When I registered for the Folk Alliance International Conference, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Between 2000-3000 artists, enthusiasts, and industry professionals arrived in Kansas City at the Westin Crown Center on Feburary 18th for 5 days of networking, workshops, performances, and generally folking around.
As I wandered the soon-to-be-very crowded halls, I noticed something. A visible happiness had taken over the Westin. Everyone I came in contact with was eagerly anticipating the week’s events, and who wouldn’t? The keynote speaker is none other than Graham Nash. Even Al Gore will be on hand to discuss environmental issues, and explain to everyone how he invented the internet. All jokes aside, this is a great event to held in my hometown. There were many worldwide locations that could have been chosen, someone must have slipped some Jack Stack Burnt Ends to the selection committee.
Down to business. Each day there are open mic sessions, my element. On the eve of the conference opening, a crowd began gathering around free food and free beer (see my previous blog) a list was planted, and the musical side of the conference was underway. My goal, as always, is to learn the stories of the other songwriters. Something tells me that this week will provide a campfire’s worth.
While settling into my seat, a Boulevard Pale Ale in hand, Ben Bochner of Eugene, Oregon played the first two songs on the week. A classic folk vibe, reminiscent of an acoustic Springstein set. His goal is to “Create a community with acoustic music.” He’s the first musician I’ve ever met that does “house calls,” where he could be playing “next to a hospital bed, or simply a lonely person.” This grassroots effort toward musical therapy takes a lot of leg work, but is his “favorite way to enjoy people.” His search for “An alternative to the screen culture” continues…welcome to Kansas City, Ben.
The next group of artists I catch up with were an alternative bluegrass group named The Matchsellers. Andrew and Julie first met while teaching English in Germany (Andrew mentioned he also taught History.) When their contract expired in June of 2013, it only marked the beginning of their musical journey. Splitting time between Indiana and Kansas City, they’ve not only developed a unique blend of guitar, fiddle, and tight harmonies, but also blossomed a love interest in each other. I’ll certainly be stopping by their showcase set later this week.
Next we were treated to the professionalism of Rusty Nelson, who’s tunes had lyrical wit clearly driven from Austin, Tx. “Lord I feel a comeback coming on, and it’ll be here before too long.” We briefly spoke prior to his set, he had just finished a 12 hour drive, and it seemed the open mic was exactly what he needed.
Finally, Alyse Black took the stage, and took over the room. Her soulful, Adele-ish vocals immediately turned heads, and immediately entered my schedule for the week. She’s a veteran of traveling, but hails from Seattle. I’m sure she’ll be mentioned in further detail as the week progresses.