The Library of Congress has a long history of presenting folk music concerts. The first such event was held on December 20, 1940, when Alan Lomax arranged for a Coolidge Auditorium performance of the Golden Gate Quartet, with Josh White on guitar. In another early event, folksong collector Helen Hartness Flanders, wife of Vermont senator Ralph Flanders, presented a lecture and concert of New England ballads with three New England folksingers. This event, which again was held in the Coolidge, occurred in 1948.
The recent history of regular folklife concert series dates to September 23, 1976, when a concert featuring "Big Chief" Ellis, John Cephas, and Phil Wiggins celebrated the U.S. Bicentennial and the opening of the front doors to the Thomas Jefferson Building. The concert was held outdoors on the Neptune Plaza, and its success led to the "Neptune Plaza Concert Series." The series was presented by the newly created American Folklife Center, initially with the assistance of the National Council for the Traditional Arts. The series lasted for nineteen years and included a culturally diverse range of performers, such as Andean singers; Egyptian, flamenco, Polish, and Hungarian dancers; blues guitarists; African drummers and African American dancers and singers; and bands representing Cajun, zydeco, klezmer, Indonesian, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Swiss, Irish, and many other cultural traditions.
Although the Neptune Plaza series ended, the American Folklife Center (AFC) continued to present folk performers. Folk artists were included in the celebrations for the hundredth anniversary of the opening of the Jefferson Building (1997) and the two-hundredth anniversary of the Library of Congress (2000).
In 2002, the Center recommenced a regular series--the Homegrown Concert Series. The idea behind this series was different from that of the Neptune Plaza series. "The Homegrown concerts began with the idea of documenting the very best of traditional music and dance from a variety of folk cultures thriving in the United States," explained Peggy Bulger, the AFC's director. "In order to do that effectively, we collaborate with state folklorists in each state, and take their recommendations on the best folk performers to represent the cultural heritage of that state. We make sure to document each concert thoroughly, so that it can be added to the permanent collections of the American Folklife Center. We are well on our way to having all 50 states represented in this multicultural musical collection. This collection will live on as a snapshot of the diversity of American folk music thriving at the turn of the twenty-first century."
Homegrown concerts are held once a month from April through November. The concerts are free of charge and are presented from noon to 1 p.m. in the Library's Coolidge Auditorium.