Prairie Hymnal is an experiment in the paradox of preservation.
As the term “roots” becomes a common and popular designator of a quickly crystallizing genre — music that is in some way historical or adopts a “traditional” sound — an important question is left unanswered: what to do with our own histories and traditions, our own roots.
On the other hand, we remain interested in the work of excavating “traditions”. We’re inspired by the great American archivists and revivalists — Alan Lomax and Lead Belly, Guthrie and Seeger, Dylan and Baez (and so many others) — and their work to preserve and celebrate American culture through music. We’re convinced, however, that there is much more to uncover and archive. Our hunch is that presenting this question to contemporary musicians will reveal in their responses a reality that “traditional” and “roots” music is something with much more complex genealogies than we thought.
With those two paradigms in mind, the goal of Prairie Hymnal is to document the intersection of the traditional and the personal. We’ll encourage artists to discuss and perform songs that are in some way historical, influential, or spiritual (however they choose to take those notions up). Those songs, we imagine, will be both covers and originals, but more important, will be representations of places, histories, and influences — and as such, manifestos of emotion, belief, and ways of living.
Like a hymnal.