THURSDAY

At the height of the folk revival, with the Kingston Trio’s hit “Tom Dooley” on the airwaves and the sanctimonious Pete Seeger lording over the campus circuit, John Cohen and his New Lost City Ramblers remained die-hard dissenters. “It’s so funny seeing articles now saying the New Lost City Ramblers typified the folk revival,” he says. “Like hell. We opposed the folk revival. It was a desecration of what we loved.” Instead of the campfire singalongs and P.C. anthems promoted by Seeger and his ilk, this was the hillbilly music of the ’20s and ’30s, as captured on Harry Smith’s talismanic Anthology of American Folk Music. But Cohen wasn’t content to simply re-create those sounds with the Ramblers; instead, he has spent decades searching out its living relics and “musical holdouts” (the title of a Cohen documentary). From the Appalachians to the Andes, from Harlem to the Georgia Sea Islands, in his films, photographs, and compilations, Cohen has preserved music “still in direct touch with its roots.” Like his mentors Smith and the photographer Robert Frank, Cohen brings an artistic vision to his documentation, whether revealing a 20-year-old Bob Dylan as a Chaplinesque prankster or portraying local country-music parks such as the New River Ranch and Sunset Park as holy shrines. “Music is not an escape,” he writes. “Photographs are not documents. There is no escape.” John Cohen appears at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s Hammer Auditorium, 500 17th St. NW. Free. (202) 639-1727. (Eddie Dean)