Monday, February 20, 2017

Folk Alliance International Conference

I’ve just returned from an inspiring five days in Kansas City attending the 2017 Folk Alliance International Conference from February 15 to 19.

International Folk Music Awards

Mike Regenstreif
The conference began with the International Folk Music Awards and I was deeply honored to be one of the broadcasters inducted into the Folk DJ Hall of Fame in its inaugural year. As noted in the conference program book, “The Folk DJ Hall of Fame has been established to recognize radio DJs who have made an outstanding contribution to the preservation, promotion, and preservation of Folk music, and who have demonstrated and inspired leadership in the broadcast field.”

Kris Kristofferson performs during the Awards Ceremony.

I was not only deeply honored to be one of the first Folk DJ Hall of Fame inductees but to share the honor with colleagues I’ve been privileged to know and deeply respect for many years. The late Oscar Brand hosted “Oscar Brand’s Folksong Festival” on WNYC in New York for more than 70 years (and Oscar’s Canadian TV show, “Let’s Sing Out,” was a big part of my introduction to folk music as a kid in the 1960s); the late Howard and late Roz Larmon who hosted “FolkScene” on KPFK in Los Angeles for more than four decades; Rich Warren, who already had a strong history in folk radio when he became host of “The Midnight Special” on WFMT in Chicago in 1983; and Gene Shay, whose legendary folk music shows on several radio stations in Philadelphia ran from 1962 until 2015.

David Amram
It was also particularly meaningful to me that several of the other award recipients this year were friends I’ve been honored to know since the 1970s. They included the late Malvina Reynolds, who I presented in concert in Montreal in 1973 and David Amram, the always-amazing classical-jazz-folk-world-music composer-conductor-performer who I met at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1974, who received richly deserved Lifetime Achievement Awards (I was so pleased that I was seated next to David Amram during the ceremony.); Bruce Cockburn, who received the People’s Voice Award; and Si Kahn who received a Spirit of Folk Award.

Bruce Cockburn
Other honorees – all so richly deserving – included The Clearwater Festival, which received the inaugural Clearwater Award; and Barbara Dane, Chloe Goodyear, Michelle Conceison, Ramy Essam, and Sonia disappear fear (Sonia Rutstein) who received Spirit of Folk Awards.

Daytime programs

Daytime programs at the conference included some tremendous panel discussions and special presentations. Among the presentations I found particularly inspiring were talks by Ani DiFranco, Billy Bragg and Nora Guthrie (discussing her father, Woody Guthrie) on the intersection of folk music and activism – and the Wisdom of the Elders panel with Barbara Dane, Len Chandler and Ron Cohen.

Wisdom of the Elders (Photo: Art Menius)
Wisdom of the Elders is an annual oral history session at the conference created by the amazing Sonny Ochs to present “elders of our community in an intimate forum to share perspectives from a lifetime in folk music.” I was deeply honored to co-moderate the Wisdom of the Elders panel with Sonny this year.

Official Showcases

Each night featured multi-artist official showcase concerts in nine different locations.

Susan Werner
I got to MC one of the Thursday night concerts and introduced performances by Elle Márjá Eira from Norway; Kortchmar, Postell & Navarro (Danny Kortchmar, Steve Postell and Dan Navarro); Susan Werner; Masters of Hawaiian Music (George Kahumoku, Jr., Nathan Aweau and David “Kawika” Kahiapo); Gaby Moreno from Guatemala; and Hermitage Green from Ireland.

Some of the other official showcase artists I particularly enjoyed hearing on the nights I wasn’t MCing included Sonia disappear fear; Ellis Paul; OSOG, an eight piece folk-rock band from Israel; Plainsong; Heather Rankin; John McCutcheon; Vance Gilbert; Jimmy LaFave; and Barbara Dane. There were literally dozens of official showcases I wished I could have been at as there were more than 200 different official showcases with nine different ones happening at any given moment.

Private Showcases

Vance Gilbert
Late nights – from about 10:30 pm until 4 am – in dozens and dozens of locations there was an overwhelming number of private showcases. I didn’t stay up on Wednesday night but among my favorite performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights were short sets by Sonia disappear fear; Orit Shimoni; Sharon Goldman; Vance Gilbert; Carrie Elkin; The Once; Ben Caplan; David Olney; Robinlee Garber; Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer; Sussex; Maria Dunn; Eve Goldberg; Joe Newbury & April Verch; and a Local 1000 song circle that included – amongst others – John McCutcheon, Tom Paxton, Tret Fure and Joe Jencks.

And, again, there were dozens and dozens of other private showcases I wish I could have made it to.

Kansas City Folk Festival

Tribute to Woody Guthrie
After the conference, Folk Alliance International presented the Kansas City Folk Festival on multiple, simultaneous stages in the conference hotel. I got to see two inspiring presentations on the “tribute stage” before we had to checkout and head to the airport.

First was a tribute to Phil Ochs, hosted by actor-singer Zachary Stevenson who is developing a stage show based on Phil. Other participants included Billy Bragg, Sonia disappear fear, Tom Paxton, Greg Greenway, and Joe Jencks.

The other was a tribute to Woody Guthrie, with songs and readings, performed by Jimmy LaFave, Betty Soo, Ray Bonneville and Sam Baker.

It was an intense and inspiring five days at the Folk Alliance International Conference.Special thanks to Folk Alliance International Executive Director Aengus Finnan and staff members Jennifer Roe, Cindy Cogbill, Ana Miura and all the rest. 

Visit my Facebook Folk Alliance album at this link for more photos. There are also some photos in my Facebook music friends album.

Find me on Twitter.

And on Facebook.

--Mike Regenstreif

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