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Playing From Home: The Folk Tree Edition

Ralph Homan
Iowa singer-songwriter Iris DeMent at Kentucky Country Day Arts Center.

Musicians, just like everybody else, are staying home as much as possible these days. Fortunately, because of modern technology and the internet, we can still hear new music from them. The following is a selection of five songs that have been recorded and shared since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Some are newly written in response to the pandemic. All are by midwesterners, some of whom live or used to live right here in Iowa.

Katie Dahl - I Already Knew

Katie Dahl of Door County, Wisconsin is one of my favorite singer-songwriters to emerge in the last decade or so.

She has a Coronavirus story to tell. On March 10 she and fellow singer-songwriter Hope Dunbar embarked on a European tour, only to face the prospect of a significant number of their shows being canceled. The next day President Trump announced a ban on travelers from Europe entering the U.S. leading to a mad scramble to rebook plane tickets. After waiting several days for a flight, and traveling through crowded, chaotic airport screenings, Katie finally got home and self-quarantined for 14 days so as not to risk infecting her husband and son.

She wrote this song while quarantined. The good news is, her quarantine is over, and she’s fine.

Joel Mabus - Stardust

Illinois born, Michigan based Joel Mabus never met a fretted instrument he couldn’t master. Here he plays Hoagy Carmichael’s 1927 jazz standard “Stardust” on the tenor ukulele. Joel’s meditations on the pandemic are also well worth reading.

Iris DeMent - The Touch of an Old Friends Hand

Iris DeMent’s voice taps into a rich, pure vein of American country singing. Iowa is fortunate that she chose to make her home here. As she says in the video, she woke up one morning last week and wanted to put something encouraging out into the world, so she chose a song by her Iowa City neighbor (and fiddler extraordinaire) Guy Drollinger.

Society of Broken Souls - Mutineer

Dennis James and Lauren Shapter of Fairfield are the Society of Broken Souls and are both fine songwriters. They’ve decided to record covers of some of their favorite songs while sheltering in place. Listen to their version of  Warren Zevon’s “Mutineer,” and meet their dog Maisie.

Susan Werner - To Be There

From her home in Chicago, Iowa native Susan Werner has been writing a series she calls “Songs of Social Distance.” Some of them are funny. Some of them are painfully real. This one is hopeful, and it looks forward to the end of the pandemic. Sing along on the chorus!


Please remember that these are difficult times for musicians, who can’t rely on a regular paycheck. If you are able to do so, buying their merchandise or contributing to their virtual tip jars and Patreon accounts will help.

If you’re a musician making videos from home, I’d love to check them out. Also, Folk Tree listeners, what songs do you find particularly comforting right now? Keep in touch! Email me at kimpola at


Karen Impola is the host of IPR's The Folk Tree