Perhaps one can best understand folk music
(that is, the contemporary
commentary ballad type, as opposed to "traditional music" with a quote from one of its progenitors, Woody Guthrie
"You can't write a good song about a dust storm unless you been in one....you can't write a good song about a whorehouse unless you been in one." from Broadside Songs of our times from the pages of Broadside Magazine
But, ironically, this same songwriter could write a song about a mine disaster, yet he was no nearer to the scene than the newspaper article he read it from.
Folk music actually had to be revived in United States by Pete Seeger, also of the Weavers, who saw more of the protest and topicality type in England in the late 50's and early 1960, than was tolerated in the Cold War reactionary climate here.
If it wasn't for some excellent writing and recording finally in the 1960's, and thus finally commercial success, maybe it would have been lost.
Of course, and fortunate for us, Alan Lomax was recording folk artists from the early 1950's, as he saw the disappearance of some indigenous American music on the horizon. The new term for American Folk Music is "American roots music, (Also a title of a project by The Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Experience Music Project.)