This is not going to be a popular post by any means but I hope you'll forgive me because it is a genuine question that I'd like your help on; I truly want to make sense of it.
I can be classified as a young folkie in that my friends in my local folk clubs are usually about 30 years older than me. I didn't grow up with folk music but I went out to discover it myself and now perform traditional songs at clubs and festivals and am a member of a festival organising Committee in the west of England.
I went to Sidmouth for the first time this year after many of my fellow folkies had waxed lyrically about it and told me I'd love it. I was really excited to go to a proper traditional festival, having previously been to more 'broad' folk festivals like Cambridge, Shrewsbury and Warwick.
I have to say that I was really very saddened and disappointed by my experience at Sidmouth. I don't say this as criticism of the organisers at all who put on some great concerts. I speak of the fringe events and the festival goers. For starters, most of the young people were performing and very few seemed to have gone without that as an incentive. Not only this, but every pub session I went into seemed closed off and unfriendly. At singarounds, people put on singers they knew – several people I spoke to said that this was the normal thing. More than this however, was how miserable everyone looked – it was as if to show any emotion rather than stony boredom might make other people mistakenly assume that they had only been coming for a mere 20 years and therefore that things could still surprise them – they would therefore be classed as not 'the real deal'.
I found Sidmouth incredibly unfriendly, with knowledge presiding over passion and with no real engagement with young people. I've spoken to people who have said the same thing about Whitby and I can't comment, not having been, but surely this is not good enough if we want to avoid another 'folk doldrums' in ten years or so after all the young people have been scared away?
To my complete horror, I have been put off folk music. My initial attraction to folk music in general stemmed from love of music from the past but also folk's sociableness and the way two people from different backgrounds can meet, share music , take something away from the encounter and make something both old and new at the same time. I am coming to believe that instead of this, folk is a dry, insular thing, full of censure, disapproval and unfriendliness and the only right way is to do things in one particular way.
The reason I'm writing this is that I haven't been able to have a proper discussion with the people in my folk club who will hear no wrong about it. I have tried a couple of times but have stopped at the risk of maligning something so many people hold dear.
I worked very hard to find out more about folk music and to be a part of it but I feel very sad about the possibility that the majority of my 20s might have been accidentally given to an ungenerous, judgemental area of music. I do not want to feel like this and would appreciate some insight from others.
I know that much has been discussed about young people and folk music on Mudcat but I would like to know if A) other young people have felt this way about Sidmouth and the very traditional English festivals, B) if older people have felt this way and C) how I communicate my thoughts with other folkies that I meet and how I can help to make things better. I go to one of the most traditional clubs in England specifically to learn more about the traditional stuff and have found what I've learned to be invaluable. I don't want now to feel at war somehow with the older generation.
Apologies for any offence caused. I think it is important for me to have these questions asked and answered and I do hope that you understand my reason for writing.
Thank you to all of you.