Revival: A Folk Music Novel
By Scott Alarik
Peter E. Randall Publisher
When I first met Scott Alarik in the late-1970s, he was one of the impressive Minnesota-based folksingers who’d soon find some measure of wider recognition through their appearances on the early shows of the A Prairie Home Companion radio show.
A few years later, Scott moved to the Boston area where he continued to perform and record but became primarily known as a freelance writer covering folk music for the Boston Globe, Sing Out! and other publications. Deep Community: Adventures in the Modern Folk Underground, a collection of Scott’s folk music articles was published in 2003. Now, with Revival: A Folk Music Novel, Scott turns his attention to fiction.
The story is set in a scene that Scott knows as well as anyone: the contemporary folk music scene in Cambridge, Massachusetts (as well as the broader North American folk music scene). The main characters are Nathan Warren and Kit Palmer.
Nathan is a veteran performer whose chance at the big time was blown by a combination of music biz politics and his own self-destructiveness. Now sober, he runs a weekly open mike night at a Cambridge bar where he mentors promising young performers and gives chances to any and all who want to get up and share their songs.
The young and painfully shy Kit Palmer is one of those promising young singer-songwriters – perhaps the most promising. Nathan recognizes her talent, helps her overcome her stage fright and – despite their age and experiential differences – they fall in love.
As the story develops, Nathan teaches Kit the art of stagecraft and becomes her backup musician and producer as she begins to climb her own ladder to folk music stardom. All the while Kit’s influence revitalizes Nathan and his own music.
Among the secondary characters is Ryan Ferguson, the veteran freelance folk music critic for the major local newspaper. The paper is going through the same kind of cutbacks and restructuring the Montreal Gazette – where I used to be the freelance folk music critic – went through a few years ago, so I related strongly to the character (whose professional struggles, I’m sure, were based, in large part, on Scott’s own adventures at the Globe). Another is Joyce Warren, Nathan’s ex-wife and a star in the folk music world now based in L.A.
Scott does two things quite brilliantly in Revival. He tells a May-December love story in a way that seems fresh and vital – and he gives a superb primer on the folk music scene as it has evolved almost a half-century after the major folk music revival of the 1960s. Readers get an understanding of the hierarchy of the scene from open mikes in neighborhood bars to community-based, volunteer-driven house concerts and coffee houses, to the major folk club, concert and festival circuit. The independent recording scene, folk music radio and publications are all are part of the primer that should make this book essential reading for any aspiring performer – and for anyone who cares about the scene.
One of the things that I loved about Revival is that Scott has created characters that seem like people I know. In a note that precedes the story, Scott stresses that any similarities to real people in the characters in coincidental, but there are aspects to these characters that I recognize – or at least read into – many people I know, or have known over my years on the folk scene (which pretty much parallel Scott’s), including more than a few good friends.
Revival: A Folk Music Novel is a terrific read for anyone who likes a good story and an essential read for anyone who cares about or wants to understand today’s folk music scene.