A “hootenanny” is an informal gathering with folk music and sometimes dancing.

The word is a colloquialism that was used in the early 1900s Appalachia, a region heavily settled by Scottish immigrants. Hootenanny is a Scottish word for party or celebration. 

In modern times, the word most commonly refers to a folk music party with an open mic, at which different performers are welcome to get up and play in front of an audience. However, the word is also a placeholder name to refer to things whose names are forgotten or unknown, such as in: “Hand me that hootenanny.” 

Hootenanny was also used by the leadership of early firefighting battalions to describe a “meeting of the minds” of higher-ups or various department heads. The term has trickled down and is now used, with some frequency, at working incidents and other circumstances that require a focused discussion between key individuals. Most recently it was adopted for use during the annual Fire Department Instructors Conference.

According to Pete Seeger, he first heard the word hootenanny in Seattle, Washington in the late 1930s. It was used by Hugh DeLacy’s New Deal political club to describe their monthly music fund raisers. After some debate the club voted in “hootenanny,” which only narrowly beat out “wingding.” 

Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and other members of the Almanac Singers later used the word in New York City to describe their weekly rent parties, which featured many notable folksingers of the time. In a 1962 interview in Time, Joan Baez said that a hootenanny is to folk singing what a jam session is to jazz.

During the early 1960s at the height of the American folk music revival, the club Gerdes Folk City in Greenwich Village started the folk music hootenanny tradition every Monday night. It featured an open mic and welcomed performers known and unknown, young and old. The Bitter End on Bleecker Street continued the folk music hootenanny tradition every Tuesday night.

Has anybody noticed that “hootenanny” implies a nanny goat braying?

  One thought on “hootenanny

  1. how9473
    January 9, 2022 at 6:56 am

    Such a jolly word.



  2. January 9, 2022 at 9:43 am

    Is ceilidh the same thing as hootenanny then? Such very different words! However, I cannot confuse the pure voice of Joan Baez with that of a nanny goat!


  3. Leanne Taylor
    January 10, 2022 at 1:55 pm

    Yes, just reading or hearing this word invokes rollicking, foot-stomping fun. ;-))

    Liked by 1 person

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