What is Folk Music?

Just lately I've been involved in a few discussions over folk music, what it is and where it comes from. 
Of course, the next question is whether I'm "folk music" and the inevitable arguments that follow.
There have also been some discussions on "What The Folk" on PBS lately so I thought it time to put in my 10 cents worth.
I think the argument is a lot clearer when discussing "traditional music". Traditional music has a cultural base and has defined styles and techniques that have developed over many years. New songs and tunes are added to the repertoire gradually but they usually fit the forms and styles of the tradition. Various fiddle traditions are a great example of this. New instruments are slowly absorbed in the tradition but by and large the music remains as it was and the development of styles can be fairly readily traced back to the roots of the tradition. But is traditional music folk and is folk music traditional?
Modern folk music is a lot harder too pin down and it's very hard to explain what this is to those who don't know. Is it Pete Seeger in the late 50s? Is it Steeleye Span circa 1974? Is it Shooglenifty with their grooves? Is it John Denver, Cat Stevens, Joan Baez, Tracy Chapman etc etc? 
My answer is a resounding YES! to the lot of it. I think we should stop worrying about what folk music is and just enjoy it, play it and share it.
Life is too short to worry about categories and definitions. Just get playing!
 

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