Stephen I. Moore, MA
Meet the Researcher
I am a history PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside studying folk revivalism and popular music during the 1950s and 60s. My dissertation examines popular expressions of folk music and the idea of folk music in the popular market. How was folk music marketed to a popular audience? How did folk fans engage with and understand the music?
My history master’s thesis from California State University, Long Beach also dealt with this topic. I examined how folk revivalists (mostly in Sing Out!) used their platforms to define folk music for their audience. After the success of the Kingston Trio, self-identified revivalists appeared driven to establish boundaries of authenticity in folk. Their inability to establish a reliable and broadly accepted set of guidelines intrigued me.
Before I began my graduate studies, I had spent years discovering, collecting, and playing folk music. I can still clearly remember my dad had a cassette tape of the Kingston Trio live in concert that I listened to over and over. (Years later, I figured out it was a condensed re-release of the “Once Upon a Time” concert album.) In high school I discovered Woody Guthrie and picked up the guitar. I immediately liked Guthrie’s songs because they were easy to play, and it was about something.
In college, I started going to open mics all and writing my own music, but I remained connected to the folk songs I had been learning as well. My very first performance, I ended with an attempted sing-along of the Leadbelly song, “Irene Goodnight.” It went… fine. I earned my undergrad degree at San Francisco State and became a staple of the open mic scene. Then I moved to Portland, OR where I played at coffee shops and dive bars for a year. In more recent years, I have made a more academic pursuit of discovering folk music, but I’ve always tried to retain the fun and excitement. I started a monthly sing-along night at my house and discovered a local bluegrass meetup.
One thing I have been reflecting on as I write this is all the great music I’ve discovered thanks to friends. In high school my photography teacher loaned me a copy of John Prine’s “Great Day’s” which I listened to over and over. A friend that went to a high school across town gave me a copy of Arlo Guthrie’s greatest hits. In college a roommate loaned me all her Phil Ochs CDs (and she had everything). In Portland, my manager gave me a CD of Uncle Tupelo’s “March 16–20, 1992”. I carry all this music with me today. These albums have not only become the soundtrack to my life, they provide me with untold joy in sharing these songs with others. Music fandom is not a passive act. It’s a deeply personal form of expression.