solo singer/songwriters. Any Austin folkies out there with an update for us?

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at December 29, 2005 4:32 PM

The Cactus Cafe, on the University of Texas campus, is GREAT place for solo, folk-ish acts.

Posted by: Linda Fahey at December 29, 2005 4:52 PM

I have to put in a vote for the Driftless Area - southwestern wisconsin (home of the best folk instrument store around - Green Man Music in Viroqua), and folk festivals from Iowa to southeastern minnesota. Small towns, great people, good music. You could plant yourself somewhere in that area, like Decorah Iowa, La Crosse, Wisconsin, or Lanesboro, Minnesota, and be in reach of Madison, the Twin Cities, Iowa City without actually having to live in a big city.

Posted by: Peggy Sannerud at December 29, 2005 5:47 PM

As a musician, Austin is a great town to be from! You will have trouble working, though, until you spend a considerable amout of time building up your following by traveling to other towns and using the "musician from Austin" mystique to get gigs. That was my experience in Austin, although it has been several years now since I lived there. There are a number of singer/songwriters who do well living in Austin, but most of it is by regional touring.

I live in Oak Park, Illinois (near suburb of Chicago) and there are many Austin musicians who travel up here to Fitzgerald's to get gigs. Fitzgerald's specializes in bringing Texas and Louisiana musicians up to this part of the country.

Posted by: Jack Swain at December 29, 2005 7:28 PM

Always better to be from someplace else. Nobody wants to pay good money to listen to their next-door neighbor!

Better still to have a day job, and play music on the side.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at December 29, 2005 10:19 PM

I am still blown away by the acts booked in the Denver / Boulder area. And you can't beat Colorado for wilderness in my book. Swallow Hill Music Association is second only to Old Towne in Chicago for its acoustic school and its stages attract a lot of top acts, including many national bands and solo artsts. They also host a good number of jam sessions and open stages. (Check out www.swallow for the upcoming schedule.) House concerts are around as well. The Paramount Theater in Denver along with Boulder's great venues attract a lot of acoustic artists as well. Then there are the festival venues - from Telluride to Planet Bluegrass in Lyons, some of the top festivals in the country happen in our backyard - and Winfield's Walnut Valley Festival is only a day's drive - at least half the acoustic community migrates there every September. I have also spent a lot of time in Europe and it seems that Colorado is a great alternative to the culture and wilderness we had available to us there. And you can't beat the weather! (PS - Don't tell about our fabulous weather - it is a well kept secret!)

Posted by: Jan from Denver at December 30, 2005 1:20 PM

I have a brother in Arvada, a Denver suburb, who loves the weather up there. But he sleeps on a large block of ice, and stores his underwear in the freezer.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at December 30, 2005 1:52 PM

Does it really matter WHERE a "folkie" lives? My passion for good music survives in my soul, regardless. Too idealistic? We are selling our 1860's home on acerage in western Washington State, if you need terra firma instead of my beliefs :D. Although by most standard's, we are living in the country already, we're heading to the other side of the state, to our 80 acres at the edge of the world's most pristine and peaceful wilderness. The winters are cold, summers hot, out of cell phone range, and solar power will become our new best friend, i.e., no electricity...but I'll survive not having "big city" venues or sophisticated concert menus.... Guess I'll just have to carry a song in my heart.
Good luck & welcome home, wherever that may be. Robin, from Washington State

Posted by: Robin at December 30, 2005 11:52 PM

Robin, great sentiments beautifully expressed. Your homes (old AND new) sound like ideal places to keep music alive. I could proabably survive without the venues (at least for a little while) but as a musician with 'sideman' mentality and skills, I'd want to have at least relatively easy access to pickin' partners. We envy you your new adventure!

Posted by: Stephen Ferron at December 31, 2005 4:06 AM

Hey Stephan, thanks for the kind reply! Not wanting to dissuade you from considering Washington State as a place to call "home", please allow me to offer that although I am not a musician by trade, Washington State offers incredible musicians with whom you can either professionally or privately, listen, play, record, perform, or just call "friend". Speaking of my experience, the muscians I call my personal friends, passionately and with pure joy, do it all. The list of opportunity is extensive and rich. So Ya'll come, if not to stay, at least for a really good cup of joe... Robin

Posted by: Robin at December 31, 2005 1:33 PM

P.S. Please pardon that last misspell of your name Stephen...Robin

Posted by: Robin at December 31, 2005 1:38 PM

I've lived in Austin, Chicago, Boston, etc. and have traveled in Washington and Oregon, but I always come back to the Denver/Boulder area because of the variety of venues available for folk artists. And, while we try to keep it a secret, the weather and wilderness in Colorado is second to none. Denver is also a hub, so getting to other folk events is easier, starting from the middle, rather than the East or West Coast. Good Luck .... Nick

Posted by: Nick Nelson at December 31, 2005 11:36 PM

No question that it should be north of the border .. the accoustic music scene in Canada almost everywhere is second to none; the Ontario and Quebec regions are accessibleto the eastern US, and Ottawa is a favourite. The Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield in Quebec, but 20 mins drive north from downtown Ottawa] has to be the folk music centre of the known universe.

Posted by: Schroeder J Russell at January 1, 2006 8:16 PM

Pardon moi, but I was up in Quebec in February, and it made Chicago's weather feel like a hot tub!

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at January 1, 2006 11:34 PM

I would have to make a second vote for Wisconsin. Not only the driftless area and locations mentioned in the previous post, but the whole state is accessible to all kinds of stuff. We are south of Madison where there is lots to hear, BIG vote for the Cafe Carpe in Fort Atkinson, easy striking distance of Milwaukee and Chicago and when the summer road trip urges strike nothing beats the Big Top Chautauqua way up by Lake Superior, or many music festivals all around the state. Those are the high points, way too numerous to mention them all!

Posted by: Cynthia Hurtenbach at January 2, 2006 8:49 PM

Mr. Jim,

I must protest your constant diatribes against the Windy City (which was named for it's adherents for the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in the New York Sun[REAL yellow journalism- it was printed on yellow paper, which is where the term comes from] not the weather).

Having lived in Northern Wisconsin, the Twin Cities, South-Central Minnesota and the plains of Nebraksa you know not of what you speak.

Were it not for our weather, you would not have:
-Steve Goodman's wonderful songs
-Flemming Brown
-Frank Hamilton
-Jim/Roger McGuinn
-Winn Stracke
-Big Bill Broonzy
-An entire genre of Great Lakes Ship Wreck songs
-Bonnie Kolac
-Anne Hills
-Claudia Schmidt
-Bob Gibson
-Larry 'Cookieman' Penn (his Mom and his father were the subjects of his song about the life saving Surfman and the Lighthouse daughter- based, suprizingly, right here in Chicago!)
-The Wobblies
- A whole host of others that don't come immediately to mind so early in the work week.

Put on another pair of socks and quit whining, amigo.


Posted by: Scot Witt at January 3, 2006 10:14 AM

No apologies from me, Scott! They say that the line between genius and madness is very, very thin. So it only stands to reason that anyone crazy enough to live up there might have some creative genius as well.

Or have nothing else to do but shiver and write songs.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at January 3, 2006 10:19 AM

I vote for Austin. Not only is the Texas Hill Country beautiful (not exactly "wilderness", but lovely nevertheless, and NOT COLD) There are many small unknown coffee shops, bookstores, restaurants, bars, bar-b-que joints, etc, that are acoustic havens; not all the clubs are 'band' scenes and you will only hear a smidgen of the talent down on the famous "6th Street". I've seen some of the best musicians play in some of the surrounding towns such as Bastrop, Gruene, San Marcos, Georgetown and Leander. Did you know there are over 400 singers/bands registered as "Folk" musicians in Austin (Austin Chronical Musicians Registry). ( including many Austin natives such as Tish Hinojosa, Eliza Gilkyson and others. My husband and I have sat in on open mic jam sessions with Walter Higgs and the Shuffle Piggs and a few years back, Steve Fromholz and Gary P. Nunn. You never know who you'll encounter, including an evening we spent at a small club with Shake Russell gracing our table during his breaks. I adore the Austin music scene!

Posted by: Karen O'Briant at January 3, 2006 10:51 AM

"Might" the man says. Not sure who "they" are, though. Such an antiquated notion, which is probably why you're such a good songwriter.

But then, despite the bone crushing temperatures (it's 43 degrees as I write this), at least we have indoor plumbing and that new fangled 'lectricity Mr. Tesla and Westinghouse were spouting about.

Posted by: Scot Witt at January 3, 2006 10:55 AM

We're sitting pretty all winter - but come summertime we have our bone crushing temps. When it hits 122 degrees, even the scorpions and rattlesnakes head to Starbucks for a frozen latte.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at January 3, 2006 11:55 AM

Lucky thing we got these coal oil operated computers to get us through this ice age, huh Scot?

Personally, I love Texas, and Austin is my favorite place down there. I lived in Texas most of my life, but I happen to love Chicago, as well and I love the fact that we actually have real seasons up here. The fact is that every part of the country has it's brand of folk music and some of it is very regionally distinctive and I happen to like all of it.

Musicwise (I think I just coined a word!), Chicago has everything. It is a major metropolis with people from all over the world, and I can hear almost anything I desire if I want to seek it out. Neither Austin, nor anywhere else in Texas is nearly as diverse. That said, Austin is still a great place for music.

Posted by: Jack Swain at January 3, 2006 1:32 PM

Yeah Jack,

My 'puter is using that new fangled low sulphur coal.

Jim: I can always put more clothes on to be warm... to cool off, one has a problem when one reaches one's skivies....


Posted by: Scot Witt at January 4, 2006 9:47 AM

I hesitate to post to such a long list, but...if you have been living in Europe for almost 20 years, you will discover changes in your home country. Thomas Wolfe was right.

You might consider another country. The acoustic folk music scene in Canada should be well-known to all reading this blog, with notable hotspots being Cape Breton, Newfoundland, the Ottawa Valley, Alberta...

Posted by: Mike Risk at January 4, 2006 12:22 PM

Are you referring to Thomas Wolfe's quip "You can't go home again", or “America - It is a fabulous country, the only fabulous country; it is the only place where miracles not only happen, but where they happen all the time”

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at January 4, 2006 5:38 PM

If you're not looking for a big bustling city but rather beautiful country and a wonderfully active folk scene, you might want to consider the area around Albany, NY - particularly the little town of Voorheesville, NY just outside, where the Old Songs people are ( There you will find not just thriving folk music but traditional dance galore, concert series, family contra dancing and more. Not to mention, the Hudson Valley is just south on the Thruway and you can't beat that for folk scene (Woodstock anyone?). And of course, the big highlights of each summer - Falcon Ridge and the Old Songs Festival. What's so delightful about this region is that there is such an abundance of education, government and high tech - but still a small city feel. And, you can bounce to Boston, NY or Montreal in 3 hours in any direction.

Posted by: Eileen Parzek at January 5, 2006 11:04 AM

Woops - and you wanted wilderness??? Try the Adirondack Mountains to the North (, the Catskill Mountains to the South and then Vermont (Green Mountains) and Massachusetts (Berkshires) next door. I'm a wierd animal called a Techie Folkie - so for good measure, I have to point this out too:

Posted by: Eileen Parzek at January 5, 2006 11:11 AM

So, I guess the real answer to the question was: Next Door to ME!

Posted by: Scot Witt at January 5, 2006 11:12 AM

Stands to reason. By this time in our lives, most of us live in the places we love.

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at January 6, 2006 8:14 AM

Anybody familiar with the Charlottesville, VA area? I've never been , but I hear it's a great place to live with a lively music scene -- venues and players.

Posted by: Linda Fahey at January 9, 2006 7:19 PM

Since posting this 'blog' a few weeks back, I've really enjoyed reading the comments to it. I just marked all the recommended spots on a large map and am impressed by the geographic spread. We're planning a short tour in September and have decided to allow ourselves enough time to visit as many of the locations as possible. Thanks for the tips! See you in the Northwest, the Rockies, Texas, Arizona, Chicago, the Twin Cities, North Carolina, Virginia, Voorheesville(!), the Driftless Area, Canada and. . . Kent? And points in between. Leave a candle burning!

Posted by: Stephen Ferron at January 14, 2006 3:59 PM

If you want warm weather, warm people, beautiful scenery and lots of places to play, check out North Carolina. The mountains, such as Asheville and Boone have really active music scenes, so does the "triad" area of Greensboro, High, High Point and Winston-Salem, so does the "triangle" area of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill and not to mention our own home, the Outer Banks. There are festivals galore, clubs and concert venues all over this state. Good luck and see you soon!

Posted by: Kitty Mitchell at January 15, 2006 5:19 PM

The Ozarks (in Arkansas) is a great area for folk culture and natural beauty. Particularly Mt. View which touts itself as the Folk Music Capitol of the World. The folk scene there is no frills mountain music, bluegrass, and country (unplugged, of course). Eureka Springs is another, but more of an artist community. Very hip. very beautiful,... with a palpable mystique. Check out for a taste of the Mt. View area. Eureka Springs has an annual Folk Festival in Oct., one of the longest running in the country. Check it out on the internet.

Posted by: William Dumas at January 15, 2006 10:29 PM

Where would you like to be thats where its at the place you bring it. a place with less might mean more for you Id say the big island Hilo Hawaii you can even wear a vest if you want to with your shorts cool shades bare feet and a smile there is alot of wilderness on this island and you can watch a snow capped mountain while floatin on your inner tube may God bless you with what your looking for

Posted by: Michael Kennedy at January 16, 2006 10:35 PM

on the aside:
If you don't mind my asking in a politely nosey kind of way:
Speaking of day jobs, I'm kind of interested in what exactly all of you Folk musicians do for a living between gigs...have always been curious about that.
I guess I really want to know what kind of employer is amenable to the musician's on again/off again schedule. And if you're gonna be "from" somewhere and playing elsewhere, this must involve enough travel time away from the day job to make for an interesting scheduling challenge for any employer. I think they should be rewarded for their support of the genre (if they don't bitterly complain, that is!).
What's you experience? Which places are the best to live & work days and still make regular away gigs?

Posted by: JL Braswell at January 19, 2006 2:33 AM

Also, check out in West Plains, MO., deep in the heart of the Ozarks and home base to many wonderful Folkies as well.
Samples of past and present performers there on this site, plus schedule of upcoming events.

Austin aside...San Antonio, Texas is a great place to be "from"; the cost of living here so very low (comparitivly, in any case), and the Kerrville Folk Festival being so close by and all. Just wish we had more dedicated venues for Folk types in this city.

Posted by: JL Braswell at January 19, 2006 2:50 AM

Hey there - don't forget Ann Arbor, Michigan! There are tons of musicians in the area, professional and amateur. And who doesn't want to play or go to The Ark?

There's plenty of wilderness Up North, and parks & recreation areas nearby.

Posted by: Noemi Ybarra at January 23, 2006 6:46 PM

Unless you are dreaming about hitting the big time, I would probably pass on Nashville. There are so many aspiring artists that musicians are not treated very well.

Posted by: Gary Lide at February 18, 2006 3:09 PM

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