Folk music is probably the most likely music to change the world, or to unite cultures. One of my favorite songs is “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” but there are so many versions these days that it’s hard to decide which is the best. One of the greatest versions I’ve heard was recorded at a folk concert, sung by Arlo Gutherie, because the story behind his version is one of the most beautiful and inspiring I can imagine.
Arlo starts the song by saying, “One time a few years ago I was over in Denmark with Pete [Seeger] and Cal…We were playing over there at a folk festival and it was after the wall in Berlin came down…It was a wild feeling…And here we were playing at this folk festival over there, just a small little folk festival, and 30,000 people showed up! And not just from Western Europe, but from all over Europe. Some of them too young to remember a time when they could just go down the road and hang out in some other town with some other folks, just have some beers and take it easy. So it was a wonderful thing: 30,000 people drinking German beer for three days. Singing and laughing and crying. And there was Pete up there, just leading everybody in all these songs that used to be important in this country [the USA] a couple of decades ago, all those ‘We Shall Overcome’ songs; and everybody knew the words. And I think they knew the words mostly due to people like Pete, who had never been afraid to go anywhere and sing for anybody, no matter what their persuasions were, political or otherwise. Everything was alright, everything was just fine as a matter of fact, until Pete turned to me and said, ‘Arlo, why don’t you sing something?’ And I realized that Pete had just sung all the songs I thought anybody might know. I didn’t know what to do. I said ‘Here’s one that you might know…Made popular by that King of Folk Singers, Elvis Presley.’ …We’d been singing them peace and love songs for decades, but folk singers would argue themselves to death years ago over what a folk song was. Didn’t stop me or nothin’…”
He starts singing, but pauses at the end of the first refrain to say, “Got just that far through the song and realized that there was 30,000 people singing along with me! Every one of them knew the words! …So there we were, 30,000 drinking, screaming, crying, laughing, singing people, all singing an old Elvis tune somewhere in Europe.”
This story exemplifies how music can unite people, no matter what culture or country they come from, or even what language they speak. The music itself doesn’t even have a specific message of brotherhood, but it’s relatable. That’s really the unifying factor of music: who relates to it? Love songs are so prevalent because most people have been through some stage of love, good or bad. The fact that one old song can bridge generational gaps, nationality gaps and religious gaps is astounding and inspiring to me. In the end, folk music is any music that brings people together, so any genre of music could really become a type of folk music, even rock ‘N roll. With all of the positive stories and memes on the internet, Arlo’s version of “Can’t Help Falling In Love” is what restores my faith in humanity every time I hear it.

Executive Editor