Folk is the Mother of music. She gave birth to a son named Rock'n'Roll and bore a beautiful daughter named Country. Folk conceived the sad children of the Blues and the swinging babes of Jazz. Rap was born from the musings of Dylan who learned the talking blues from Woody who gleaned the idea from those who sang before him. Folk is big and small, gentle and exciting simple and symphonic, soft and harsh, passionate and Poetic. Folk can be front porch, but deserves to be Arena level.
Among the throngs of artists in the music world, few have elevated “dreaming” to such a high art form as folksinger Michael Johnathon. He recently won the prestigious Milner Award of the Arts in 2020, presented by Governor Andy Beshear in Kentucky. The Painter a tribute the Vincent Van Gogh, is his 17th album release. Cosmic Banjo is a celebration of the long neck banjo. His 19th album, AFTERBURN: Folk at Arena Level was released the end of May 2022.
Michael Johnathon is not exactly a normal folksinger.
"Afterburn" is the word used when something truly rattles the cages and leaves people with a startled, surprised reaction. It‘s the accelerated power of a rocket as it’s taking off.
"Afterburn" grapples with the subjects of power and peace, war and love, all in the context of the global front porch, launching folk from the coffeehouse and into arena level. Literally
“To me, folk music is front porch, plus a lot more. I took everything I knew about life as a folksinger, from traveling the hills and hollers of Appalachia to playing on stages, turned it upside down, mixed it up, and tried to see how aggressive this folk canvas could be and still be considered part of the music style I love", says Michael Johnathon from his log cabin home near Lexington, Kentucky. "That’s when I wrote that poem, folk can be everything and anything because it gave birth to it all”.
If anyone has supported and embodied the idea and image of a global troubadour, it’s Michael Johnathon. Indeed, if folk is the mother of all music than "Afterburn" certainly reflects all the colors of that musical rainbow, and his career has reflected all of those musical textures. From the screaming long neck banjo driven techno folk to the magestic 61 piece symphony of "The Dream", the commentary of Cyber Bubba to the lament of cars, every song is a story, every song is a musical cinemascape, a painting on a canvas of guitars, banjo and mandolins, colored with rock bands and, yes, symphony orchestras.
“I love classical music, I love Pink Floyd, Pete Seeger and Dan Fogelberg”, he exlains. “Woody Guthrie would have one of the 1st ones to plug in a keyboard if they had them back then. What made Bill Monroe a pioneer and father of bluegrass was his willingness to try new things. To change. He was the Nine Inch Nails of his day”.
Some may really like this. The purists will no doubt try to make fun of it, it may not be their cup of tea. But then, Michael Johnathon is not exactly inviting you for a pleasant cup of tea, either.
"Afterburn" launches banjos, mandolins and guitars to heart pounding, unexpected levels and remain in the comfortable tapestry of the folk world by a banjo playing troubadour, out to surprise, shock, even bewilder.
So, here is what we suggest :
Pour a glass of your favorite drink, put "Afterburn" in a good stereo system, turn the lights out, and buckle your seatbelts. You are about to go for one helluvuh ride.....
To acknowledge the great work, life, music and influence of Pete & Toshi Seeger, I have begun to add the banjo to my signature.
There are obviously a tremendous amount of wonderful tributes to Pete, his life, his career and the energy that he and his wife Toshi expended in making the community of human beings a better place.
Many friends of mine have even put out some very nice tribute albums to Pete: Rik Palieri and Richard James Nestler have a great new album out about mostly unknown maritime songs that Pete performed. John McCutcheon released a very successful album of some of his popular tunes last year.
Of course, I created WoodSongs 1000 shows ago based in a large part on Pete and Toshi’s public television program called Rainbow Quest. My most recent book, WoodSongs 4 was written in tribute to the work ethic of Pete and Toshi and it was dedicated to them.
Musically I don’t think I can contribute anything better to what Pete and Toshi meant then what my friends have already done. But Pete’s example impacted me as a boy growing up as his neighbor, even before I even realized who he was, and that it was not so much a musical influence as it was an attitude. Musically Pete’s style and my style are very far apart although planted in the same garden.
Pete’s vision of being a musical Johnny Appleseed is what inspired the creation of the SongFarmer’s community which has grown nationwide with over 72 active chapters, well that was before the virus hit.
I’ve been trying to think of a way to acknowledge the good example and the inspiration of someone like a Pete Seeger, even the sloop Clearwater was a gargantuan effort for a folksinger to undertake and he did it by bringing together a community, making the cause more important than himself.
Of course, there’s always the detractors: they will make politics and social issues supersede the good work of an honest musician who tried to live the reality of what he believed. That’s OK, everybody has their own viewpoint.
I’m reminded something that Don McLean wrote to me once, saying that people had to remember that “Pete sailed the Hudson river, he did not walk on it.” Don was one of the original sloop singers aboard the Clearwater, greatly influenced by Pete and the Weavers music, and that was quite a realistic and insightful comment on a great man.
Anyway, my point is that in considering a way to acknowledge Pete’s influence without diving into the myriad of tribute concerts and albums and becoming part of a well-meaning crowd, I decided to adopt his signature.
Pete’s wife was of Japanese decent, a culture that often added art to the family names. Pete took to doing that during the last third of his life, signing his postcards and letters with a little banjo alongside his name in tribute to his wife, Toshi. He would also scotch tape little leaves to some of his letters as well to add the idea of environmentalism to his notes, often written on the backside of scrap paper.
So to acknowledge his influence I’ve decided to add that banjo to my own signature, a silent acknowledgment of the powerful example of a humble man who walked the walk and lived the life he believed in.
Photo Credits: (1),(2),(4) Michael Johnathon, (3) SongFarmers,, (5) Pete Seeger (unknown/website).