Anything called a hootenanny ought to be shot on sight, but the whole country is having one. A hootenanny is to folk singing what a jam session is to jazz and all over the U.S. there is a great reverberate twang. Guitars and banjos akimbo folk singers inhabit smoky metropolitan crawl space; they sprawl on the floors of college rooms; near the foot of ski trails they keep time to the wheeze and sputter of burning logs; they sing homely lyrics to the combers of the Pacific.
They are everybody and anybody A civil engineer performs in his off-hours
iV f°Ik bins of the Midwest. So do debutantes, university students, even a refugee from an Eastern girl's-school choir. Everywhere, there are bearded fop singers and clean-cut dilettantes. There are gifted amateurs and serious musicians New York, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis Denver and San Francisco all have shoals of tiny coffee shops, all loud with basic sounda pinched and studied wail that is intended to suggest flinty hills or clumpy prairies.
Not even the smaller cities are immune. Johet, Ill., for example, has a folk cave appropriately called The Know Where Fort Wayne, Ind., has a place called The fourth Shadow where people squat on the Hoor and sip espresso by candlelight over doors that have been made into tables Strings are jumping at The Jolly Coachman in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Incredibly Omaha, just across the river from Council Bluffs, has two places. The Third Man and The Crooked Ear where queues sometimes run to a hundred head, and the varied clienteleas in all citiesnot only have beards, berets, and half-acre sweaters with turtle necks, but also thin-striped ties and no-extra-margin lapels. When something is that big in Omaha, Daddy, it can be said to have arrived.
Cult & Industry. Removed from its natural backgrounds, folk singing has become both an esoteric cult and a light industry. Folk-song albums are all over the bestseller charts, and folk-singing groups command as much as $10,000 a night in the big niteries. As a cultural fad folk singing appeals to genuine intellectuals, fake intellectuals, sing-it-yourself types, and rootless root seekers who discern in folk songs the fine basic values of American life. As a pastime, it has staggeringly multiplied sales of banjos and guitars; more than 400,000 guitars were sold in the U.S. last year.
The focus of interest is among the young. On campuses where guitars and banjos were once symptoms of hopeless maladjustment, country twanging has acquired new status. A guitar stringer shows up once a week at the Princeton University Store.
The people who sit in the urban coffeehouses sipping mocha Java at 60¢ a cup are mainly of college age. They take folk singing very seriously. No matter how bad a performing singer may be, the least amount of cross talk will provoke an angry shhhh.
These cultists often display unconcealed, and somewhat exaggerated, contempt for entertaining groups like the Kingston Trio and the Limeliters. Folk singing is a religion, in the purists' lexicon, and the big corporate trios are its money-changing De Milles. The high pantheon is made up of all the shiftless geniuses who have shouted the songs of their forebears into tape recorders provided by the Library of Congress. These country "authentics" are the all but