Cariño: Folkhouse

THE “folkhouse.”  Any book written about the Baguio I grew up in would be remiss without a piece about this bastion of 70s Baguio culture, which – quite frankly – is not even a proper word, i.e., found in a decent dictionary of the English language.

The folkhouse was what in normal parlance is called a bar.  This Baguio once-mainstay was a bar featuring what we called “folk music.”  By folk music, we actually meant what is now identified as “folk-rock” or even country music, the imported kind, straight from the U.S. of A. 

Which is -- of course -- laughable, given such an oxymoronic context.  Because folk music is supposed to mean music of, by, and from the folk, the people.  If any sounds came from the Baguio people of the 70s, it should have been the sounds of how we were or were not taking to Martial Law, the decade’s defining factor. If any songs are to be labeled folk songs of that era, they ought to be those that emerged from the underground rebel movement, which did have a heavy presence in Baguio.

But you see, the folk songs of the Baguio folkhouse context belonged to the likes of James Taylor, John Denver, Janis Joplin, Carole King, Simon and Garfunkel, Paul Williams, Joan Baez, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Chicago, even.  You get the picture.  The sound, rather.

Only by the greatest stretches of definition could the works of these musicians be called folk songs in the Baguio context, i.e., love is a universal feeling (to make relevant Chicago’s Color My World); or the sun shines on everyone (John Denver:  Sunshine); or even love never waits, to explain Carole King’s It’s Too Late.  We could go on, but let’s not, because even with just that, a respectable number of people could easily take issue with love being universal.  It has, for example, been pointed out to me that there is no Chinese word that accurately translates to love, meaning that the concept of love is alien to the Chinese, and therefore love as universal is highly debatable.  You get that picture.

So anyway, the folkhouse picture was to be found in haunts like Fireplace, which was at the corner of Session and Assumption roads, Cozy Nook, which was farther up Assumption, this place called The Gingerbreadman, all the way out at Bonifacio, and in a “folk” bar at the Hyatt.

With the exception of the Hyatt place, these places were far from swank.  They were dim, smelly, and served nothing but beer and peanuts -- minimalist, really, long before it became fashionable to be so.  I try and think about what their attractions were, and have to conclude that such could be summed up in the – well, folk -- music.

To begin with, Simon and Garfunkel have always been, to me, about sheer, absolute poetry, altered state or not.  I can’t even have a favorite among their songs because I love them all.  As I do the sound of John Denver.  But here I do have a couple of favorites:  Annie’s Song and Country Road, overplayed though these songs might have been.  CSNY’s Our House is still always welcome to my ears.  As are most of the James Taylor hits, among them Fire and Rain, You’ve Got a Friend.  As, indeed, are Loggins and Messina’s haunting Windflowers and their reassuring Danny’s Song.

Perhaps the biggest folkhouse hit was Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer.  This was because the Baguio folkhouse scene was a very interactive one.  You could carry on a running conversation with a folk singer while said singer was onstage.  You hooted, jeered, or cheered.  You sang along if you felt like it.  And for The Boxer, everyone always felt like it, the refrain, especially:

Lay-la-lay sshhh...

Laylalaylalalayla

Lay-la-lay sshhh...

It remains a singular point to this day that only in Baguio did the crowd ever sing the sound effects, and how.  Sshhh...!

A number of the folk singers developed quite a following.  There was Bubut Olarte, who was later in his singing career known as “The Singing Attorney.”  There was this fellow named Bimbo, no pun intended, that was a real appellation.  There was Kaloy Medina (more recently a.k.a. “Doc,” or Carlos Medina, Ph.D., depending); there was my own cousin, Joey Cariño.

There was dem. There was the music.  And there was the company.  If you were with good friends, a folkhouse wasn’t a bad place to be.  It was one place where you could enjoy a conversation without having to shout, as you had to in that other 70s place, the disco.  At the Fireplace and the Hyatt place, you could even sit by the fire and get warm. 

Besides Joey, a good number of the folksingers about town were family, my brother Matt among them. So were cousins Jack, Jessica, Judy, and Bobby (Carantes). The Cariño homes in Camp Seven turned into folkhouses when we partied.  The family favorites were Country Road and Back Home Again, sung with lyrics modified to suit us.

Camp Seven, to where we all moved from Kisad Road in the mid-70s, had been my grandfather’s share of his father’s farm, so Back Home Again struck home especially poignantly at Christmas vacations when we were all home from school, the (those) “mountains,” and where have you.

Hey it’s good to be back home again

Sometimes, this old farm feels

like a long lost friend

Hey it’s good to be back home again...

As for Country Road, John Denver surely smiles from wherever folkhouse he’s at knowing that it was an anthem for us cousins:

Kennon Road, take me home

To the place (where) I belong

Baguio City, mountain country

Take me home, up Kennon Road.

We often took this home scene out of doors, too.  Under the stars on a cold, cold night, we built the legendary Baguio bonfire, sang our folksongs, got hopelessly intoxicated, had real conversations with real people, and had just the greatest of times.  And since the rest of the best (folk singers) were also family in the Baguio way, they were often around, too.

The era of the folkhouse died out in the 80s, to be replaced by karaoke bars and places with band music. No, not the same.  And I think that the 90s in Baguio had, simply, bars. Period.

As the last century closed, retro was in the air a lot.  What was old was new again. So people were even back in bell bottoms.  The boy bands were doing remakes of old smash hits. Haute design houses looked to their past for inspiration, MTV even did highly informative spiels on “folk-rock” personalities who were then viewed as significant parts of the history of rock and roll, rightfully.

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