Roger McGuinn’s Folk Den: Legendary folkster discusses 50 years of music

Photo: John Chiasson

Roger McGuinn is still tending to the fire that has kept him on the road and in the studio for the last 50 years, and he doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. That’s why he is bringing a catalog of his most cherished songs to the Palace Theater in Manchester, New Hampshire on Thursday, May 12th.

His dedication to folk music is still roaring, especially now that the folk-rock vanguard has revitalized a brand new batch of 100 traditional folk tunes to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Folk Den Project, which McGuinn started back in the mid 90’s to pay tribute to the artists who shaped the genre that he calls his musical home.

“Back in 1995, I was listening to a CD of traditional music, and it occurred to me that a lot of the new folk singers had become singer-songwriters, and were neglecting the traditional side of folk music, like the sea shanties, the blues, the cowboy songs, all the different aspects of traditional folk music,” says McGuinn. “It occurred that, when Peter Seeger and Odetta died, there wouldn’t be any many people doing traditional music anymore, so I started doing something about it, by putting songs up on the internet for free download, putting one up every month since November of 1995, and now there are over 240 traditional songs available on mcguinn.com and the Folk Den,” he continued. “To celebrate the 10th anniversary of it [back in 2005], we re-recorded one-hundred songs for a 4-CD set called ‘the Folk Den Project’, and we just celebrated the 20th anniversary of it in 2015, and now there is another one-hundred songs available, specifically recorded for the 20 anniversary edition of the project.”

Folk music was vital to the peace movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s, thanks in part to McGuinn’s contribution, but while he still feels that folk music has its place, he doesn’t feel it is as effective in helping process today’s social conflicts as it was back then.

“I think the internet is probably more effective as a tool for what is going on now, than folk music is,” says McGuinn. “I feel that folk music has it’s place… as a historical thing, in the way that history that was transferred by word of mouth, but we have Twitter and Facebook now,” he continues. “Folk Music was a vehicle for that, back in the day, but I think other things have superseded it.”

Roger McGuinn 3

Photo: John Chiasson

In addition to his outstanding achievements in music, especially with the Folk Den Project, McGuinn isn’t afraid to discuss his thoughts and own experiences with homelessness and drug addiction, which he feels are both very important topics that need to be discussed more.

“I agree that homelessness and drug addiction [need to be discussed], and I can identify with them,” says McGuinn. “I’ve been down on the street, barely making a living, working in coffee houses for three dollars a night, barely being able to afford the rent in a cheap hotel,” he continued. “And I have gotten into drugs over the years, and I’ve managed to get out of them, but these are easy things to fall into, and once you do, it’s very difficult to pull yourself out, and you need somebody else to help you.”

And on the topic of whether he feels we will ever see a day where these issues aren’t as widespread as they are now, McGuinn is as honest as you can get.

“It’s hard to say, really,” says McGuinn. “There are a lot of factors that play into it. I mean, the war on drugs certainly didn’t do a lot of good. It just put a lot of people in prison. We have more people in prison than North Korea, so I don’t think that’s the way to do it,” he says with a chuckle. “I think a good start to ending that would be if fine upstanding citizens would stop buying drugs and supporting the drug cartels. That’s a good place to start.”

The 73-year old is young at heart, and the blood, sweat, and tears he has put into his music to establish his place in music history is unlike any other. His love for the music that he plays, and the diehard fans that have followed him through the decades have created a community of sorts, for lack of a better term, and his fan base continues to stay true to him, just as he has to them. Are there 100 more songs waiting in 2025 for the Folk Den’s 30th anniversary? Who knows. But there is no denying that Roger McGuinn’s legacy as one of the most in-depth artists of our time will live on well past his time in the studio.

Roger McGuinn/5.12.16/The Palace Theater/80 Hanover Street, Manchester, NH 03101/palacetheatre.org

Top