This Land Is…Not As It Seems

geocoding the berkeley folk music festival and visualizing the us folk music revival.

In Digitizing Folk Music History, students use digital technologies to explore the spatial history of the folk music revival. After constructing digital timelines (and in the process discovering how temporal “master narratives” necessarily simplify, limit, and even distort the messy historical complexity of the past, yet we need them nonetheless), students shift from time to space, from timeline building to geocoding.

Geocoding 6

Using data from the Berkeley Folk Music Festival archives, students plot out addresses of participating performers in the 1968 festival. Taking information from Berkeley Festival director Barry Olivier’s Rolodex, we use Chris Richardson’s MapPress Pro WordPress plugin, which allows users to insert Google Maps plotted data into a WordPress post. It’s a chance for students to work on their digital skills while drawing upon primary source data to make geographic sense of a historical phenomenon.

Download the PDF file .

Barry Olivier’s Rolodex cards of 1968 Berkeley Folk Music Festival performers.

Trying to make geographic sense of the past rapidly leads to illuminations of potential forces and factors at work in the creation of the Berkeley Folk Music Festival. Very quickly, students glimpse visually what might not be as easily discernible from the Rolodex cards: the concentration of performers from Berkeley and the West Coast with a few key participants from afar. One sees the economic realities of Olivier’s budget mapped right there on the screen—he had to focus locally and strategically invite performers and participants from the national circuit.

Geocoding 3a

Student database of geocoded information from Barry Olivier’s Rolodex of 1968 Berkeley Folk Music Festival performer addresses.

One also begins to understand the rich world of the Berkeley folk music scene in its own right. Even as psychedelic rock raged in the ballrooms of San Francisco in 1968, the year after the Summer of Love, Berkeley and the Bay Area as a whole were still teeming with performers playing in all sorts of traditional and folk-oriented styles and modes. Since many of the San Francisco Sound bands—the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish—consisted of former folkies too, one could even include them in traditional music making’s continued development in the Bay Area. And indeed, the Berkeley Festival mostly welcomed electric pop music into the fold in ways far less contentious than when Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival. In any event, the map reminds us that while electric guitars roared out the doors of the Fillmore and echoed through Golden Gate Park, plenty of acoustic guitars and banjos were still being picked as well.

Berkeley Folk 1968-1 copy Berkeley Folk 1968-2 copy Berkeley Folk 1968-3 copy Berkeley Folk 1968-4 copy

1968 Berkeley Folk Music Festival program.

One also sees a folk scene that we might begin to understand as a distributed network that the Berkeley Festival’s program does not fully represent. The Rolodex contains many performers who participated in the Festival’s cabaret and less formalized performance spaces, but they are not all included in the printed program as featured performers. The data and the “official” document of the event do not match up.

What the Rolodex points to, instead, is how the featured performers existed within a larger milieu. It shoots across the neighborhoods of Berkeley as a city, the Bay Area and California as regions, and the United States as a nation, one with key folk music nodes (Chicago, New York City, Boston). The South is present, as it so often is in the American folk music revival, but just barely here since it is mediated by other locations (New York, Boston, Los Angeles) from which managers coordinated the careers of traditional Southern music artists (itself an important dynamic that the map’s plotted data points begins to highlight). Various kinds of racial and class aspects of urban space begin to float to the surface in these geocoded mappings as well.

Geocoding 6

Megan Spengler’s geocoded map of 1968 Berkeley Folk Music Festival performer addresses, made using Google Maps and MapPress Pro, 2014.

At the same time that the geocode assignment contained revelations and confirmations of US folk music revival history for students, many also quickly realized how much the data distorts the spatial history of the folk music revival. Upon closer inspection, the students noticed that while many performers gave Olivier local addresses, they had arrived in Berkeley and the Bay Area from other locations. This meant that their “roots” did not accurately arise from this particular “dataset.” One would need to add in (massage?) the data quite a bit to capture the geographic dimensions of personal and musical journeys on the way to the Berkeley Folk Music Festival in 1968.

This was a similar realization to the kind of knowledge that our digital timeline experiments revealed: representations of the past, whether temporal or spatial (or textual for that matter!) often misrepresent the full story. The supposedly authoritative global positioning system visualization that is Google Maps (much critiqued of course) turned out to be hardly authoritative at all. It was instead, in this case and perhaps always, an opportunity for further reflection and exploration, for more querying and inquiring. Or perhaps better said, even when mapped out, data only provides a partial map of the past.

Dawson Map US

Thomas Dawson’s geocoded map of 1968 Berkeley Folk Music Festival performer addresses, 2014.

As a final note, this small mini-assignment in geocoding the folk revival was not, in fact, the first map of the folk revival we encountered in the Digitizing Folk Music History seminar. Prior to the assignment, students and I spent time looking at the delightful Humbead’s Revised Map of the World map, which was created by Berkeley folkniks Earl Crabb (who was a computer programmer as well as a folk music participant) and Rick Shubb at just about the same moment (1968-69) as the data that the students used for the geocoding assignment of the 1968 Berkeley Folk Music Festival.

Shubb Crabb Humbeads Revised Map of the World

Humbead’s Revised Map of the World, circa 1969, created by Earl Crabb and Rick Shubb.

In Crabb and Shubb’s psychedelic version of the world, we get a fabulously weird and wonderful imagining of global folk revival domination, with the main national centers of the musical style taking over the map. There is plenty of playful humor in this geographic vision of musical significance, including the placing of the “rest of the world” as a small island to the northwest. There are also sobering aspects, such as the placement of S.E. Asia between Los Angeles and San Francisco at a time when the Vietnam War continued to rage and the antiwar movement grew ever more militant and confrontational on the home front.

If you view a larger version of the map, you notice the inclusion of many names in small print around the margins. While not contained in an orderly database spreadsheet, the map nonetheless becomes an enormous (amphetamine-fueled?) list of “data.” An absurd one, to be sure, but also a deadly serious reminder that a world is not empty space waiting to be filled, but rather a circle—a circuit—created by people in social interaction.

Space, in this case, is constituted by a jumble of names pressed up against one another at the margins. This frames the comical map at the center, suggesting a spatial history of the folk revival created by a density of participation. The names, in their insane microscopic lettering, together indicate a map made out of action, a world in motion, in short, a folk movement. Everyone, I imagine, sings and plays, alone and together, small yet part of a larger whole, minuscule yet recognized, marginalized yet included, worlds in every grain of ink all bobbing in the waters of a vast ocean of sound. Some come into contact with each other, most do not. But as a collective, this multitude turns the existing geopolitical boundaries of the modern world into an alternative “revised” reality. Their names—mere data on the sides—are what allow Crabb and Shubb to remake the globe according to the folk revival’s spatial imagination.

There is also a vague Renaissance Faire quality to the map, indicative of the West Coast’s more permeable boundaries between different cultural scenes: Renaissance Faires and old Beat Generation hipness mingle with the presence of Mad magazine-style pop culture and zany hippie wackiness, all alongside implicit and explicit folk music scene commentary. Here is a visualization not only of space, but also of cultural style, of a particular tonality and sensibility.

And for many students what was most intriguing was that when mapped, much of the geocoded data from Barry Olivier’s Rolodex in fact resembled nothing less than Humbead’s Revised Map of the World! The spaces generated from logistical data and a zany countercultural imaginary turned out to be similar. The practical and the impossible were not that far apart. Reality and fantasy danced a duet, a spatialized jig whose patterns were at once addressed and in need of surreal revision. The more inside them you got, the more these maps—and the movement they represented—got far out.

Here is the assignment:

Geocoding Experiment

Explore examples of mapping and geocoding:

In WordPress, create a new post and click Save as Draft.

At the bottom of the page, under the text editor, locate the MapPress section. Select New Map. Give your map a title. [see How to use Map Press Pro (scroll down to the “Using the Plugin” section for details).]

Open the PDF of 1968 address cards.

Select 15 or more artist address (when there is a choice, you can use either the temporary or the permanent address) and copy and paste each address into your map by under Add Location.

To edit and annotate each address, select it from the left side of the map and then select Edit on the annotation box that pops up. Add title and annotation. You do not need to save the address in the annotation title and box once you enter it onto the map as Mapquest Pro preserves the address.

Give each location a different letter marker by clicking on the marker icon in the upper right hand corner of each annotation box. Choose the annotation markers with letter (A, B, C, etc.). Each location should receive a different letter.

When all of your addresses are entered, annotated, and marked, you can resize your map by using the plus, minus signs in the upper lefthand corner of the map and the center button located next to the save button.

Click Save, roll over your map title to reveal the option to Insert Into Post. Click on Insert Into Post.

Using the wp-table-reloaded plug in cut and paste your annotations into the table in your blog post [WP-Table Reloaded Instructions]. (You may alternatively assemble a spreadsheet on your own computer then cut and past annotations into the wp-table-reloaded template.) Each table item can be labeled using the respective letter of the marker in the time code slot, the title you have given the annotation for a title, and your annotation, plus any “significance” notes you wish to add, as in prior assignments using tables.

Place your completed table into your blog post [WP-Table Reloaded Instructions].

Develop a brief explanation (one to three paragraphs) describing what you notice about your map. Are there any conclusions you can draw from the map? Anything that struck you in thinking spatially about performer locations?

Choose blog category.

Add relevant tags (keywords) to your post.

Publish.

Remember to comment on at least one other student’s post by Tuesday and add an additional reflective comment on your own post by Friday, after we discuss the experiment in class this week.

2 thoughts on “This Land Is…Not As It Seems

  1. Just a few things

    While Dylan and the Hawks certainly did play electric instruments at their December 4, 1965, concert at the Berkeley Community Center, he did not “go electric,” per se, at Berkeley. That event had taken place on July 25, 1965, at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island. You can hear nine electric songs from the Berkeley show on the bootleg Long Distance Operator. The song of that name was performed for the first and only time on this evening. It later appears as a Band performance on the Basement Tapes album that was put out in 1975.

    I think you can take the following statement a step or two further: “Since many of the San Francisco Sound bands—the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish— consisted of former folkies too, one could even include them in traditional music making’s continued development in the Bay Area.”

    For the groups you mention, along with a number of others, this moment in history represented an opportunity larger and more meaningful than the continuation of “traditional music making’s.” Instead, they sought the creation of a new folk music that was reflective of the world they inhabited now and not the re-creation of a past world. After all, if the folk were electrified shouldn’t the music be, too?

    According to Mike Bloomfield, the situation looked like this for Bob Dylan: While the folk establishment would have him “wear Iron Boy overalls and sing songs about Hattie Carroll” and live in the world of the 1930s leftist radical, he sought relevance through the development of a vision and a voice that would allow him to communicate the unvarnished reality of what was happening to him in the here and now.

    David Lee Roth summed it all up very nicely by saying: “Any kind of rock music is what I call high velocity folk music.” The past was static but these musicians were ride into the future courtesy of this high velocity (and volume and a lot more).

    It might have been worth mentioning, given the context and content of this essay, that, among his other accomplishments, Rick Shubb gave Jerry Garcia his first LSD on May 1, 1965. The rest, as they say, is history.

    This event not only shows the overlap among scenes in the Bay Area but it also is illustrative of the kick into the future that some people were receiving at that time from the drug.

    Art Lange

    Quicksilver Messenger Service?

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