From its inception, Music Matters Review’s masthead has proclaimed an interest in “folk, singer-songwriter, bluegrass, blues, Cajun, zydeco and other music that is not so easily categorized.” This focus was inspired by the eclectic blend of music that was then played on many community and college stations. At the time it seemed as though this blend of intelligent, authentic and catchy music was going to thrive as a format and earn an expanding fan-base. Unfortunately, many of the noncommercial stations changed their formats to feature music that was already more familiar to people most likely to contribute to fund-drives. For example, my local college music station hired DJs from defunct album oriented rock stations for the weekday drive time and relegated the folk and singer-songwriter favoring DJs to Sunday mornings. It got to where it was hard to keep up with what was happening on the folk scene without attending festivals such as Falcon Ridge and the Newport Folk Festival. Internet radio stations became a lifeline to the music I craved.
Produced by WKSU-FM, Kent State University’s radio station, Folk Alley’s hosted, live-streaming internet offering went online in 2003. Kent State has had a long association with folk music, hosting the Kent State Folk Festival for over thirty years. Perhaps this helped Folk Alley attract the prominent folk DJs whose dedication and expertise have made this station the premiere acoustic experience on the web. The music is minimally interrupted by the DJs who identify the songs and provide a few well-chosen comments. The sets of music are selected with care and attention to continuity.
When you arrive at FolkAlley.com you see a nicely laid-out page with rotating features, static links to interesting stories and functions such as their Twitter feed. Navigation is clear and logical. The website is a model of real-time response and interactivity. For example you can look at a short playlist that automatically updates, or a longer one that you can update manually. Links associated with artist frequently bring you to their web pages to learn more about them. Other links make it easy for you to purchase the songs you have just heard through iTunes or Amazon. There are blogs, video blogs, polls and feedback areas everywhere. Advertising is appropriate and contextual for folk music lovers. They even created an iPhone/iPod app that gives flawless access to the site’s main attractions.
Perhaps the best part of Folk Alley is the wealth of on-demand music. There is a separate holiday or special event stream. The many in-studio interviews and performances can be streamed or downloaded by members. There are more than fifty concerts available with headliners such as Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Carrie Rodriguez, Acoustic Hot Tuna, Pete Seeger, Martin Sexton, Richard Shindell and Odetta to name a few. If you did nothing but play features, videos and concerts you would not run out of material for months!
Even though one can enjoy the many attractions of this site for free, there are several good reasons to become a member. This is a nonprofit, 501 (C) 3 organization, so your contribution is tax-deductible. They give a breakdown of how money is spent at Folk Alley on their donate page, and clearly this is a frugal operation. Although the basic membership level is $60, the ability to download material makes this an incredible bargain. There are additional membership perks including a free download from FestivaLink.net and various discounts. There are other internet folk music outlets, but Folk Alley is clearly the most completely satisfying experience. You would be hard-pressed to find a better-presented content-rich web experience for any genre of music. —Michael Devlin