11 Folk Bands to Check Out in 2014's Festival Season
Shovels and Rope by Kelsey Stoulil
In the Coen Brothers’ latest masterpiece, Inside Llewyn Davis, title character and general screwup Llewyn Davis says, “If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it's a folk song.” While that is certainly true, today’s music scene is full of great bands writing new songs with the hope they too might find themselves in the folk canon, and many of these bands will be hitting the festival circuit this summer.
Scroll through for our favorite 11 folk bands to check out in 2014’s summer festival season, including Shovels and Rope, Sharon Van Etten, Cass McCombs, Lord Huron, Hiss Golden Messenger, and more.
Shovels and Rope
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Shovels and Rope are a husband and wife duo consisting of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, both of whom share vocal, guitar, and percussion duties. Basically, they’re like a bizarro folk version of The White Stripes. The couple’s first official release under the Shovels and Rope moniker was 2012’s “O’ Be Joyful,” a rambunctious record highlighted by the track “Birmingham,” the best ‘band origin story’ song since Tenacious D’s “Wonderboy.” Expect a fun, rowdy show led by Hearst’s powerhouse vocals.
Folksiest lyric: “Machete in a tree stump, hound dog on a chain / wooden-legged* woman playing banjo in the rain” - “O’ Be Joyful”
Festivals: Bonnaroo, Stagecoach, Newport Folk Festival, Rhythm N Blooms Fest, Toronto Urban Roots Fest
*There seems to be some confusion regarding this lyric. Online sources have deciphered the lyric as “wooden-legged woman,” “one-legged woman,” and “wouldn’t let ya woman.” After many repeated listens, I went with “wooden-legged,” as “wouldn’t let ya” doesn’t make grammatical sense in the context of the line, and a “tree stump” was previously mentioned. Also, it seemed the folksiest way to go. Michael and Cary Ann, please forgive me if I misinterpreted.
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While Cass McCombs might speak softly, his lyrics certainly carry a big stick. His even-keeled singing voice often masks his dark and occasionally hilarious writing. “Big Wheel,” the title track from McComb’s latest record, contains many such lines, like my personal favorite, “I may be five-foot-one but you’re all wet.” At 22 songs, the album, entitled “Big Wheel & Others,” is a sprawling folk epic.
Folksiest lyric: “A man is bolts, a man is rust / for a little while, then the man is dust” - “Big Wheel”
Festivals: Bonnaroo, Hipnic VI, Boston Calling, Sasquatch!, Latitude Festival
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Tim Barry is better known for his punk roots, which is why he’s playing mostly punk festivals this summer. But the former Avail frontman has dived head-first into folk with his solo career. Barry is at his best when it’s just him and an acoustic guitar, and that simple setup makes for an intimate, personal show. He’s also been known to come down off the stage and perform songs in the crowd — a move that is never not awesome.
Folksiest lyric: “I write standard boring songs with boring standard chords / just like the best and the worst, verse chorus, verse chorus, bridge repeat” - “Avoiding Catatonic Surrender”
Festivals: Groezrock, Pirate Satellite Festival, Pouzza Fest
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The sound of Lord Huron is big, earthy, and super earnest. It’s the perfect kind of music to listen to outside while the sun is setting. Basically, it seems like Lord Huron was created just to play music festivals. Hopefully festival organizers will recognize the perfect match of music and atmosphere and give Lord Huron a late afternoon/early evening set.
Folksiest lyric: “I’m just a man but I know that I’m damned / All the dead seem to know where I am” - “The Ghost on the Shore”
Festivals: Shaky Knees, Free Press, Field Trip, MO POP, Forecastle, Squamish
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On the surface, Houndmouth’s debut album, "From the Hills Below the City," feels like a folk music checklist - it's full of road trips, prison sentences, and wariness of the government. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find a hard-rocking band with a ton of heart. Houndmouth’s combination of punchy music and sweet harmonies will surely prove to be a festival highlight.
Folksiest lyric: "I hid a batch in Frisco / I couldn't score a job / so I did the next best thing and I learned how to rob" - "Penitentiary"
Festivals: Sasquatch!, Shaky Knees, Newport Folk Festival, Clearwater Festival
Hiss Golden Messenger
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On record, M.C. Taylor’s Hiss Golden Messenger project has a sort of lo-fi classic rock sound. But when it’s just Taylor and an acoustic guitar onstage, he would fit right in to the 60s folk scene. Hiss Golden Messenger’s songs are already fairly sensitive, Taylor is clearly a pro, but the intimacy of his performances allows for a real emotional kick.
Folksiest lyric:“So goodbye sweet Genevieve / now goodbye my Tulsa friends / Everybody did you hear the news / Jesus shot me in the head” - “Jesus Shot Me in the Head”
Festivals: Le Guess Who? May Day, Blackstock Music Festival
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Bill Callahan was quietly been one of the most prolific artists of the last 25 years, releasing over 15 albums since 1990, each one marked with his smooth, baritone voice. His music has a very deliberate feel, like he’s a professor of modern folk music. Be sure to check out Professor Callahan, PhD of Folk give glorious lectures all over the world this summer.
Folksiest lyric: “The only words I’ve said today are beer and thank you” - “The Sing”
Festivals: Øya, Flow, Green Man Festival, Pukkelpop
Sharon Van Etten
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The beauty of Sharon Van Etten’s music comes from her deeply personal lyrics. Her songs do not shy from conflict, as many deal directly with her real-life romantic and professional entanglements. Combined with her dark, haunting voice, Van Etten’s words become that much heavier. But the ability to sing those words aloud along with her can be a cathartic experience.
Folksiest lyric: “To say the words I want to say to you would be a lie / by the time I get the courage I am drunk and you are tired” - “A Crime”
Festivals: Primavera Sound, Northside, Sasquatch!, Forecastle, Pitchfork Music Festival, Øya, Green Man
David Wax Museum
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With their combination of Mexican folk music and Americana, David Wax Museum is one of today’s most unique bands. David Wax is a magnetic frontman, and his partner-in-crime Sue Slezak provides excellent harmonies. Slezak also plays a quijada - an instrument made out of a donkey’s jawbone. While a donkey’s jawbone won’t be the weirdest thing you’ll see at a music festival, it'll probably make the top five.
Folksiest lyric: "Yes, most doors open briefly and then they are shut / the circle of life is a wheel that gets stuck in a rut" - "Harder Before It Gets Easier"
Festivals: Red Wing Roots Music Festival, Colours of Ostrava
Hurray for the Riff Raff
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In keeping with the spirit of her band name, Alynda Lee’s Hurray for the Riff Raff has a sunny, old-timey sound - Lee's feathery voice floats over music made for swinging saloon doors. Underneath these cheerful sounding songs, however, Lee can write some somber lyrics. Her newest album, "Small Town Heroes,” deals a lot with homesickness and being away from the one you love. These themes help make "Small Town Heroes" one this young year's best records.
Folksiest lyric: "Oh, and tell me what's the man with a rifle in his hand / gonna do for a world that's some sick and sad?" - "The Body Electric"
Festivals:, Stagecoach, Forecastle, Newport Folk Festival, Fayetteville Roots Festival
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Miss Lewis’ music is more “folksy” then she is folk, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the former frontwoman of Rilo Kiley, aka the Teddy Roosevelt in my Mount Rushmore of all-time favorite bands. She does get her folk on for more than a few occasions, including on songs like “Acid Tongue,” “The Charging Sky,” and “Carpetbaggers” her duet with Elvis Costello. Plus, her newest song, “Completely Not Me,” was featured on this season of Girls, and Hannah Horvath is basically a modern day folk hero.
Folkiest Lyric: “So my mom, she brushes her hair / and my dad starts growing Bob Dylan’s beard” - “The Charging Sky”
Festivals: Governors Ball, Shaky Knees, Forecastle, Newport Folk Festival
See Also:8 Punk and Alternative Festivals to Check Out in 2014
The Worst People to Stand Behind at a Music Festival
How to Get to the Barricade at a Music Festival, Without Being a Jerk