Karen Impola

Studio One and Classical Music Host

Karen Impola is the host of Iowa Public Radio's The Folk Tree and University Concert. Karen began working at KUNI in 1990.  Before that, she hosted Folk and progressive music shows at WXPN in Philadelphia, and was a production assistant at NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross.”

Karen spent much of her childhood and adolescence holed up in her room with a record player.  She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology & Anthropology from Swarthmore College, where she also did her first radio show, at 6:00 a.m. on a ten-watt station, to an audience which numbered in the single digits.  In her spare time she chauffeurs teenagers and cans tomatoes.

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Here’s a collection of five newly-written songs by midwestern folk musicians.

Lydia Mann / Flickr

Sunday is Mother’s Day. Music, especially Folk music, is often passed down in families. Here are five examples of mothers making music with their grown children.

Rob Glover / Flickr

May brings warm weather and blooming flowers here in the northern hemisphere. In folk songs, it also brings courtship. Countless traditional ballads in the English language (and other languages as well) begin by specifying that the action takes place in May. Some end happily, some not. Here are a few of them.

The Awful Purdies

Here’s a collection of songs from Midwestern artists, most of them newly recorded from wherever the artists find themselves these days. As the weeks of sheltering-in-place go by, IPR's Karen Impola encourages you to continue to seek out new music to listen to, and to sing, play, and dance to. 

Marc Levin / Flickr

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was observed to call attention to the need to protect the environment. Ironically, the current pandemic crisis has had its ecological benefits. With factories shut down and less car and plane travel happening, people around the world are reporting the clearest skies and lowest pollution levels in decades. As we celebrate the 50th Earth Day, here are some folk songs for the occasion.

Reed George / Flickr

This is Holy Week, the most meaningful time of the year for Christians. Whether you are a religious believer or not, the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is part of our culture and has been reflected in many ways in music, art, and literature through the centuries. 

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The story of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is common to both Jewish and Christian traditions. It is found in what Jews call the Torah and what Christians call the Old Testament. Whether you are a religious believer or not, this story is an important part of our culture and has been reflected in diverse ways in folk song and custom over the centuries.

Mark Zaleski / AP Photo

As you've probably heard, singer-songwriter John Prine passed away Tuesday, after being critically ill with COVID-19.

Since his first album was released in 1971, Prine's gentle humor and way with words have been an inspiration to many. Some members of IPR's staff each picked a favorite John Prine song to share.

Ralph Homan / Flickr

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.

Roberta / Flickr

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has disrupted everything. IPR's Karen Impola, who hosts the Folk Tree, says she finds music a big source of comfort and has some recommendations.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode – cropping and lighting changes made
Peter Shanks

As you ponder what to give as gifts for the music-lovers in your life, consider the expertise of some Iowa Public Radio music hosts. In this hour of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe hears about the notable releases and recordings of 2017 from the host of IPR's The Folk Tree Karen Impola, as well as classical music host Barney Sherman.

Karen Impola's top folk music picks for 2017

1. Catfish Keith – "Shake Sugaree" – Mississippi River Blues

2. Al Murphy – "Steamboat Quickstep" – Hogs in the Cornfield

Beth Wood

Beth Wood is a modern-day troubadour and believer in the power of song. Her exceptional musicianship, crafty songwriting, and commanding stage presence have been winning over American audiences for eighteen years. Beth’s music is soulful, organic, intelligent, barefoot, high-energy communication of joy.

David Stoddard is a songwriter and teacher living in the snowy wilds of Western Minnesota. He tours sporadically throughout North America and plays mostly concert venues, living rooms, and other dedicated listening environments.

Courtesy of Oleg Timofeyev

After listening through new Iowa classical music releases from 2016, Iowa Public Radio host Barney Sherman says that Iowa tends to excel in classical genres and ensemble types that are a off the beaten path and under performed  in major metropolitan areas.

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Sherman about his favorite new Iowa classical music for 2016. During this hour, we also hear about some of best new folk music for 2016, curated by Karen Impola, host of Iowa Public Radio's The Folk Tree and University Concert.

Harmonious Wail

Harmonious Wail paid a visit to The Folk Tree on Sunday, December 4th. This Madison, Wisconsin-based trio has traveled the world sharing their gypsy/jazz/acoustic/swing sounds. Graced by the exquisite vocals of Maggie Delaney-Pothoff and the sparkling mandolin of Sims Delaney-Pothoff, and anchored by the virtuoso bass playing of Jeff Weiss, their music brightened the winter afternoon for us. Learn more about them at wail.com.

Photo courtesy of Iris DeMent

During the 4:00 hour of The Folk Tree on Sunday, April 17, Iris DeMent talks with IPR's Karen Impola about her roots in the Arkansas Delta, her emergence as a songwriter, and her most recent album, The Trackless Woods, on which she put music to the poems of Russian writer Anna Akhmatova. Iris will be performing on Thursday, April 21 at the Temple for Performing Arts in Des Moines; opening the show will be her daughter-in-law, Pieta Brown.

Click here to hear a song from The Trackless Woods.

IPR/Phil Maass

Katie Dahl’s music combines a love for her rural midwestern roots, a droll wit, and a clear-eyed appraisal of modern life, all served up in a voice as rich as cream. On Superbowl Sunday, she and her bass-playing partner Rich Higdon joined Karen Impola in our Cedar Falls studios for a live performance during Karen’s show, The Folk Tree. More information about Katie can be found here: www.katiedahlmusic.com.

IPR/Andrew Arganbright

The Folk Tree got into the Christmas spirit on Dec. 20 with a live music extravaganza featuring three different acts.  Cedar Valley band The Enablers sang about having a dysfunctional Christmas and added some jingle bells to their twin-fiddle excitement. Curtis and Loretta, a duo from the Twin Cities, played Victorian carols and got us all singing along.  Singer-songwriter Raldo Schneider drew from his decades of writing for some songs about winter and its discontents.  A good time was had by all! Click the links below to hear what it sounded like.

IPR/Phil Maass

Based out of Seattle, Washington, The Blackberry Bushes Stringband mix equal parts tradition and innovation, with the twang and instrumental chops of bluegrass and 21st-century sensibility to their original songs. Fiddler Jakob Breitbach (a Dubuque native) and singer-songwriter and guitarist Jes Raymond form the core of the band, with Daniel Ullom on mandolin, Forrest Marowitz on bass, and newest member Alex Genova on banjo. They paid a visit to IPR’s Cedar Falls studios during The Folk Tree on Sunday, Oct.

IPR/Tony Dehner

Finnders and Youngberg is a great Colorado-based bluegrass band with an Iowa connection. Guitarist and principal songwriter Mike Finnders hails from our state,  and so does bassist Erin Youngberg.  The band typically does a swing through Iowa each summer, and they stopped by Iowa Public Radio’s studios during their visit to play some music and chat with The Folk Tree host Karen Impola.   They’ve got gigs in Des Moines on July 1, Dubuque on July 2, and Iowa City on July 3, and you can find out more at fy5band.com.

It was a good year for chamber music, orchestras, fusion and harmonies. That's according to two of IPR's music hosts who shared their favorite recordings of 2014.

When it comes to compiling a Halloween playlist, there are the staples like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and “The Monster Mash” sung by the theatrical Bobby Boris Pickett. Oddly enough the 60s and 80s created a lot of the music that has ended up being played at nearly every Halloween event, but then every decade has produced some uncanny tracks. And for inspiration we’ve brewed up a short list of some of our favorites to spice up your Halloween festivities.

Scarlett Cerna, host of Studio One:

The band Scythian (pronounced SITH-ee-unn - they’re named after a nomadic Eurasian tribe) has an unlikely combination of influences.  Three of the members are siblings: fiddler Alexander, guitarist Danylo and cellist Larissa Fedoryka are from a family of Ukrainian immigrant, and were classically trained.  Bassist Josef Crosby, who also doubles on fiddle, was classically trained as well. Drummer Tim Hepburn started out in jazz, and banjo player Ben-David Warner grew up on a diet of Celtic music via NPR’s Thistle and Shamrock.

Yael Ilan

Lily Henley’s “Words Like Yours” is the latest CD to arrive in my mailbox, seemingly out of nowhere, and knock my socks off.  It actually arrived from New York, by way of a promoter in Seattle, but its roots span continents. 

IPR/Phil Maass

Jon Hogan and Maria Moss were not on my radar until about a week before the show. A friend of a friend was organizing their concert in southern Minnesota, and knew they'd be passing through Iowa on Easter Sunday, on their way back home to Texas. A few Facebook messages and e-mails and it was a done deal.  Looking like they'd be right at home in a Bonnie and Clyde movie, Jon and Maria gave us some high-energy renditions of early country music and shared their historical knowledge of the genre.


This Sunday, April 20, during the 3:00 hour, The Folk Tree presents live music from Jon Hogan and Maria Moss.   Based in Austin, Texas, Hogan and Moss are purveyors of rollicking roots music and trad-inspired originals, which they describe as “primitive-modernist music that will break your heart and blow the doors off your Ford.”

Join us in IPR’s Cedar Falls studios, on the third floor of UNI’s Communication Arts Center (map here), or tune in and listen for some high-energy music.

Every once in a while, folk music pokes its way out of obscurity and gets noticed by a wider public. Filmmaking brothers Joel and Ethan Coen shone a spotlight on music of the American south in their 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou, and they’ve done it again with this year’s Inside Llewyn Davis.  The movie is a fictionalized account of the Greenwich Village folk music scene of the early 1960s, when baby boomers discovered traditional music, and the oxymoronic concept of the “professional folk singer” took root.

Flickr: Seth Anderson

Winter keeps dragging on, and here at Studio One we've got Cabin Fever! While we wait out these last few weeks of cold and snow, here are the top songs and bands keeping us warm and thinking about summer!

Anthony Pepitone

The world lost a great treasure on Tuesday, when Pete Seeger passed away.  From the early 1940’s until just last year, Pete inspired audiences with his singing, his enthusiasm, and his conviction that the world can become a better place.  Mark Moss of Sing Out! Magazine had this to say about him:


Host Charity Nebbe is joined by IPR music host Barney Sherman to talk about the top classical music of 2013, and Karen Impola talks about some of the best folk music of the year.  Listen to some excerpts and a little info about the artist and performances. Scroll down for the full list of selections.

Barney Sherman's top classical music: [NOTE: Barney's complete list of 28 CDs can be found at this link]:

Photo courtesy of William Elliott Whitmore

Every Sunday afternoon from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., The Folk Tree examines the various roots and branches of traditional and acoustic music.  Join us this Sunday, October 13, when the show includes exclusive Iowa Public Radio recordings of earthy singer-songwriter William Elliott Whitmore and bluegrass from Mr. Baber's Neighbors.  You'll also hear from new releases by the Vinegar Creek Constituency and Robin and Linda Williams, and old favorites Dave Van Ronk and the Bothy Band.