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Kentucky Bourbon, Millennial Tastes, and the Language of Folklore

Basic CMYKThe following is a guest blog post by Sarah Lerner, who is currently an intern at AFC.

For the past forty years the American Folklife Center has devoted countless hours to the documentation and preservation of our nation’s traditional arts, cultural expressions, and oral histories. Our work is supported and presented though a vocabulary defined by the academic discipline of Folklore. Like chemists describing molecular reactions, we rely on our terminology to illustrate the intricacies of our nation’s mosaic of culture. In recent years the Folklore lingo has fallen into the hands of a new group of people: The millennial generation.

Consumers purchase products whose ideologies are infused with the academic jargon of folklore. In millennial terms, folklore sells. The millennial generation, a community defined by our cyber upbringing and corporate vernacular, crave crafted authenticity and cultural representation in our everyday lives. Instant gratification has become mundane, so the embodiment of nostalgia is all the rage.

To explore this unexpected obsession, let’s take a look at one of the millennials’ favorite pastimes: alcohol. It’s also the main topic of Doug Boyd’s documentary Kentucky Bourbon Tales: Distilling the Family Business, which we’ll be showing tomorrow, December 7 at noon.

Wood plank brown texture backgroundIn 2015 the sales of whiskey experienced a 7.8 percent overall growth. According to research published by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, this robust revenue increase was result of the consumer’s “focus on craft-style, artisanal products that benefit both large and small producers; fascination with provenance dovetailing with spirits’ authentic heritage; and cocktail culture continuing to define nightlife in cities across the country.”  Let’s look at some of these words:

  •  “Authentic heritage” and “culture….”  Hmm. Looks like a representative sampling of vocabulary from my Into to Folklore midterm.
  • Craft,” “artisanal,” and “dovetailing….” These words are from the study of handicraft and material culture, another branch of folklife study.
  •  “Fascination” and “provenance….” This rhetoric seems designed to transform dry academic language into intrigue.
Dale Ann Bradley, seated with guitar

Bluegrass Singer Dale Ann Bradley, 5-time IBMA Vocalist of the Year, performs with her band on December 7 in the Coolidge Auditorium.

One of my favorite things to do during the holiday season is browse the Internet for the “trendiest gifts of the year.” I find it fascinating that although trends ebb and flow, one can always find the perfect something for that special someone that exemplifies the universal definition of cool. So what made it to the 2016 list?  Well, according to Brostrick.com (the second link recommended on Google when I searched “trendiest gifts 2016”) the “most trendy stocking stuffer of 2016” is in fact bourbon-drinking paraphernalia, a cooling system described as “the artful way to perfectly chill, but not water down your favorite spirits.

So cheers to tomorrow’s celebrations, and cheers to The American Folklife Center for being the trendiest reading room in our nation’s capital.

Kentucky Bourbon Tales is just one of three special events at the American Folklife Center tomorrow which celebrate the authentic heritage and culture, the artisanal craft, and the fascination of Kentucky. The events pay special tribute to Jean Ritchie, who died last year and whose birthday falls later this week. They include an exhibit and a fabulous bluegrass concert with Dale Ann Bradley, one of the top singers in bluegrass today.  Read more about the events here, and join us if you can!