The history behind the word hootenanny is quite varied with no noted origin of the word. Its first recorded use according to the Webster's dictionary was in 1929 for an informal folk music and singing gathering. In the early twentieth-century Hootenanny, an Appalachian colloquialism, was used in America to refer to things when the name was either forgotten or unknown. It was used the same way that thingamajig and whatchamacallit are today; for example, give me that hootenanny over there. The word hootenanny it is now commonly used in conjunction with folk-music with an open microphone, where different artists are welcome to get up and play in front of the audience. Folk music during the 1960s was at its peak and the club "The Bitter End" in Greenwich Village had hootenannies every Tuesday night, where performers of all ages, known and unknown, used an open microphone to entertain the crowd. Sheb Wooley's 1960 hit "Hootenanny Hoot" brought new recognition to the word.
In 1961, The Philadelphia Folk Festival was established. The festival was founded by the Philadelphia Folk Song Society and was based in Mount Airy, later moving to Paoli, and was known as the Hootenanny. The first hootenanny featured Pete Seeger, the Reverend Gary Davis, Rambling Jack Elliott, and the Greenbriar Boys for the two-day affair in 1967; the festival was invited to use a township park in Upper Salford on land provided by Abe Pool. The festival was held here until 1971, when the township asked the festival to leave because of traffic and moral problems. Pool then offered the festival an unused meadow next to the Old Pool Farm, where the festival continues today.
Another Hootenanny favorite created in 1962 by Dan Melnick was the musical variety show "The Hootenanny" that aired on ABC from April 1963 to September 1964 hosted by Jack Linkletter. The program featured many pop-oriented musicians who included Flatt and Scurggs, The Foggy Mountain Boys, The New Christy Minstrels, the Smothers Brothers and many others.
The first two hootenanny shows were taped on February 26, 1963 in the District of Columbia at George Washington University. Hootenanny became a hit with its ratings growing each week, and soon became the network's second-most popular show, after Ben Casey with approximately 11 million viewers each week. Because of the shows, popularity record labels started incorporating the word hootenanny in the title of their albums.
Seeger and his long-term colleague Woodie Guthrie were the first to standardize the term hootenanny as a gathering of folk musicians. Seeger also supported the folk genre and encouraged other artists to promote the music by accepting the invitations and appearing on Hootenanny. Never-the-less many performers continued to boycott the show, and even though a third season was scheduled it was reversed ending the television series "Hootenanny."