In Hingham, Mass., the Old Ship Church is the oldest, continuously functioning church in America. Folk music is often heard there, but unlike the church, which was built in 1681, its origins are more nuanced, even a bit vague and can be traced back even earlier than the church.
The music we now call “classical” often borrowed its melody lines from long-standing European folk tunes, as do many of the songs found in America’s 19th and 20th Century church hymnals.
Later, popular folk music became the language of poets and protesters, but in the late 1960s it went mainstream and was welcomed into many houses of worship appeared on the top 10 record charts. One of its greatest practitioners, Woody Guthrie, allowed, “It is the music of the people, by the people and for the people.”
So, Peter, Paul and Mary’s tuneful protest in their song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (1962) transitioned to more plaintive and personal lament, “Leaving on a Jet Plane (1967).”
While folk faded from the protest scene, it began to grow in churches as well as its traditional American home, the coffee house. And it is still thriving in both — if you know where to look.
A local indie-folk band, As the Crow Cries, is one of the newest to brave these waters.
On the well-chilled patio of Dunn Brothers Coffee house last Saturday night, breath curled from Sean McFerren’s mouth as he opened their set. His band mates, Calah Hilton on keyboard and Lincoln Hilton on drums, sang to a friendly and loyal audience — one well-fortified against the icy stillness of that evening by large, dark-roast coffees.
Simultaneously, McFerren’s Christian folk songs sought to warm their spirits.
“I guess I have been writing songs for a really long time,” he said. “I was 7 is when I wrote my first. My aspiration is for God to use our music to reach as many people as possible.”
Unlike more complex musical forms, folk is immediately accessible. It removes pretension from the musical equation. Because it is easier to write, compose and perform, it has often been the vehicle to deliver a timely, even compelling, message to those who are in search of something more.
These are the same properties that render it well adapted for worship.
“Our listeners are very kind in how they support us, and we truly value all the input they bless us with,” McFerren said. “We get a wide range of responses to our performances. We take any opportunity we have to give God the praise.”
As the Crow Cries is working on its first recording, but its demos can already be found on YouTube. The band also plans to appear in additional caffeine-driven spots like Dunn Brothers Coffee as well as in church venues.
“Recording our first EP (extended play, which is longer than a single, but shorter than a CD), is very exciting for us all,” he said “We hope to make more promotional videos and we should be appearing in various locations between Galveston and Friendswood.”