September 29th, 2011
I have seen the story about the New York Folk Festival rejecting these gentlemen repeated in various media by the founders of the Antifolk Festival. To set the record straight, I am confident they never approached our Festival, which I produced from its founding in 1981 to final season in 1987. The Festival was in part dedicated to expanding the definition of folk, and was similar in its programming to what these guys are doing, featuring street performer shows, blues, soul, punk, jazz, funk, singer-songwriters, and rock, as well as traditional and modern "folk musicians," in venues as diverse as Times Square, Prospect Park. I think we were gone before they started, and I don't think we were "folk music snobs." Finally, I don't believe there was ever a "New York CITY Folk Festival," but I could be wrong on that one. In sum and in my humble opinion, they are doing good stuff and have a good story that doesn't need a villain.
I wanted to air Ted Geier's comments further, especially since I was involved in getting the Times some of the background information for their story. The New York Folk Festival very well may have been as open, progressive, and varied as Mr. Geier reports. And he's right that no villain is needed in this story. I think his comments provide valuable perspective and I'm sure as the producer of the Festival, he is justifiably proud of what he accomplished with it.
However, for better or worse, it does seem from everything I've read, and heard from folks directly involved--that The New York Folk Festival, which was happening at the same time they etablished the first Antifolk Festival, represented to Lach, Kirk Kelly, etc. the more mainstream Folk establishment, which they were reacting against. It's not that they applied to The New York Festival and weren't accepted, but that they felt rejected from the folk scene as a whole [and the Times story is accurate in saying that none of the AF crew were invited to play the NY Fest]. In the end it seems as if the Antifolker preferred doing their own thing anyway.
So, as a matter of history, mentioning The New York Folk Festival is relevant. However, I think it is interesting to see this issue looked at from two sides. Ted Geier feels that he was presenting a diverse and inclusive Fest. The Antifolkers felt it was mainstream and closed. Probably both sides have some validity. And it definitely is worth being reminded that more often than not shades of grey are more prevalent than black and white in any two (or more) - sided issue.