If a “mafia” exerts its influence without apparent structure, without a listed phone number, without a walk-in office, then the Boston folk music world exists as a networked mafia of foot soldiers, “made” men and women, and of course, capos and dons. Wanna-bes come in from Philly, from Georgia, from Denver and L.A. Sometimes rank beginners, sometimes big fish in their own little ponds, they come to Cambridge looking for the ground zero of acoustic songwriting.

Club Passim in Harvard Square has been their Ellis Island since it opened as Club 47 in 1959. They report to the Tuesday night open mike, an arduous six-hour schmooz-a-thon occasionally punctuated by surprisingly original and poignant performances. From there they fan out into the student ghettos of Somerville, Brighton and Jamaica Plain, working as waiters, cab drivers, software programmers. Nights, they haunt the network of Boston’s indie-basement studios, spending every spare cent on the CD they hope will buy them a seat on the underground railroad of folk notoriety. They stay up late, crash on each others couches or in each others beds, drink and smoke, love and leave, dish the dirt and hope to come of age as cheiftans in a coast to coast six stringed tribe.

Even the name “folk” hides the reality of their art form more than describes it; the only things traditional about their music are the six string guitar and the western music scale. This generation of singers makes up its own songs about its own lives on its own terms, leaving Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie to the scratchy sound of distant memory.

These pictures aren’t press or publicity pictures. They are my effort to separate the players from their environment and show something of what makes them amazing in themselves. They are my valentines to the newest generation of a fine old Boston family.

 

 


Chris Yeager
2003