Music: Filk-Folk-World


Stan Rogers

I love every song Stan wrote & can sing along to most of them.

But if I'm discouraged or hurt by something that just happened, "The Mary Ellen Carter" is my go-to song. It speaks to me in a very special way. I hope you click through to YouTube & watch the extract from the documentary "One Warm Line". Listen carefully to the last verse. 

One Warm Line (Doc) Excerpt - Stan Rogers performs "The Mary Ellen Carter" by Kensington Communications, Inc.

A performance of "The Mary Ellen Carter" by folk artist Stan Rogers, introduced by a story of inspiration from a Chief Mate.

Uploaded on Apr 21, 2008

A performance of "The Mary Ellen Carter" by folk artist Stan Rogers, introduced by a story of inspiration from a Chief Mate. Taken from the documentary "One Warm Line: The Legacy of Stan Rogers", produced by Kensington Communications ( - copyright 1989. Available to purchase at

Garnet Rogers

Robin & Linda Williams

Gordon Bok

Roberts & Barrand

Judy Collins

Glenn Frey

Steeleye Span (and UD Professor Bethke)

The Flash Girls

Western Wind

Robert L. Turgeon



How do I explain? That's right--don't have to! Jordin wrote all about filk in "Singout Magazine" many years ago! Thanks, Jordin! 

Jordin Kare on FILK from “Sing Out”

This article by Jordin Kare is used with the kind permission of Singout Magazine.


No, that's not a typographical error (although the word started as one, long ago). Filksongs and filksinging are the folk music of a time and a community, just as, say, Celtic ballads, or new England sea chanteys are -- except the time is today (or tomorrow) and the community is science fiction fandom.

Jordin Kare has been actively involved in the science fiction community for more than 20 years. He  co-founded Off Centaur Publications and was instrumental in the publication of the soon-to-be-reprinted The Westerfilk Collection.

(In his "day job," Jordin is a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California)


Filksinging got it's start in the 1950's, when fans of SF (never say sci-fi) and fantasy began holding weekend get-togethers -- conventions, or "cons" at rented hotels. Sometimes a few musically inclined fans would gather late at night in a corner of the lobby and trade folk songs, often making up mutant lyrics about space travel or elves or convention-going or what have you. And one fan, writing about this informal folk singing, slipped and typed "filksinging." That was too good a word to waste, and ever since, when fans pull our guitars and gather late at night, what they do is filksinging, and what they sing is filk.   


To quote Nick Smith of the Los Angeles Filkharmonics, "It is a mixture of song parodies and original music, humorous and serious, about subjects like science fiction, fantasy, computers, cats, politics, the space program, books, movies, TV shows, love, war, death..." In other words, almost anything goes at a filksing. Folk songs are most welcome, and songs by Stan Rogers, Eric Bogle and Fred Small (to name just a few) are often sung.

Stylistically, filk is folk music. Singers usually accompany themselves on acoustic instruments, most often guitars, but filkers plan everything from kazoos to Celtic harps to electric guitars and synthesizers to a collapsible electric cello (proving, once again, there always room for cello!). I've also heard (quiet) rock music, banjo picking and flute solos at filksings, all well-received.

The core of filk is original songs, and particularly original lyrics. Many original filksongs have some SF or fantasy element, but some are purely historical (like "Song of the Shieldwall," subtitled "400 Years of English History in 2:15"), factual, just plain silly ("Overflowin' Catbox Blues"), or... well, whatever. Parodies, whether of "mainstream" folk songs or other filksongs, are well- regarded; indeed, in some circles filking is synonymous with writing parodies. Filkers also share with SF fans in general a distinct fondness for puns. [See the reference to cello in the above paragraph.]

One difference from folk is that many filksongs are based on some shared fictional universe. There are innumerable songs about Star Trek , of course. Ditto Star Wars , and assorted other TV shows including, lately, The X-Files . Some references can be obscure, however, to anyone who is not an avid SF reader: Dorsai songs, for instance, celebrate a planet of mercenary soldiers created by Gordon Dickson, while songs about bronze dragons and firelizard refer to the works of Anne McCaffrey. British have even created the Before the Dawn cycle -- an entire fantasy world of interlocking songs. If you're at a filksing and are baffled by a song, politely asking "What's that based on?" is always in order, and may lead you to some really good reading. 

Filkers are, by tradition, extremely bad singers, and many filksongs parody filking itself. The traditional filkish key is Off, and a classic filk chorus starts, "So belt out whatever note suits you / The rest will join in, each one in his own key..." *

* I have a filksinger button which reads, "Scansion? We Don’t Need No Steenk’n Scansion!"

"Dandelion Seeds" is my personal collection of filk lyrics--the songbook I use when at a filksing or bardic circle. Why dandelions? Well, filksingers were once about as "popular" at conventions as dandelions are to those with carefully manicured lawns. Some time between the 1950's and today, filksingers chose the dandelion as our unofficially official flower. No one ever unchose it, so there you are.

Jordin describes how folksingers & filkers were treated at early conventions or conferences. Oddly, he fails to mention stairwells... Or dandelions.

"Traditionally, con filks started at midnight and ran 'til dawn or beyond - that was the only time filkers could find a place to sing from which they wouldn't immediately be thrown out. These days, many conventions schedule hotel function rooms for filking, starting at 10 p.m. or so, and include filk concerts in their main programming. Filks tend to end well before dawn now -- we're all getting older and tireder -- but expect to be up singing until the wee hours, especially on Saturday night."

I wasn't a filker that far back, but I've heard on good authority that folksingers & filkers sometimes withdrew to hotel staircases. This was the only place from which staff failed to chase them, possibly because they couldn't hear them(?)  I think we sing louder now.

On the "Writing & Publication History" page, you'll find a few words about my story, "Shadow Harper" published in Spencer Hill's anthology,  "UnCONventional". The story begins at a modern bardic circle where Crystal is describing filk history to the newbies.

"Shadow Harper" extract, from UnCONventional: Twenty-two Tales of Paranormal Activities Under the Guise of Conventions

by Sherry Thompson

"Filk  is the music of the SF and fantasy community." 

Thomas tuned out his friend's words. He had heard her explanation for those new to a bardic filk circle for—what was it?—nearly a decade now? No. That seemed too long, and yet far too short. He shook his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He was tired for it being this early. 

Crystal concluded, "Nowadays the bardic circle—or filksing—is a scheduled evening event at many SF cons. No more meeting in stairwells!" The brunette grinned at the responding laughter. "Really! We used to. Now, we get tiny meeting rooms with empty water carafes and coffee urns without coffee! Oh, and mundanes' parties next door." Amidst scattered chuckling she picked up her guitar and settled it on her lap. ...

links to filk recordings real soon now!

Clam Chowder

Heather Alexander

Leslie Fish

Julia Ecklar

Michael Longcor

live convention filksings

Dr Jane Robinson


Putumayo World Music was established in 1993 to introduce people to the music of other cultures.

Over the last decade, Putumayo World Music has become known primarily for its upbeat and melodic compilations of great international music that are “guaranteed to make you feel good!”

In 2002, Putumayo started the Putumayo Cross-Cultural Initiative, a non-profit organization that provides multi-cultural teacher training and programming to elementary schools (

MUCH more about Putumayo recordings when I have a chance! I love their music selections and their artwork! (above)

Music from the Chocolate Lands, 1 and 2

Music from the Coffee Lands


African Party


Cairo to Casablanca

Music from the Wine Lands

Susana Baca -- "Mario Londo"


My new blog is up!