Jeff Zolitor at the Folk International Alliance Conference

Feb 16, 2017

I'm here at the Folk Alliance International Conference  representing KZYX & Z and my show "Roots and All."

I may have mentioned a few dozen times on the show that my kid, Ian, is also a folk DJ in Philadelphia. He's here too. In fact, we're rooming together.

Upon entering the hotel, David Amram, composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist, and author, was the first person I encountered. He had just received the Folk Alliance's 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award,which his history certainly warrants. He has worked with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Willie Nelson, Langston Hughes, Betty Carter, and Jack Kerouac just to name a few. His mentors include Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Aaron Copland, and Jackson Pollack.

The Westin Crown Center in Kansas City, MO has hosted the conference for the last several years. Before that, the Folk Alliance International met in Memphis. The hotel pulls out all the stops to accommodate the horde of music enthusiasts that are currently descending on this place.

The floors have huge "Folk Alliance" decals throughout the hotel. They are probably four feet in diameter, and welcome each guest as they pass through the doors and the hallways. Conference registration was a breeze and the bag of swag provided proved quite useful.

Attendees include performers, promoters and PR-folks, record company types, venue managers, music associations, media people, and a host of others who come for the love of the music. Attendance is probably around 3000 people.

After checking into the room and getting a bite to eat, we made our way to one of the nine conference rooms that have been set up as music venues for the Official Showcases. From 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. each room hosts performers and performances every half hour. That's 72 performers a night for four days. Performers only have one Official Workshop each. That should give you an idea of the magnitude of this conference.

It was already 9:00 p.m. by the time we made it to our first workshop performance featuring Robbie Fulks. Fulks happens to be Tina Fey's favorite musician ever since he gave her guitar lessons in Chicago when she was a member of Second City. He also had a residency at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music. I play Robbie's music fairly regularly on the show and it was no surprise to me that he was up for two Grammy's this year: one for Best American Roots Song, "Alabama At Night" and Best Folk Album, for his latest, "Upland Stories." He was beat out by Vince Gill, for best song and for best folk album by Sarah Jarosz.

Fulks did not disappoint. The applause and ovation were surprising but certainly not unwarranted. He was brilliant--he played a couple of songs off of the new album, and a few old favorites. He'll be performing at other conference events over the next four days and he promised not to do the same set twice. Ian had never seen Robbie Fulks, although he has played him on his show, and after this performance he became a new Fulks enthusiast.

Next we headed to another workshop where it was Ian's turn to turn me on to someone I had never seen. That would be Joe Purdy. 

And I owe Ian quite a debt. Purdy is a folk artist in the style of Woody Guthrie/early-Bob Dylan tradition. His songs are poignant and his lyrics are thoughtful and well written. He recently wrote a song inspired by state of affairs in America and the women's march of Jan. 21. He had the room singing along to the chorus, "People, What Will You Do, For The Judgment Day Is Comin." He is an American folk singer in the very finest tradition and I can't wait to share his music with you.

After Purdy's performance, we made our way upstairs for the private workshops. Various record companies, promoters, music associations, etc., all have hotel rooms and they turn them into music venues for the weekend. In some of the rooms the beds are still present and part of the venue seating. In the private workshops the performance times are usually around 20 minutes each. Performers and their instruments crowd the hallways and alcoves tuning and waiting for their performance time or finishing one and heading to another. This takes place on three floors. The stairwells and elevators are in constant use. The venue hosts usually have snacks and drinks available, and there seems to be some correlation between the quality of the snacks and the budget of the venue hosts but not always.

In about two hours--in addition to meeting and greeting new friends and old--I saw the Canadian group, Ten Strings and A Goat Skin, from the eastern provinces of Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton, a song jam in the round, Joe Purdy again, and a duo from Sweden that took my breath away. I was only there until 12:30 a.m. but the private workshops go on until 2:30 a.m. and sometimes later. One thing I've learned from other music conferences I've attended is that you have to pace yourself. Until next time........