Published on March 13th, 2023

“Freak folk” is such a wonderful name for a genre. Everyone knows what folk music is; it’s a guy or a girl with an acoustic guitar, a few chords, and some heartfelt lyrics to sing. You add “freak” to the description and all kinds of possibilities open up.

Early in the 21st Century, Devendra Banhart got singled out as one of the leaders of a freak folk movement. His first pair of releases in 2002, with their lo-fi boom hiss, did have a bit of an outsider artist element to them reminiscent of Daniel Johnston or The Moldy Peaches. And Banhart’s rule breaking on “The Charles C. Leary and “Oh Me Oh My” extended to just about everything presentational: two full-length albums released two months apart, totaling 46 tracks that ran anywhere from 12 seconds to just under five minutes. You couldn’t count on there being a traditional verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus structure to a Devendra Banhart composition, but there was almost always something catchy to every one of the songs that dripped out of him that kept your interest.

As the years and musical catalog progressed, Banhart leaned more into folk and dropped a bit of the freak. His pretty voice and solid guitar playing and songwriting were showcased in more conventional templates. He began sounding more like Elliott Smith or, when he let his freak flag fly into psychedelia, Donovan.

The singer spent some of his formative years in Venezuela, and Spanish-language songs dot his wide repertoire. Banhart made news in 2022 when he and his band ignored the U.S. State Department’s “Do Not Travel” advisory for Venezuela to play Cusica Fest in the city he once called home, Caracas. Banhart told NPR he was impressed that economic and political hardship didn’t stop Venezuelans from creating art: “I saw these kids … they basically created their own, like, hyper-individualistic culture. I didn’t meet a single person that didn’t have their own band or brand.” It sounds like inspiration for new songs — whether they’re freaky or not is up to him.

Devendra Banhart with opener Maye performs 7pm Monday March 27 at Miami Beach Bandshell. ~ David Rolland