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Groundhog Day: Ancient Origins of a Modern Celebration

Most of us know the tradition: on February 2, our old friend the groundhog will emerge from hibernation, come out of his den, and predict whether winter will deliver more cold weather this year. If the groundhog sees his shadow, the story goes, cold weather will persist another few weeks. If not, warm weather is around the corner. If you like the folklore of holidays, you may be interested to know that Groundhog Day is related to two of the other holidays we have written about extensively on this blog: Halloween and Mayday. In this post, we’ll look at the ancient origins of the Groundhog Day tradition in Celtic and Germanic culture. We’ll also present two fun groundhog songs from AFC collections, and links to further reading and exploration of this seasonal observance.

Homegrown Plus: Jay Ungar and Molly Mason

In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re proud to continue the series with Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, an American roots music duo based in New York’s Catskill Mountains. They are best known for their work on the soundtrack of Ken Burns’s PBS documentary series, The Civil War. Jay’s composition “Ashokan Farewell” became the musical centerpiece of the Grammy-winning soundtrack and was nominated for an Emmy. Their performance left a lasting impression on everyone who tuned in. Jay’s fiddling is known for playfulness, drama, soul and technical verve, as he explores many musical styles and idioms that he has internalized and made his own. Molly’s inventiveness on piano and guitar supports the tunes and follows the flow of the melody. Her rich and expressive vocals round out the experience of their award-winning concert presentations.

The Third Season of the ‘America Works’ Podcast is Here!

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress is kicking off 2022 with the much-awaited third season of “America Works,” a podcast series celebrating the diversity, resilience and creativity of American workers in the face of economic uncertainty. The new season, launched today, features riveting stories from a teacher and workers at a circus, a meat plant, a vineyard, and a now-closed Boeing factory, among others. The first episode is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and at loc.gov/podcasts. Subsequent episodes will be released each Thursday through March 10, 2022. This blog post contains links and an episode guide to the season.

Homegrown Plus: Iona Fyfe

Welcome to another post in our Homegrown Plus series, in which we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with  Iona Fyfe, who is a folksinger from Aberdeenshire in the North East of Scotland. Iona is recognized as one of Scotland’s finest young ballad singers, rooted deeply in the singing traditions of the North East. Winner of Scots Singer of the Year at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards 2018, Iona has been described by Global Music Magazine as “one of the best Scotland has to offer.” In her Homegrown concert, Iona sang a variety of traditional ballads associated with her part of Scotland. She also honored the American Folklife Center by taking what we call the “Archive Challenge”: learning a song from one of our archival recordings. In Iona’s case, the song was “The White Fisher,” as sung by Bell Duncan in the James Madison Carpenter collection. In our conversation, Iona and I talked about a lot of topics, including the influence of great archival collections on Scottish folksinging; the importance of regional identity in Scottish music; the experience of getting a traditional music degree from a conservatory; the influence of teachers like Rod Paterson, Margaret Bennett, and Ian Russell; and Iona’s plans to draw further on AFC’s James Madison Carpenter collection. Watch both videos right here in this blog post!

Homegrown Plus: Changüí Majadero

In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re happy to be continuing the series with the Cuban American band Changüí Majadero. Founded by tres guitarist and vocalist Gabriel García, Changüí Majadero was the result of García’s pivotal pilgrimage to the Guantanamo region of Cuba, where he learned the musical style called changüí from the living masters of the style. He says he was inspired to spread the spirit of Cuban folkloric music mixed with a dash of East Los Angeles grit. The band’s concert included songs they learned during research in the American Folklife Center archive, along with other songs from their repertoire. Our conversation with Gabriel provides an introduction to the band and to the unusual style known as changüí, including the instruments, rhythms, and history of this important musical tradition.

Homegrown Plus: Joe Jencks

In the “Homegrown Plus” series we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re continuing the series with our friend Joe Jencks, who is an accomplished singer-songwriter but also a lover of traditional songs, especially work and labor songs. For his Homegrown concert, he performed an entire set of songs from the AFC archive, making this concert also an example of an artist taking the Archive Challenge. We’re delighted that Joe took the challenge, and we think he did a fantastic job in his exemplary concert video. You can watch his concert, his interview video, and a bonus Archive Challenge song from Folk Alliance International, all in this blog post!

Saint George and the Hacker: A Zoom Meeting Mummers Play

The American Folklife Center’s 2021 Mummers play is about a zoom meeting that gets invaded by a hacker who won’t let the participants leave until he gets a bitcoin ransom. 2021 has felt like a zoom meeting that wouldn’t end, so we hope our audience can relate! Find a video of the play and the complete annotated script in this blog!

Home for the Holidays? Take the New VHP Field Kit With You!

The following is a guest blog post by Owen Rogers, a Veterans History Project (VHP) liaison specialist. The Veterans History Project heard your feedback and released a new how-to Field Kit that’s more user-friendly than ever. Whether you’re virtually visiting veterans,  or spending personal time with family members who served in the military, bring the […]

Scrooge’s Prize Turkey: Victorian Christmas Foodways in Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”

This post is part of an occasional series about ethnography and folklore in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.  Find the whole series here! In our last look at the foodways of Dickens’s classic story A Christmas Carol, we examined the joy the Cratchits take in their small but serviceable Christmas goose, as Scrooge and the Ghost […]