Bradley Hanson

Brown University

December 2008


Annotated Bibliography for

“The Liberty Elm: Music and Community under the Cosmopolitan Canopy”



The Liberty Elm diner opened in August 2007 in the Elmwood neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island.  Over the past year its owners, staff, and ardent supporters have labored to fashion the space into a versatile gathering spot, one heralded as an organic restaurant, coffee shop, eclectic hangout, urban greenspace, purveyor of local goods, and site for progressive activism. The renovated 1947 Worcester lunch car has emerged as what anthropologist Elijah Anderson calls a “cosmopolitan canopy,” a space where diverse groups safely gather to interact and counter the alienation of urban life. Live music is central to this ambitious mission.  Each Sunday morning the diner hosts a rotation of “folk” and “roots” musicians representing alternative country, bluegrass, blues, and singer/songwriter traditions. Local economic, political, and cultural goals are promoted always side-by-side these local musical efforts.


The Liberty Elm project, though, has not been easily realized.  The Elmwood neighborhood, long suffering due to questionable political policies and bleak economic prospects, has proven antagonistic at times to the diner’s sweeping goals. Though the proprietors have sought to build an engaged sensibility among their devoted clientele, they have struggled to connect with the actual, largely Hispanic and working-class, Elmwood population. In this paper I describe the successes, failures, and unresolved tensions that surround the diner at a critical moment in its young existence.  I discuss the history of the Elmwood neighborhood and examine Liberty Elm’s place within it.  Drawing on interviews with the owners, patrons, and longtime residents, I explore the diner’s complicated goal for a “community”-based “cosmopolitan canopy.”  Most specifically I describe the Sunday morning musical performance culture as a revealing backdrop for understanding the achievements and challenges that mark the Liberty Elm experiment.




1. Alarik, Scott, and Robert Corwin. Deep Community: Adventures in the Modern Folk Underground. Cambridge, MA.: Black Wolf Press, 2003.


              Alarik, a music journalist for the Boston Globe, compiles in this book an impressive collection of feature articles and artist profiles that, taken as whole, serve as an insider account of what he calls "modern" folk music. Much of Alarik's writing deals with the current crop of influential "folk" and "roots" musicians that perform frequently on the New England coffeehouse circuit, of which the Liberty Elm can be considered a member.


2. Anderson, Elijah. "The Cosmopolitan Canopy." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 595 (2004): 14-31.


              Anderson develops the notion of the “Cosmopolitan Canopy.”  Part ethnography and part theoretical outline, this article is concerned with experiences and strategies of the modern urban citizen living in the modern urban city.  Anderson starts by offering a rather bleak assessment of life in the “big” city.  He describes the public spaces in urban centers as rife with issues and symbols of poverty, racial inequality and discord, and criminal activity.  As a result of these conditions, in bus stations, parking garages, and on public streets and sidewalks, urban dwellers maintain a safe distance and indifference toward one another, hoping to avoid and facial and eye contact.  According to Anderson, people in the city by and large “look past” or “look through” one another, essentially creating a “social oblivion.”

              The “Cosmopolitan Canopy” counters these circumstances.  These are spaces within the urban environment that encourage and allow for civility, respect, and even fruitful interaction.  In the best case scenarios, the result of the canopy is the emergence of “instantaneous communities of diverse strangers.”  The key to this outcome, in Anderson’s analysis, is a trusting attitude and feeling of safety and security.  Also necessary is a social neutrality and lack of scrutiny between diverse population.  In his own ethnography Anderson positions the Reading Terminal in Philadelphia as quintessential “Cosmopolitan Canopy,” with its assortment of shops, restaurants, and highly diverse clientele.  My experiences at the Liberty Elm diner suggest that it indeed fulfills Anderson’s notion of the “Cosmopolitan Canopy.” This very handy theoretical model and instructive case study have helped my clarify some of the import of this particular urban space.  Anderson does not speak directly about the role certain musical style might play in this model; I look forward to adding this element into the discussion. 


3. Bealle, John. Old-Time Music and Dance: Community and Folk Revival. Bloomington: Quarry Books, 2005.


              Bealle gives an insider look and case study of an important folk revival community in Bloomington, Indiana in the early 70s.  He explores themes of identity and authenticity as they emerge within and alongside the construction and growth of this musical community.  Bealle's study is another fine model for interpreting the relationship between musical activities, community life, and deep social meaings.


4. Borer, Michael Ian. "Cultural Analysis and the American Urban Landscape." in Varieties of Urban Experience: The American City and the Practice of Culture. Lanham: University Press of America, 2006.


              Borer gives an overview of cultural theory related to place and space in urban areas.  His attention to the symbolic character of buildings, and the things that contained within, is very helpful.  He argues that urban spaces and places are not merely structures but that they actually help to activate, through symbolism and memory, the practices of a city's culture life. 


5. Borer, Michael Ian and Daniel J. Monti Jr. "Community, Commerce, and Consumption: Businesses as Civic Associations" in Varieties of Urban Experience: The American City and the Practice of Culture. Lanham: University Press of America, 2006.


              Borer and Monti look at the role of businesses in communities and as communities.  They attempt to counter the bias against businesses that treats them as disinterested and even harmful entities opposed to the goals of "pure" communities.  They outline a series of strategies that business, both large and small, can employ in order to gain social and cultural capital within communities.  They provide a brief, but useful, discussion of pubs and coffeeshops that relates well to my current project.


6. Cantwell, Robert. When We Were Good: The Folk Revival. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996.


              Cantwell's book is a major work in the study of the American folk revival, and, I would suggest, revivalism in general.  Drawing on an array of references from literary, social, and cultural studies, Cantwell provides a history of revival "imagination."  As such, his insights are widely applicable to settings outside of his particular study. 


7. Cieri, Marie, and Claire Peeps. Activists Speak Out: Reflections on the Pursuit of Change in America. New York, N.Y.: Palgrave, 2000.


In this collection of essays, fifteen community activists with diverse interests (including some related to music and urban renewal) share their work experiences.  I have found this collection particularly helpful in understanding the discourse of community activism, as well as the nature of the wider community of activists in the U.S.


8. Cohen, Sara. "Sounding out the City: Music and the Sensuous Production of Place." Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 20.4 (1995): 434-46.


Drawing on her fieldwork in Liverpool, Cohen offers a case study in the relationship between music, place, and memory.  I found most useful the theoretical discussions, in particular her suggestion that places come to symbolize social relationships.  Music, she explains, both fills places/spaces and is evoked by them.  The interaction between music, place, and symbolic meaning is central to the activities at the Liberty Elm.


9. Day, Graham. Community and Everyday Life. London ; New York: Routledge, 2006.


              Day presents an expansive analysis of the notion of “community” within sociological and anthropological thought.  He is sensitive to the high significance placed on “community” in the lives of everyday people, but also interrogates the way the idea has been deployed and molded to serve a vast assortment of intellectual, discursive, and economic ambitions.  Day also is careful to address a variety of themes connected to academic discussions of community activity, including power and representation.  Day charts the sociological discipline’s engagement with “community” over the past century, noting that after period of marked ambivalence toward the conception, it has recently made a comeback.  Moreover, as the term is increasingly employed in political, philosophical, and public policy debates, it is necessarily of special interest to sociologist and ethnomusicologists.  Throughout this study, Day discusses both theory and empirical research to evaluate the evolving, sometimes conflicting, endlessly malleable, and persistently meaningful idea of the “community.”

              It perhaps goes without saying that “communities” are of central concern to ethnomusicologists also.  In my current project, as well as others I have worked on, I have used the term rather liberally and uncritically.  At Liberty Elm I already detect and hope to explore several communities.  There is the geographic community of the Elmwood neighborhood in which the diner is located.  The patrons and staff of the diner also seem to comprise distinct, but overlapping communities.  The musicians that perform regularly also constitute communities, both as related to their activities of the Liberty Elm, as well as representative of wider city wide and regional musical communities.  But no only are there collectives that are identifiable as communities, but the goal of “community,” I suggest, is a central motivation that cut across the various constituencies.  Day offers a very useful theoretical and practical toolkit for more critically examining my own ideas of “community” as well as those of the people with whom I am collaborating on this project. 


10. Eyerman. Ron.  Music and Social Movements. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.


              Eyerman (like Reuss and Reuss below) chart the relationship between American folk music and progressive politics.  In this study, Eyerman places a greater emphasis on the broader social and cultural changes that emerged from this relationship.  He is also particularly interested in the development and construction of new collective cultural identities.  The focus on identity formation through musical-political activism is Eyerman's most significant contribution to my current interests.


11. Felkins, Patricia K. Community at Work: Creating and Celebrating Community in Organizational Life. Communication and Social Organization. Cresskill, N.J.: Hampton Press, 2002.


              Felkins, like other of my sources, offers a detailed theoretical framework for understanding communities.  Her book explores the active and organizational processes that become necessary to sustain meaningful communities.  She also looks closely at business and nonprofit organizations as communities.  Unlike some of the other theorists, Felkins stresses the importance of linkages between distinct communities.


12. Frug, Jerry. "The Geography of Community." Stanford Law Review 48.5 (1996): 1047-108.


              Frug's provocative article argues that government policies are creating urban settings in which diverse groups are segregated into different zones and neighborhoods.  Frug argues that in modern urban life we are rarely encouraged to encounter people of a different class, ethnicity, race, etc.  As such, the urban dweller is increasingly suspicious of the neighboring "other."  This article works well as a counter to Anderson's "cosmopolitan canopy" model and provides another theory of urban life to consider during my fieldwork in an urban musical community.


13. Gruning, Tom. Millennium Folk: American Folk Music since the Sixties. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2006.


              Gruning provides both an insider’s and a scholar’s perspective on the contemporary “folk” music scene.  A singer-songwriter and independent ethnomusicologist, his insights draw from his own performance experiences, ethnographic fieldwork, and current social and cultural theory.  Unlike most other scholarly treatments of “folk” music, this study examines the genre up to the present, starting rather than ending (as most histories do) with the folk boom of the 1960s.  As such, it deals with a variety of themes often overlooked when considering the genre.  Gruning unapologetically asserts that “folk” music is now the music of an educated, largely urban middle-class audience.  The working class and rural “folk” so idealized within certain understandings of the genre have, according to Gruning, moved on to other styles. Moreover, he also dispels with the longstanding myth that folk music is some how separate from and unaffected by the wider music industry.  Gruning works to situate the contemporary folk genre within in its own, by now, well-established industry niche.  He also emphasis that, though folk as he understands it is now a popular music genre, it continues to circulate within intimate coffeehouse, house concerts, concert series settings.

                             Gruning makes some helpful moves in updating and clarifying the contemporary status of folk music within the consciousness of the boarder American musical landscape.  His recognition of the middle class audience for the music is important, though I wish he had made a greater distinction between traditional folk music (of rural, ethnic, and immigrant communities) and folk revival music, out of which the singer-songwriter genre he is dealing with largely grew.  Nevertheless, his points are informed and informative.  He also makes an important contribution in beginning to link the contemporary folk music ideology with the sensibilities of other related more recent umbrella genres like “roots” music and “world” music.  At the Liberty Elm restaurant and coffeehouse, the musical style, though clearly indebted to and intimately related to contemporary folk music (as defined by Gruning) is usually referred to as “roots” music, a somewhat different aesthetic and ideological moniker.  Gruning, with his emphasis on current musical practices, industry influence, and the role of the performance space/place, helps connect the setting I am studying with historical and concurrent music making situations


14. Holt, Fabian. Genre in Popular Music. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2007.


              Holt's first chapter is one of the few scholarly considerations of the relatively new genre of American "roots" music.  Holt positions the genre in relation to other folk revivals, but also looks at the discourse and practices specific to this most recent evolution.  Most of the music at Liberty Elm is collected under the "roots" moniker in its press and advertising materials.  Though Holt's study focuses on the genre at the loftier levels of the music industry, his observations are relevant to the community-based "roots" revival explored in my project.


15. Hudson, Ray. "Making Music Work? Alternative Regeneration Strategies in a Deindustrialized Locality: The Case of Derwentside." Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 20.4 (1995): 460-73.


              Hudson provides a case study on the use of music as tool for urban regeneration.  In this case a "bottom-up" music project was initiated to help maintain community pride and solidarity after the closing of the local plant.  Hudson points to music-making's self-determinative character as a resource in rebuilding community.  In other words, music is a community tool and recourse that does not require outside support from often antagonistic and absent power structures.


16. Mattern, Mark. Acting in Concert: Music, Community, and Political Action. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998.


Mattern's study focuses specifically on the role musicians play as political actors.  In a series of case studies, he demonstrates that musicians and musical activities can serve as social glue to hold together people with no other communal ties.  Often this is the case with the Liberty Elm's diverse membership. Mattern's study is a helpful model for studying the connection between musicians and community building.


17. Redhead, Steve, and John Street. "Have I the Right? Legitimacy, Authenticity and Community in Folk's Politics." Popular Music 8.2 (1989): 177-84.


              Redhead and Street offer an overview of the basic elements involved in what they call the “folk ideology.”  Writing during a period (late 1980s) in which “folk” music was again gaining popularity in Britain, and, to a lesser extent, the U.S., the authors attempted to establish a theoretical framework to examine the social and cultural sensibilities underpinning this, and similar, revival moments.  They suggested that this ideology is “deployed to justify claims that music expresses a political view, legitimates a political cause or describes a political predicament” (177).  Redhead and Street suggest that the folk ideology depends on some notion of “the people,” an imagined or real group that identifies itself collectively and expresses itself through musical sounds and practices. Music both emerges from the collective and serves to define its borders. The musician’s role within the folk ideology, then, is to “speak” for the community, to act as a representative capable of conveying the feelings and desires of the group.

              In order for musicians to attain this role, he or she must, according Redhead and Street, cross certain thresholds.  The musician must demonstrate that he or she can achieve “legitimacy” as a member of the group.  This can be accomplished through both visual and sonic strategies.  An artist must understand the “image” associated with a particular group and must appreciate the musical sounds considered “serious” within the group setting.  Similar to legitimacy, “authenticity” must also be attached to the chosen musician.  This can come in a variety of forms, including demonstration of artistic integrity and/or claims to sociological connections to a specific collective.  The final overriding concept Redhead and Street examine is that of “community.”  This, according to the authors, is constructed through claims to shared politics and shared history.  Legitimacy, authenticity, and community intersect through the discourse of the folk ideology, all necessary to sustain the connections between musicians, musical practice, political agendas, and shared value systems. 


18. Reuss, Richard A., and JoAnne C. Reuss. American Folk Music and Left-Wing Politics, 1927-1957. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2000.


              Reuss and Reuss delve into the development of the historical connection between left-wing politics (communism) and particular constructions of American folk music.  The study begins in the early stages of the mid-century folk revival, exploring the role of politics generally and Marxism specifically within the folklore discipline.  The authors detail the various intellectual theories that linked folklore and folk music to the “people” and the “people’s culture.”  The evolution of these frameworks made folk music a prized cultural expression with which to represent and “voice” the so-called American proletariat.  Moreover, as the true expression of the “people,” folk music serves as an alternative recourse to the culture of the mass media and the aristocratic “fine art.”  While these assertions seem rather commonplace today, they are, according to Ruess and Ruess, ideological constructions that have specific origins and have evolved over time.  As such, such political-musical connections should not be taken as natural, no matter how naturalized and taken-for-granted they seem today.

              In my particular study, “folk,” and the closely related “roots” music genre, continue to be positioned alongside extra-music political and community purposes.  Again, as these connections are not inherent or natural, they must be continually reestablished, reshaped, and reinforced.  This is accomplished both by ideological maneuvering and particular performance practices.  Such ideologies and practices are both specific to this setting (the Liberty Elm) and yet necessarily understood within the broader historical context of music and progressive politics.  Ruess and Ruess provide a very useful overview of the trajectory that these complicated relationships have taken, and point to the continuing allure and utility of this musical and political intellectual history. 


19. Shragge, Eric. Activism and Social Change: Lessons for Community and Local Organizing. Peterborough, Ont.: Orchard Park Broadview Press, 2003.


              Shragge provides a history of grassroots political activism in the U.S.  Weaving together personal experience and scholarly history, Shragge's perspective is insightful and thorough.  He describes a complex and continually developing place for activism in American society.  I see the activities at Liberty Elm as constituting a form of community activism, and this study was a beneficial window into the broader legacy of such practices.


20. Suttles, Gerald D. The Social Construction of Communities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.


              Suttles deals specifically with the construction of communities in relation to the urban setting.  He suggests that "cities" are not just physical spaces, but also function symbolically as cognitive frameworks that shape the way we understand our experiences and shape our expectations.  Suttles insights compliment Anderson's notion of the "cosmopolitan canopy" and have helped me frame the experiences at Liberty Elm as they exist as part of a specific neighborhood and wider urban area.