Old Town School's Queer Is Folk Fest breaks stereotypes with eclectic acts
"I definitely think there's a strong connection" between queer sexuality and folk music, says local musician Scott Free. He oughta know: He's the curator and host of the Queer Is Folk Festival, which makes its annual appearance this weekend at the Old Town School of Folk Music.
The reason for the close relationship, Free says, is simple: "Folk is the most singer-songwriter kind of genre, so people can really express themselves personally."
Partly because of the connection, the festival performs a juggling act with stereotypes—confirming one while shattering another. "The stereotype [for lesbians] would be: songwriter woman with guitar, very folky," says Colleen Miller, Old Town's concert and event director. "And the stereotype for gay men would be: dance music. That doesn't mean it's true, but it's the mainstream perception."
"Unfortunately, that sing-along, 'Kumbaya' stuff—that idea of folk has really stuck," Free says. To tell the truth, that's partly the gay community's own fault. "Some of that early-'70s lesbian folk music was really bad," he adds with a chuckle.
Still, such misperceptions haven't hurt the show, whose mostly queer audience keeps increasing. Free knows the queer music scene very well, largely thanks to years of hosting Homolatte, a weekly event for queer wordsmiths and musicians. His chosen headliner for Queer Is Folk's fifth shebang (a benefit for Trans Youth Resource and Advocacy) is Jill Sobule of "I Kissed a Girl" fame.
Also making Free's short list are several out-of-towners and two local acts, including singer-songwriters Anthony Whitaker and Shelley Miller. The two began their musical partnership more than four years ago when they met at an open mike near the Old Town School, where Miller teaches guitar.
For the record, neither half of the couple (she's bi, he's gay) sees a strong connection between queer sexuality and folk music. "I'd say it's more the need to be connected to where I grew up," says Whitaker, a native of South Carolina.
"There are a lot of gay women who are performers," Miller says, "but I don't know that there's a specific connection—like if you get the Indigo Girls gene, you get the queer gene at the same time."
Still, Whitaker adds, "I think it's important that we have the Queer Is Folk Festival. There's not a large enough following of gay male folk musicians."—Web Behrens
The 2005 Queer Is Folk Festival kicks off Saturday 21 at 6:30pm with a wine reception. Performances begin at 8pm.