Artist stays at University for N.J. Folk Festival
University alumnus and folk musician Spook Handy spent the past week as an artist-in-residence, running workshops and speaking to students about folk music’s place in American society.
New Jersey Folk Festival director and University Professor Angus Gillespie invited Handy to the University after working with him.
The festival has been running for nearly four decades, Handy said, and he has been the master of ceremonies there for several years.
“The festival features a wide variety of folk music, from traditional [folk] to revival folk to contemporary folk … and also from a wide variety of cultures that are prominent in New Jersey,” Handy said.
The festival is also home to folk music from a variety of cultures that found in the state, including German, Irish, Italian and Mexican.
He said being at the University opened many doors and also gave him a desire to maintain the freedom he discovered. He still lives in New Brunswick and believes the University shaped his life’s trajectory.
“I was standing in front of a mirror trying to tie my tie to go to a job interview, and I couldn’t do it. … I said, ‘You know what? This isn’t what I want to do with my life,’” Handy said.
He placed his suit and tie into storage and purchased a guitar, thinking he wanted to be a rock-and-roll musician.
“One of the earliest memories in my life was watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, the first time they came to America,” Handy said.
He grew up listening to folk music and began to learn songs from the popular folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary in addition to well-known Beatles songs.
“When I eventually got good enough to start playing out in public, I got a lot of response for playing the folk songs, and eventually I … became more and more of a folk artist,” Handy said.
His popularity grew after writing a song called “Vote.”
“It’s very folk-songy. It’s a very lets-all-get-together-and-go-out-and-vote song. Its fun, but it’s calling the masses together to take action and do something,” Handy said.
Handy aspires for his music to inspire students to take action for what they believe in.
Referring to the party that turned into “Delafest,” he said he feels that its rowdiness and chaos did not yield any positive results.
Instead of using energy to party, students should get together to make the world a better place, Handy said.
“The young people today are the future of the world, and they are innately as wonderful and creative and fantastic as we’ve ever had,” Handy said.