Postcards from Folk Alliance 2017, Episode 5
Friday, February 17, 11:45am – Friday, February 17, 11:30pm
I admit it, I failed. Badly. I’m back in my hotel room and it’s not even midnight. It’s 11:30pm. I could make all sorts of excuses (and that is exactly what I am doing, in my head) but instead, I’ll just be honest and tell you the truth: I’m tired. So, without further ado, let’s get to the good stuff.
It was another amazing day at the 2017 Folk Alliance International Conference. Things started off strongly with a special presentation by Ani DiFranco. Before she even opened her mouth to speak, the audience was on its feet, cheering and clapping. It’s praise that’s well deserved, as she has spent her entire life fighting to get people to realize that staying back and not standing up against greed, hatred and intolerance is wrong. Today’s presentation focused on resistance and persistence: resist what you know is wrong and persist in the fight against it, even when you don’t think it’s worthwhile. It was a message that resonated with a lot of people, I think.
After the presentation, I spent some time this afternoon at a couple of different panel discussions, including one called “Take Me to Your Leader.” Executive directors and other higher ups from the IBMA, the Blues Foundation, FAI, and the Americana Association sat together on a panel and talked about the challenges and opportunities each of their genres face in 2017. What struck me most? The absolutely genuine love each panelist seems to have for the music. These are people not in it for money or fame but because they genuinely believe in the power of music. It was the kind of conversation that makes you feel really happy with your choice of career, that’s for sure.
Before the “A New Look at Radio” panel started, I trotted up to the 6th floor to catch an afternoon showcase with an Irish musician who performs as Gallie. (Born in Ireland, he now lives and works mostly in Melbourne, Australia.) He had bronchitis, poor guy, but, in spite of that and in spite of the fact that I was the only one in the room for the first half of his performance, he put on one helluva show. Sometimes the simplest songs and sounds are the most affective, the most compelling and Gallie proved it as he shared musical stories about his little boys and about the trials and tribulations that come with trying to stay in love in the face of the real-world realities. One thing I wish he would have done? Given the names of the songs he played. But, seeing as how he was pushing through an illness, I suppose I’ll let it slide. Seriously, his performance was tender, charming, and heartfelt and I’m glad I got to hear it and meet him.
After the “A New Look at Radio” panel, it was down to the hotel bar for some networking with old and new friends. And it was there that I had my first geek/nerd/I-am-13-years-old moment of the day (yeah, there was more than one moment today). As I was talking with Folk Alley’s Linda Fahey and the Minnesota Music Coalition’s Ellen Stanley (aka Mother Banjo), the guy next to us turned around to ask Linda if she was having a good time and OMDOUBLEG it was Ellis Paul. Ellis Paul. I was cool, though. I swear I was. I did not tell him I was a fan, I did not blush furiously when he shook my hand.
Can I say the same when Linda waved Jeff Black over? I cannot. I’ve met him before and he’s delightful – if you haven’t listened to the exclusive session he did for us awhile back, you should. He was also the first showcase of the evening and I was, once again, blown away by how the simple things are the most compelling. After all, he’s just a guy with a guitar (and sometimes a banjo and sometimes a keyboard) but there is magic in how he’s able to put words and phrases together to create a story. The rest of the audience seemed to agree: there was a standing ovation when he finished his set and the applause was very, very loud when he announced that he’s “allegedly” working on a new album. Fingers crossed.
After Jeff Black, it was time to head upstairs to catch Caitlin Canty’s showcase. She made my best of 2015 list with her album Reckless Skyline and I was really curious to hear what she has been up to in the past two years. She made the move to Nashville and I think there definitely is a more country-rock esque sound and vibe to her music. That’s not to say it’s not good music – it is, most definitely. She’s a good performer with a strong voice and a charming stage presence. I loved hearing her “hit” – “Get Up” – and the two new songs she played (for an album to be released in August) were fun to hear, too.
Next up – OSOG. That’s On the Shoulders of Giants, an 8-piece Israeli folk and roots band from Tel Aviv. They’ve got a heavy blues vibe, one that got the whole room cheering out loud from the very beginning of their set. They’re a young band; I want to hear what they sound like in a year or two. Right now, they’re a band absolutely brimming with potential. Frankly, the music mix for their performance wasn’t great – there was too much percussion and not enough volume on the vocal microphones. Plus, the harmonica, fiddle and even the guitar got a little lost. Still, I loved getting to hear something different and unexpected. That’s what Folk Alliance is all about, really – getting to hear music you might not have heard otherwise.
The party moved right along to the official showcase for Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards. I kept thinking to myself: “this band is all about strings and harmonies.” Front woman Laura Cortese plays a mean fiddle and she was more than adequately backed up by another violin, a double bass and a cello. This is a high energy quartet, one that takes the traditional string band feel and amps it up with interesting arrangements. The band played a few tracks off of their soon-to-be-released new album California Calling (it’ll be out this fall, they said).
Keeping the jam band mood alive, it was on to Phoebe Hunt and the Gatherers. If you were a fan of The Belleville Outfit, then you are familiar with this powerhouse singer and fiddler. This performance was easily one of my favorites of the conference: high energy, perfectly crafted musicianship, a charming stage presence and the fact that each of the 6 musicians seemed to be having a great time on stage. The 5 band members provide a gorgeous cradle for Hunt’s intricate fiddling and strong vocals and I was glad to hear that they’ve got a new album coming out in early June.
I’d planned on heading up to the 7th floor to see and hear Portland, Oregon based singer/songwriter John Craigie but unfortunately (for me, not for him), his showcase room was absolutely packed with people. So, sadly, I didn’t get to hear him tonight.
Other bands I wanted to hear but did not? Harrow Fair; Trout Steak Revival; Front Country, and Max Hatt and Edda Glass. I could share a more extensive list of bands/musicians I wanted to hear but didn’t (if you want that list, just let me know), too. All in all, though, I was impressed with the level of talent that waited for me at the 2017 FAI Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. What a trip!