One of the first rules for a novelist is to write what you know, and Scott Alarik knows folk music better than anyone. For the past 25 years he has been the most influential folk writer in the country as a music critic for the Boston Globe, the editor of the New England Folk Almanac, and one of the first writers I worked with at Performing Songwriter where he interviewed artists and covered the coffeehouses that made the New England folk community the rich scene that it was (and is). In 2003 he published Deep Community: Adventures in the Modern Folk Underground, documenting the folk revival with his birds-eye view.
Now Alarik has taken what he knows and written a beautiful novel that reads like a love story to the folk music world. And for anyone who was or is part of that scene, it’s a window into the lives we know so well. From the Harvard Square hot spots to house concerts to songwriters like Catie Curtis, Dar Williams or Chris Smither wandering through the chapters. Revival feels less like a novel and more like the memoir of a cherished friend.
The story centers around a talented and now over-40 Boston songwriter named Nathan Warren, who was once a rising star with a major label deal that went south, taking his dreams down with it. Sound painfully familiar? Nathan runs the open mic at a local bar where regulars gather to support the nervous first-timers and cheer on their returning favorites. One of the open mic players is Kit Palmer, a beautiful and talented songwriter who is the next generation of artistic hope. Nathan takes her under his wing to help her navigate the music industry potholes he’s seen the bottom of, and as he changes her life, she changes his.
Alarik has done a masterful job developing characters that are so likeable and relatable that we either see ourselves in them, or root for them because we knew them before we ever opened the book. Whether it’s the author-influenced Boston Globe reporter, the less talented ex-girlfriend who made it big, or the jerk of an open-mic regular who is painfully overcompensating for his insecurities, it’s an island of misfit toys that’s saved a seat for us at the bar. And Alarik’s sense of place and inspiring use of metaphor creates a world of understanding, comfort and broken dreams that perfectly represent the community to which he tips his hat.
Revival is a wonderful window into the world of folk music, the dreams of an artist, and a reminder that what we want and what we need are rarely the same thing.