The Louisville Folk School is a relatively new offering in our city of some very old traditions and traditional music, much of which has been created in our region. Several cities around the country have folk music schools such as Chicago, St. Louis, Brasstown, North Carolina and many others. I recently spoke with Dave Howard, founder of Louisville’s new school. He is also the Mandolin player for the popular 23 String Band which will be performing at the official Forecastle after-party at Headliners on July 16.
Laura Shine: What is The Louisville Folk School and how did it come to be?
Dave Howard: Louisville Folk School is a community of musicians and music fans. Our mission is connecting the deep roots of Kentucky’s music traditions with its promising and lively future through lessons, performances, and a supportive community.
A couple years ago while on tour with The 23 String Band, the St. Louis Folk School hosted us for a concert and a workshop, and my band mates and I were all impressed by the way that the Folk School engaged the community with education and performances in a wide variety of traditional American music. We later played at a Folk School in Brooklyn that was also the epicenter of old time and folk music for the area. Louisville doesn’t have a hub for this music and it’s something I want the community to have. My motivation for starting a Folk School here in Louisville, and my motivator to continue this work, is largely as a service for the community.
When I started getting into bluegrass music, it was a bit of a challenge at first because I didn’t grow up listening to this music. There are dozens of tunes that are standards — many people that play bluegrass music appear to instinctively know all of these songs and the non-verbal language that goes along with playing the music. If you have not had years of exposure to Bluegrass, it can be a challenge to learn to play it. Louisville Folk School helps interested musicians jump that hurdle by letting people immerse themselves in many traditional disciplines including Bluegrass, old time, jug band, and other folk genres. All of these genres share roots and even some of the same repertoire, so encouraging folks interested in any of them will help strengthen the whole lot. As they say, when the water rises, all the ships float higher.
LS: Why a whole school dedicated to this one particular genre? What kinds of classes are offered?
DH: The main reason I wanted to start Louisville Folk School was to grow and strengthen the community of folks in Louisville who are interested in either traditional Kentucky music or, to paint with a broader stroke – folk music. We may all interpret differently what one means by folk music and I actually like how vague it is because it doesn’t box us in to one genre, such as a bluegrass music school or an old-time string band school. We can offer ukulele, jug band or blues classes and they are still as folky as an old time fiddle class. By continually offering a wider variety of classes, we hope to attract a wider variety of interested students and introduce them to some of the more traditional music that we feel is important to be carried on. There are plenty of options and resources for those interested in learning to rock but I know when I was getting into playing mandolin I would have appreciated an opportunity to learn from some local mentors and meet other folks with similar interest. Looking through WFPK’s playlist today, and I suspect most days this would be true, the large majority of artists being played on WFPK fit under that big folk umbrella: Shooter Jennings, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Thorn, Lera Lynn, Tallest Man on Earth, Shovels and Rope – all of those in a half hour and all carry a strong connection to folk music if not embody it whole-heartedly.
Louisville Folk School offers many beginner level classes each session that require no musical background, several advanced classes to challenge the more advanced player, and we even have some classes with mixed skill levels. Our next session begins the first week of August and will offer classes on singing, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, ukulele, banjo, dulcimer, and hopefully a repertoire class that will teach songs from a specific songwriter such as Gillian Welch (still working on that!).
LS: Is it limited to just kids or can anybody of any age sign up for classes?
DH: Most of our classes are for ages 11 through adult, but we are excited to now offer kids classes for youngsters ages 6-12! The majority of our students are college age or older. We have five 8-week sessions each year, as well as workshops and concerts with local and touring performers.
LS: How can people find out more about the school? Do you all do any public performances?
DH: We will host an open house at the Clifton Center on Saturday July 23 at 1pm! We are also easily found online or our facebook page.
We have hosted concerts and hope to offer more concerts in the future but are focusing on building the community through lessons and jam sessions for now. Louisville Folk School is lucky to be surrounded by great music programming at the Clifton Center so we feel less pressure to focus on concerts while we are located here. The Clifton Center is an ideal location for us and we are thrilled to be welcomed into their community, which includes WFPK’s Winter Wednesday Concert Series, Shine, Kentucky Home Front, Louisville Visual Art, Ballet Arts Studio, and the Live at the Clifton Center concert series.
Pictured below is Dave Howard on Mandolin with his band, The 23 String Band.