With so few venues for folk music, the chances the genre have to take root seem slim indeed. Fortunately, there are those troupers who persevere when it comes to bringing that sound to those that desire it, both artists and entrepreneurs determined to give folk music a place to thrive in the tropics.
Arlene Boumel is one of those dedicated few. As president of the Broward Folk Club, a registered not-for-profit organization whose sole purpose is to nourish and promote folk and acoustic music and bring together those with a similar appreciation, she helps ensure that South Florida audiences have the opportunity to enjoy and experience it. The organization produces the annual South Florida Folk Festival of which Boumel and VP Bob Singer are codirectors.
"South Florida has a thriving folk community, one of the more vibrant in the country," Boumel contends. "The folk music community in South Florida is not really a whole lot different than the folk music community everywhere. It tends to be made up of older people, in their 50s and 60s, but if you come to an open mic, you'll see plenty of younger people performing as well. Terrific younger national artists such as Mumford and Sons and Sarah Jarosz demonstrate that there is a resurgence of interest in this type of music among younger performers."
Boumel admits that the genre itself can be open to interpretation. "There have always been disagreements about what constitutes folk music," she maintains. "Even in the height of the '60s folk era, they were arguing about this. But folk music really runs the gamut. It's traditional ballads, it's bluegrass, it's Mississippi Delta blues, it's a fiddle player or a flatpicker or a fingerstyle guitarist playing some lively melody. It's a singer/songwriter telling a story in song. It's a duo singing in harmony. And our South Florida community is all of that and more. That's why, for the South Florida Folk Festival, we've tried to incorporate a variety of different types of folk genres into the schedule. And in South Florida, we have a communitywide calendar and music list (gotfolk.com) which enables us to coordinate events with each other and share a calendar to ensure that everybody, whether in South Florida or across the state, knows what is happening here."
Like many of her fellow devotees, Boumel's interest in the folk scene was spawned from an early age. "As with most of us who are involved with this organization, I have loved folk music since the time I was young," she recalls. "My dad ran a summer camp in the Poconos, so as a child, I learned to strum a guitar sitting around the campfire. Folk music is the soundtrack of my life. As a teenager growing up in Philadelphia, I hung out at the Main Point and attended the Philly Folk Festival. So it was pretty natural to seek out others who also love this kind of music."