I believe as a singer and performer of folk songs that it's incumbent upon me to share with the audience the historical value of the material I present and that means not only the history of the song itself but the people who gave it to us and something about the sub-culture that they represent. It seems to me if you respect the material, you have to respect its source.
The reason to make it clear as to how it differs from other forms of music is one of education about what it is. Folk music is different than songs composed for the pop industry, Broadway stage, classical venues and we serve a function in bringing the awareness to the public as to why this music is important. In this way, we carry forth a kind of tradition that coheres with the informants collected by folklorists and musicologists. I think it would be folly to try to emulate much of the collected field recordings if you come from a different culture but at the same time, the source should be respected and interest in the source performers can be fostered by an awareness of how they should be received and appreciated. Here, I believe the cohesion between the revivalist and the traditionalist is important. One would not exist without the other.
I was dismayed at the attitude of a prominent folklorist putting on a concert at a major university who refused to allow anyone not deemed by him to be "traditional". Joan Baez was excluded because in his view she was not the real deal. This lack of foresight avoided the fact that Joan would bring in an audience to listen to the lesser-known but representative performers of a sub-cultural tradition. Let's face the fact that many people learned to love the old-time traditional field recordings by having been introduced to folk music in the first place by the likes of the popular revivalists. Pete Seeger has always attempted to bring people that he feels are important to his concerts and in this way furthured the acceptance of a Big Bill Broonzy or a Sonny Terry. Peggy and Ewan certainly paved the way for this kind of acceptance also in their projects. Mike Seeger did this with American trad country music although he would not be considered by some folksong scholars to be the real deal. Burl Ives made people aware of the ballad through a trained voice (he was able to interpet Schubert Lieder). In this way, the folklorists and musicologists carry on their jobs which are important but sometimes shoot themselves in the foot and run the danger of being too definitive thus stopping the process of encouraging folk music to be understood by the public. Unless the public gets behind the idea of a cultural heritage and begins to understand the process, the commercialization of music begins to obscure and replace the folk music.
It's the old argument, about the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it.
Because of the work of performers such as the Seegers, Ewan, Kennedy, Ives etc. (who are often dismissed as revivalists by grey-bearded insular academics), there is a resurgence of interest in all kinds of traditional sub-cultural music. There was a time when listening to a backwoods singer hollering the blues or a ballad would have been laughed at and not at all appreciated. Here I think is where the revival singer coheres with the earlier source.
They open the door.
I remember Big Bill Broonzy saying that he really appreciated Elvis because he opened the door for venues for him. It wasn't about the money either. Bill wanted to reach an audience. He had something unique and important to contribute. I cite him as an example.
So in this sense, the individual performer becomes a catalyst for the community which grows into a different form.
Even Alan Lomax would cite certain performers as being better than others. Not all folk music is pleasant for everyone to listen to. Again, it depends on the mind-set of those who hear it.
Is the public educated enough to appreciate a Jeannie Robertson, Blind Willie, or those who Harry Smith revisited in his important documentary Folkways trilogy? I submit that here is where the breakdown of the revivalist and traditionalist cheese meets the binding.
To separate the performers on the basis of arbitrary categorization is pig-headed but to reject some performances of which some don't understand because they have no frame of reference to appreciate it is lamentable. Here, I'm talking about the appreciation for the field recordings of many fine folk artists.
So we are all part of the process whether we see that or not. But it is in the interest of those who appreciate all forms of folk music to distinguish this form from other types of performance.
BTW, as soon as an informant records for the folklorist at all, they instantly become a performer.