2017 NERFA Keynote Address

There is a general tendency for many organizations to choose Keynote speakers not for what they are doing but for what they have done. In truth, great speeches come from those who have a walked part of history but are squarely planted in the present looking to the future. The North East Regional Folk Alliance invited one of the true treasures in our community to speak at this year’s conference and although I’ve known him for years, he spoke and I was floored.

About five minutes into the speech I looked around and discovered that no one was capturing it on video so I quickly grabbed my camera and did my best to do so. Thanks to the great Neale Eckstein and sound master Terry Muchler I was able to put together all the lost audio and add some video of the conference itself and additional footage of the speech in this video:

What truly amazed me, aside from the couplet rhymes for 16 minutes, is that this speech wasn’t a rumination on the (many) achievements of Vance’s past but a call to arms for artists everywhere as we look to the future. Recognizing that for all our self-satisfaction as a community for our connection to the civil rights era scene, Vance often is the only “chip chirping in our 1960’s Kumbaya cookie” 30 years into his own career and that has rubbed me the wrong way for literal decades.

The speech touches on the “Me Too” movement, the less than subtle misogynism found throughout traditional folk, the loss of folk radio programming to pop music over the years: but it does so calling out the bookers, the promoters, the artists to¬†empower themselves. The culmination of the speech speaks perfectly to where we are today:

Yeah you voted – so what now? It didn’t get the job done.
You want to bring folks together?
Then find a way to lift all these voices together as one.
Sing, Damnit! Sing!

The only future for the Folk Scene is one whose doors are open wider than they currently are and in fact include new doors. It can’t simply be the small folk clubs, Unitarian Universalist Church Coffeehouses, and thirty plus-year-old folk festivals whose lineups maintain 50% of the same lineup year after year. I think our future sits in the college dorm shows, the city community gatherings, and the assembly of the politically ostracized left.

Each stanza deserves its own recognition but rather than go through it line by line here I simply point you to the video and suggest you listen. This is important. This is wonderful. This is the right person at the right time with the right message.