Psychedelic folk (sometimes acid folk or freak folk) is a loosely defined form of psychedelia that originated in the 1960s. It retains the largely acoustic instrumentation of folk, but adds musical elements common to psychedelic music.
Psychedelic folk generally favors acoustic instrumentation although it often incorporates other instrumentation. Chanting, early music and various non-Western folk music influences are often found in psych folk. Much like its rock counterpart, psychedelic folk is often known for a peculiar, trance-like, and atmospheric sound, often drawing on musical improvisation and Asian influences. Its lyrics are often concerned with such subjects as the natural world, love and beauty and try to evoke a state of mind associated with the effects of psychedelic drugs.[self-published source]
The first musical use of the term psychedelic is thought to have been by the New York-based folk group The Holy Modal Rounders on their version of Lead Belly's 'Hesitation Blues' in 1964. Folk/avant-garde guitarist John Fahey recorded several songs in the early 1960s that experimented with unusual recording techniques, including backward tapes, and novel instrumental accompaniment. His nineteen-minute "The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party" "anticipated elements of psychedelia with its nervy improvisations and odd guitar tunings". Other songs from Fahey's The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party & Other Excursions (recorded between 1962 and 1966) also used "unsettling moods and dissonances" that took them beyond the typical folk fare. In 1967, he performed with the psychedelic/avant-garde/noise rock band Red Krayola (then Red Crayola) at the Berkeley Folk Festival which was recorded and later released as Live 1967. Among other descriptions, their performance has been likened to "the very weirdest parts of late-'60s Pink Floyd pieces (like the shrieking guitar scrapes of 'Interstellar Overdrive')".
Similarly, folk guitarist Sandy Bull's early work "incorporated elements of folk, jazz, and Indian and Arabic-influenced dronish modes". His 1963 album Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo explores various styles and instrumentation and "could also be accurately described as one of the very first psychedelic records". Later albums, such as 1968's E Pluribus Unum and his live album Still Valentine's Day 1969, which use experimental recording techniques and extended improvisation, also have psychedelic elements.
Musicians with several groups that became identified with psychedelic rock began as folk musicians, such as those with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, and Quicksilver Messenger Service from San Francisco; the Byrds, Love, Kaleidoscope, and Peanut Butter Conspiracy from Los Angeles; Pearls Before Swine from Florida; and Jake and the Family Jewels, and Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys from New York.
In the UK, folk artists who were particularly significant included the Scottish performers Donovan, who combined influences of American artists like Bob Dylan with references to flower power, and the Incredible String Band, who from 1967 incorporated a range of influences into their acoustic based music, including medieval and eastern instruments. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, solo acts such as Syd Barrett and Nick Drake began to incorporate psychedelic influences into folk music with albums such as Barrett's The Madcap Laughs and Drake's Five Leaves Left.
In the mid 1970s psychedelia began to fall out of fashion and those folk groups that had not already moved into different areas had largely disbanded. In Britain folk groups also tended to electrify as did acoustic duo Tyrannosaurus Rex which became the electric combo T. Rex. This was a continuation of a process by which progressive folk had considerable impact on mainstream rock.
Interest in folk music among the independent artists and crossover bands that dominated much of the underground music scene in the late 1990s led to a revival of psychedelic folk during the following decade, with the New Weird America movement, which also saw the rise of the stylistically similar genre of freak folk. Also, Animal Collective's early albums identify closely with freak folk as does their collaboration with veteran British folk artist Vashti Bunyan, and The Microphones/Mount Eerie, who combine naturalistic elements with lo-fi and psychedelia. Both artists received significant exposure in the indie music scene following critical acclaim from review site Pitchfork Media and soon more artists began experimenting with the genre, including Quilt, Grizzly Bear,Devendra Banhart, Rodrigo Amarante, and Grouper.