Pokey keeps it real - old-school, that is

MISSOURI musician Pokey LaFarge is putting Americana pretenders on notice and calling them out.

As a history buff and multi-instrumentalist, 30-year-old LaFarge and his band have been dubbed “ambassadors for old-time music”, playing a blend of Americana, early jazz, ragtime, western swing, folk, country blues and other American styles from a bygone era. 

“I tend to look at it along the lines of real authentic American music, for the people, by the people,” LaFarge — real name Andrew Heissler — said over the phone from his home in a snow-bound St Louis just before Christmas.

“A lot of music that gets called Americana is not very authentic or even similar to mine.

“Especially today it’s one of those genres where I would say a lot of people have been given a watered-down representation of what the genre is. 

“If you pick up a banjo and just start playing it like an electric guitar and don’t listen to where it’s come from and put on suspenders and grow out a hipster beard ... that’s indie folk or indie pop. 

“Why do they call it Americana when they’re just playing a banjo? 

“If you don’t take the time to study the instrument, it’s sort of insulting to the people who gave their lives to pave the way for artists like myself today. It’s exploiting the genre and the instrument,” he said.

LaFarge’s growing popularity — he recently signed to Jack White’s Third Man Records and spent most of 2013 touring North America and Europe — suggests people are starting to figure out the difference between authentic Americana and the pretenders.

“A lot of people are giving the time of day to (authentic Americana) — people of my generation and older generations feel (that things that are) authentic and quality are most important,” he said.

“They’re tired of watered-down quality. They’re tired of Walmart and shipping jobs off to China.

“It’s a new revolution. It’s the new punk-rock.

“Acoustic music is all I’ve ever known. If you want to be revolutionary and make a stand, pick up an acoustic guitar or a fiddle or (play) piano. 

“It’s an easy way out if you play ‘computer music’. You’re not learning anything other than a computer program.”

LaFarge is bringing his old-timey revolution to the Port Fairy Folk Festival in March as part of his first tour Down Under. 

It will be the latest stop on a journey that began as high school student getting into Creedence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bob Dylan.

“Those guys, especially Bob Dylan, get you looking back into the music and where it came from,” LaFarge said.

“I was always a history buff, interested in dates and times. I’d hear a cover and go ‘whose song is that?’ and hear names then go around and investigate them and read more. It was like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. It was my own music education.

“The more I learnt about music, the more I learnt about history and the more I learnt about history, the more I learnt about where we come from,” he said. “And the more I learnt about where we come from, the more I learnt about myself.”

Pokey LaFarge and his band will perform at the Port Fairy Folk Festival, which runs from March 7-10. Tickets are still available.

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