To write about folk music is to confront an assortment of American mythologies, some innocent, some odious. No one really knows what the phrase “folk music” means anymore—songs played on acoustic instruments, with acknowledgements paid (in one form or another) to the past, feels vague enough to be accurate. But even this definition is routinely gnarled to further various agendas, both commercial and ideological. Consequently, it’s hard for a critic to avoid deploying an embarrassing number of scare quotes while trying to sort it all out. For example: “folk” is a genre people associate with rural backwaters and unswept porches, whereas “Brooklyn” is a place people associate with the rebranding and co-opting of “authentic” forms of culture developed elsewhere and now served in Mason jars. To combine these two fantasies, as the Brooklyn Folk Festival has done since 2008, is to lock eyes with a righteous monster wearing a delicate flower crown.

Yet in recent years, the Brooklyn Folk Festival (which is presented by the Jalopy Theatre and School of Music