By Ross Altman

If you are an opera fan, you pretty much know who your friends are: devotees of Puccini, Mozart, Verdi, and if you are an American, George Gershwin. You also know who your favorite singers are: Pavarotti, Domingo, Carrera, Maria Calas, and if you’re an American, Kathleen Battle and Joan Sutherland; and you know where the great venues are: La Scala, The Met, and the LA Opera House.

But if you are a folk fan, you could live in a musical world uninhabitable by others who would also consider themselves folk music fans—with no interest in what you call “folk.” Singer/songwriters, for example, consider themselves to be playing folk; but old-time musicians can play for hours and never sing a song—nor would they refer to it as folk, but rather traditional music. Ask a folklorist what it is, though, and they will have no problem telling you it is “real folk music”—i.e., transmitted orally, passed down from generation to generation within well-defined communities, and found in many variants resulting from “the folk process.”

Read more: Got Folk?