My Adventures at the 2016 Folk Alliance Conference – part 3

2016FolkAlliance  by Keith Koenig

If you missed parts 1 & 2, you can find them here:

Part 1    Part 2

Saturday – 2/20:

Well, I made it through the first two days and nights of this awesome event and started the day wandering
around the two hotels where musicians were also wandering around.

On this day, I had conversations with Glen Phillips from Toad The Wet Sprocket. I asked about his ankle, which he injured jogging his first day here in KC (he likely hit one of our famous potholes) and he said it was still swollen, but got a yoga session in, which was making him feel better.

Talked to guitarist Bill Kirchen and let him know I loved a show I saw in the back room of Knuckleheads here in KC a few years back and he mentioned loving the place. Also spoke to lovely banjo slinger Hannah Shira Naiman, and her father Arnie. Also said hello to Rachel Sage, who is in a genre all her own, as well as
members of Laney Jones and the Spirits, who were all super nice. Hope to see Laney & company back in KC for a full show at some point.

When afternoon came, I hit three showcases in the same room. First up were a talented trio called The Swamp Brothers. They looked more like posh post-college grads than swamp folk, but were just terrific and their banjo player was using a 135 year old banjo that belonged to his great-grandfather. It was a beauty. Then a showcase by Freddy & Francine, who I was impressed by last year when they played out on one of the walkways linking the hotels. They both have amazing voices, but the surprise this afternoon was an L.A.-based Americana quintet called The Show Ponies. Their energy and talent was a great afternoon pick-me-up and they are another band playing here that looks to have a successful future. Really want to see them at a club here in KC in the not so distant future. After those sets, while stepping out for a late lunch/early dinner, I stopped for three songs by Parsonsfield, who used to be called Poor Old Shine. They were playing the same stairwell where I
first saw them two years ago and they are just a tremendously fun live group to see play. They play Bluegrass
with Pop hooks and an almost Punk Rock energy. It was so cool seeing them again.

The official showcases that night were fun, as per usual. I started with the first three songs of Roxanne de Bastian’s official showcase. I know, I saw her a couple of nights ago, but she is so incredibly lovely and I had to see her supercool red boots one more time (sigh…). I then went up to Bentons on the 20th floor and I swear, on about floor 15, I could already hear the rocking sounds of Nova Scotia’s Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers. Their sound resembled that of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, but if they were hooked on Crank instead of heroin. Caught the last three songs of their set and yeah, I dug ’em. Then back downstairs for two songs by a trio called Quiles and Cloud. I remember speaking to their bassist in the elevator of the hotel shortly after I checked in on Thursday. After that, a full set of Celtic music from Welsh group, Calan, which included bagpipes and clog dancing! Then, back upstairs to the 20th floor for two songs by Lee Harvey Osmond. Loved the name, his funny between song banter, and the fact he is described as “Acid Folk.” But the two songs I took in were just…’meh.’ Back down for a full showcase by Kenny White, who so impressed me in ‘Navarro Cantina.’ He played “Cyberspace” again, but the stuffy hardcore Folkies in the big ballroom weren’t as charmed by him as I was and barely laughed at one of the wittiest songs I’ve heard in quite some time. Next up was the dark horse of the whole Folk Alliance Conference. Hu Dost, a group from Montreal AND Kentucky (Now how is THAT possible??) that mixes a LOUD Psychedelic Rock sound with World music elements and with vocals in English and
Macedonian…oh, and there is a little sprite of an interpretive dancer added to their live show just for the hell of it. I chose to see them as two members of the band recently recorded an album with Steve Kilbey of Aussie Rock band, The Church, who are one of my all-time favorite Rock bands. How did it go over? Well, some of the more open-mined amongst the Folk Alliance faithful enjoyed it. After getting what it was they were doing, I even loved most of it, but many of the traditional folkies actually walked out on Hu Dost. In droves…

The band was way too loud and too rock and Roll to really be playing a Folk fest perhaps and their sound check went long as the band had a mountain of effects on stage. I did like the interpretive dancer, who freaked some folks out, perhaps giving some an acid flashback or two. She changed outfits for each song. She was in a day-glo devil costume, complete with horns and large scarfs that looked like flames when she twirled them around.  During another song, one silky white costume was double the dancer’s size and when she danced and blue lights bounced off her costume, she looked like a jellyfish swaying in the ocean. Man, if I ever wanted to take an hallucinogenic vacation, this band would provided the perfect atmosphere. Hu Dost’s tall, stunning vocalist,
Moshka Sommer, played a harmonium (I love the soothing, yet creepy sounds that emanate from the harmonium) and I love the Macedonian singing. It had a mystery and beauty that rose above the din of the guitarist who thought HE was running the show and was a little annoying when barking orders at the sound folks before their set. Sound problems continued all through their set and a female guitarist for the band gave up after a few songs in frustration. So, it wasn’t perfect, but one of the more unusual sets I’ve ever seen at Folk Alliance.  Sadly, most people just didn’t have the patience for what they were doing and I’ll admit that they did kind of blow my ears out, which is something you don’t see often at a Folk Fest. First Ben Caplan and his band, now Hu Dost!

I can see where Folk purists went ape shit when Bob Dylan went Electric and all, but as a true child of Rock & Roll, I can handle whatever they throw at me. I was the first kid on my block to get into Punk Rock and
boy, did I take shit for that from my REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent loving friends at the time. Point being
that Folk Music, like any genre of music for that matter, isn’t just about one style or one idea. I think
there is room for Joan Baez and say, Hu Dost at the same table. Many not may agree, though, but there ya go.
Oh, well…

Next up, I went to my last room for two official showcases. The first by a married couple from Florida who go by the moniker, Flagship Romance. They were a definite crowd pleaser. But many left before the last showcase of the night by the aforementioned Henry Wagons, who also gave us a stellar half-hour of music and fun. If Henry Wagons doesn’t entertain you, ya may not have a pulse. His set consisted mainly of new songs from his just-released album, “After What I Did Last Night.”

One of my favorite moments of the fest was when a song was directed at ME! I suppose since I had spoken to Henry a couple of times during the fest, he recognized me sitting second row center and said, “OK, someone here is really bothering me here. I don’t give a *&%$ about the rest of you right now, because THIS guy (points at me! gulp…) , well, I have a song about it.” He then sings a funny &%$#ing song warning me to leave his sister alone and ending with “the only reason you like her is because she looks a lot like me!” I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard and gave him a standing ovation after the song. I only wish there had been more folks at his official showcase, because after seeing him at the first Folk Alliance fest, I figured that there walks a songwriter that I am required to be a fan of. What a cool guy is our Henry. He started one song by talking us into taking a chance on that guy or girl we’ve had our eye on all weekend at the Folk Alliance Conference as this was the last night and we had nothing to lose. Said Henry, “You know the one. Fringed denim jacket with a mandolin hanging over their shoulder…”  Too funny. He ended his set with his Aussie hit, “Willie Nelson.” He made us sing so loud that everyone heard us in the hall and poked their heads in briefly. Man, I hope Henry Wagons gets his hooks into the American music-loving public.

Anyway, off to the hotel room showcases and as I didn’t hit the elevators early, wanting to take in Henry’s full showcase, there was a mass of people and it took about 10 minutes to cram into one. I spent a good chunk of this night in Western Canada. That was the theme of a room I hit. I settled into this small room and got a front row seat after seeing two songs from John Wort Hannam. I got into a seat seconds before a trio of young ladies from Winnipeg, Sweet Alibi, started their set. They added a sweet R&B feel to their Americana sound.  All sets in this room were 20 minutes, so all went about four songs each. Sweet Alibi were good, but next up were three African-Americans (African-NORTHER Americans, African-Canadians ??) and a guitarist and bassist called, The Sojourners and they also provided one of the better sets I had seen all weekend. They added 60’s hit, “For What It’s Worth” alongside a few religious songs and their voices boomed out of that room! They danced and sang so beautifully and strong, I turned around when they were done and noticed about two dozen
people stuffed in the back of the room checking them out. Man, were they good! Next up were The Dead South from Regina, Saskatchewan. They dressed like a gang from the old west and I dug their whole vibe and sound.
Then there was a trio called Post Script who were not bad. My final showcase in that room was from Winnipeg trio, Red Moon Road. A lovely talented group whose singer, Sheena Rattai, got whacked in the knee before they even played a note, when one band member hit it accidentally with an effects box, which forced a loud expletive from her. Then, after their first song, Sheena bent over to pick something up and got hit in the head by the back of the other guy’s banjo. She was slow to get up and looked dazed. Neither band member jumped to her aid and one merely said, “We are usually NOT in the habit of beating the crap out of our singer.
Weird…

I then saw 30 minutes of a songwriters circle of Canadian lasses which included Jenny Allen, Erin Kay, and the lovely Colleen Brown. Next up were The Doll Sisters, from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. I’ll have to Google-map that sometime. The two sisters were just wonderful. So talented, and when they said they were actually sisters and that their last names were indeed, DOLL, and they weren’t trying to be cute, I dug them even more.  We sang along to their final song, a beautiful original called, ” Whippoorwill.” Then onto three songs by Adam Lee, a solo Rockabilly crooner in need of a rocking band and ended my night with three other people watching a poppy folk duo called, Big Little Lions. They were a charming couple and it was a great way to end all of this fun.

I left the floor for the elevator at 3 A.M. I got back to the ballroom level and the first person I see is Jenny Berkel, the Montreal songwriter I had seen twice during the fest. I told her how much I enjoyed her showcase I saw and we ended up walking back across the long walkway to the Sheraton together. We talked about some of the great things we had seen at the fest and with downtown KC in the wee hours as a backdrop, it was an almost magical way to wind down the fest. Jenny, despite making some really beautiful and smart music, has the most intense eyes you could ever gaze into. She was so cool to talk to and I wished her good luck as she stopped on her floor and I went back up to mine, now ready to catch some much needed zzzzzz’s and to reflect on all that I saw and heard over the past three days.

I will remember all of the wonderful people I et, having conversations with those I already know, like Kasey Rausch, local radio host, Diana Linn, and of course, Gisele, she of The Bombadils group from Toronto. I also got to say a quick hello/goodbye in the hotel’s parking lot to Michaela Anne, who I saw play Thursday night.

Can’t wait for next year and am already
experiencing Folk-withdrawal. This is an event that any music-lover in Kansas City should not miss out on. You have two more years until Folk Alliance hits another city. Do put it on your calendar, ‘Folks’ (pathetic pun intended).

My Adventures at the 2016 Folk Alliance Conference – part 2

2016FolkAlliance  by Keith Koenig

(if you missed the first part of Keith’s coverage, you;ll find it here….. Part 1

Friday – 2/19:

After about five hours of sleep, I started the day of music off by hitting an afternoon, two-hour extravaganza called, Sounds Australia presents “Waltzing Matilda – Australian Songwriters In The Round.” There were two one hour sessions with five Aussie artists/songwriters each. They all sat together and were allowed two songs each, which was timed perfectly. Thankfully, there was bottled water in the room and the room’s chaperone (each hotel room where music was performed had one) served a mountain of ‘toasties.’ Grilled cheese and tomato half-sandwiches. I tried one during the first hour and it was better than I thought. During the second hour-long session I grabbed another. I did not partake of the fridge full of Aussie beer, which I quite like every now and again, but I was just waking up and all. Anyway, the first session featured Rowena Wise,The Mae Trio, Mia Dyson, the wonderful Henry Wagons, and some guy who wasn’t on the schedule for this set and his name escapes me. He was my least favorite of the 10 performers that afternoon, so I guess he will remain nameless. The second session was Krista Polvere (she with the tears from last night), Mike McClennan, Mark Lang (aka Skipping Girl Vinegar), a few members of the seven piece combo, The Soorleys, and a duo that also wasn’t on the schedule, who were actually quite good. I did enjoy songs from almost everyone and Henry Wagons, who impressed me with his funny songs at the first Folk Alliance conference I went to, was my favorite of the bunch. He said his Official Showcase the next night was going to be in a ballroom, so he expected formal wear and ball gowns. Hilarious. The Mae Trio, three talented Aussie woman, played strings and in addition to their own songs, provided harmony on other artist’s song, at times to the other artists surprise. It was a cool way to spend an afternoon. Twenty songs by a bunch of talented Aussies…and Toasties to boot! Anyway, I said hello to Henry Wagons after his set and told him I would try and rent a tux in time for his showcase, which he enjoyed. He then handed me his new CD, stating he was really proud of it, so it will definitely be required listening in the coming days.

I made it down after the afternoon music to the main ballroom, which was packed for Judy Collins’ keynote speech. She talked for just over a half hour and at one point, some over-officious Folk Alliance member held up a sign telling her to wrap it up. Really?? Jezz, just let her talk. Never the biggest Judy Collins fan, but do have mad respect for what she accomplished through the years. I will say that although Judy told some fine stories concerning the ups and downs of her career (and life), it was a rambling affair that was off the cuff. She didn’t really seemed to have prepared a speech and even sang bits of her songs (“Both Sides Now” was in there) and sadly, her voice was shot. She had a showcase that night, so I feared how that would turn out. It was just cool to see her on stage. Then, after swinging over for a slice of D’Bronx pizza for dinner (Love me some D’Bronx!), I made it back to hit some official showcases, starting with three songs by Krista Polvere, whom I had now dropped in on three times in less than 24 hours. She is quite lovely, so maybe that was my misguided impetus for seeing her again. From there, I popped in for three songs by The Appleseed Collective, who were good fun. After that, I went up to the 20th floor in Crown Center, where music was being played at Benton’s, which I had no idea existed up there. I saw three songs by Jenny Berkel, who I had also seen the previous night. I love her ep, “Cicada: A Collection” which I picked up after her hotel room showcase. She did a fine job in a gorgeous setting. It took minutes to get an elevator going to and from this floor, but once you got there it was a beautiful room that was set up like a nightclub, with the band performing in front of two large wall of windows looking out onto a beautiful, illuminated downtown Kansas City. Then, back downstairs for the last two songs by Melanie Brulee. I hit that room, as I wanted to see Edison’s upcoming official showcase after last night’s impressive showing in that dark hotel room.

Edison wowed us again. It wasn’t the wild (partial) set I saw last night. As it was an official showcase, they were a little bit more on point, but still as energetic and powerful as last night. These guys (and gal) come off more like an Indie rock band than a folk act, despite the mandolin and trumpet in their sound. In fact, the following night, they would be playing KC’s Riot Room, which is very much and Indie Rock club for the most part. Again, I see big things ahead for Edison, if they don’t self-destruct or get burnt out. Then, I went downstairs to a small room near the lobby of the hotel for three songs by brilliant Canadian guitarist, Kristin Sweetland. Man, what a surprise she was! She played two songs on acoustic guitar and her talented fretwork was more than obvious. I loved the last song I took in, in which she picked up a mini-12 string electric guitar and told the crowd she had an instrumental about Sherlock Holmes, but needed to have a pipe in her mouth whenever she played it for inspiration. So, picture a lovely, tall Canadian lass just killing it on this guitar while a pipe dangled from her lip. She was delightfully eccentric and very cool. From there, I took in two songs by a trio of young ladies from Prince Edward Island, called The Eastern Belles, who were OK. Then I made it up for a full set by another ‘buzz’ artist, Caitlin Canty. Her set was also impressive and her band included drummer Billy Conway, who played in Morphine, and steel guitarist, Eric Heywood, who has played with SonVolt, Ray Lamontagne, and The Pretenders (I saw him play with Chrissie Hynde & company on the wonderful “Break Up the Concrete” tour). Caitlin and her fine band did a great job in the packed room where they were set up.

I finished the official showcases that night with two songs by David Olney and the first three songs by Tommy Womack (including the great, “Play That Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick Play”). After Caitlin’s set, I was stopped in the hall by songwriter Dan Navarro. He said, “I remember you from last year!” I said, “Damn, you have a great memory!” He said he remembered my kind words after a songwriter’s circle set I caught last year. Wow, that did indeed occur. He said in the hotel rooms, he had a room called ‘Cantina Navarro’ and that I should stop by. So, stop by I did…and stayed a while. Dan, before each act, said, “Welcome to Cantina Navarro, the never ending show that never ends!” After a while in there, I thought, man, there are worse places I could spend eternity. Loved the vibe in his room, which was indeed set up like a cantina in a basement setting. There were Mexican murals on the wall and faux candles and Christmas lights strung about. As Dan was playing there, as well as Peter Case from 80’s Power Pop band The Plimsouls (I was a big fan of those guys), I figured I’d hang out there for a chunk of the night. Before all that, I did see one song by locals Victor & Penny & their Loose Change Orchestra from the doorway of the room before settling in at Cantina Navarro. I started in the doorway in Dan Navarro’s party palace, as no seats were available at that point and saw two songs by Jim Photoglo, whom I had never heard of. Next up was a set from Tracy Grammer and as a few people were leaving, I popped in and got a seat in the front row right before she started! The room remained packed after that. Next up was Perla Batalla, who was once a backup singer for Leonard Cohen and had some cool stories about him. She went over on her time and was a little bit of a diva, but man, she stated she was going to do a song from two of her favorite songwriters, Stephen Foster and Leonard Cohen, and did a gorgeous mash-up of “Old Susanna” and Cohen’s “Suzanne.” Her cover of Cohen’s “Bird On a Wire” was also pretty special.

After Perla’s overlong set, Kenny White stepped in and, wow, where has this guy been all my life? A literate and witty songwriter, he had us all in stiches. If you want an example, google his song, “Cyberspace.” It sums up the whole takeover of the internet in a touching and extremely hilarious way. He is one songwriter I will now have to seek up some past recordings from. Dan Navarro was up next and as performances were running over, He only did three songs, ending with a beautiful cover of Jimmy Webb’s, “Wichita Lineman.” The whole packed room joined in on the chorus, “…and the Wichita Lineman, is still on the Liiiiiinnnnne.” Pure bliss. Dan’s a cool guy and he ran his room slash cantina well, filling the room with loads of fun, nice atmosphere, and GREAT music. Finally, Peter Case was up and it was sadly one of the few disappointments of the whole fest for me. Peter looked in bad shape, not just physically, but mentally as well. His erratic set contained no Plimsoul songs for which I was a little sad, but I didn’t like any of the songs he had picked for his short set. He also rambled between songs, telling long stories that went nowhere to the point where a few folks in the back yelled out, “Just sing, already!” It was upsetting to see how a former hero had fallen so far and as he had to play a showcase in one of the ballrooms during Sunday’s Folkfest, which was open to the public, I can’t bear to think of what a disaster that probably ended up being. Maybe he was in better form that day. One can hope. At that point, having spent a mostly wonderful 2+ hours in Cantina Navarro, I checked out and hit a few more performances. I should have had a shot of tequila that was offered early on in that room. I don’t drink much tequila, although a trip to Mexico in the 80’s where the stuff flowed like water, my curiosity got the best of me and I am thankful I didn’t end up with a massive Grim Reaper or Dragon tattoo on my back or some such thing. But a shot of the stuff in Cantina Navarro just seemed like the proper thing to do. Maybe next year…

I was going to check out a duo called Medicinal Purposes (just dug the name), but as I was the only guy in the room before they started, I just thought that was too much pressure on ME. As I snuck out, I heard the couple yelled out, “No! Get back in here!” I sped up a bit in my exit. I then saw two songs by a talented duo from Edinburgh, Scotland, called The Jellyman’s Daughter. I then saw a full set with two other people by a Canadian songwriter (Man, there was a veritable wealth of Canadian and Australian talent represented at this fest) named Danielle French. After her set, I picked up a free CD, which she had hand-scented with rose oil. Nice touch. The last thing I saw that night (…morning? Who knows at that point of the fun?) was one song by songwriter Julieann Banks. There were three people sitting on a bed in the room and Julieann was on the other. When I poked my head in, she said, “I’m only doing one more song, but you have to come in and sit on the bed.” A nice way to invite me in, so I popped on the bed with the three other people there and Julieann sang a lovely song called, “Sweet Magnolia.” She then handed me her new CD with that song on it and I ended my night at 3:15 A.M. Speaking of free CDs, I picked up a whopping 52, count ’em, 52 free CDs over the three days and about 15 download cards, so I won’t really have to actually BUY any recorded music for the rest of the year, although, of course I will. So, back to the hotel and am already a little sad that there is only one day left for me, as Peter Case was the main draw for me staying for Sunday’s Folk Fest and after the debacle I witnessed, I figured I could skip Sunday, although I was still wavering. I figured three full days and nights of music would suffice, but would the withdrawal from this pleasurable, life-changing event be too much? So far, so good. Man, do I love pretty much everything about these Folk Alliance shindigs. After a little bit of sleep, I would be ready to go at it again. One thing I will say is that this Conference/Fest is a true lesson in endurance and I wasn’t even here the first night! I did down a 5-hour energy shot after settling in at Cantina Navarro. A woman near me asked if I had another, which I didn’t and frankly, the music and excitement is what kept me going those three days. I didn’t really need the extra caffeine. I simply didn’t want to miss a thing that was going on in my vicinity.

You’ll find Keith’s coverage of day 3 here…. Part 3

Live Music 2/25 – 2/28/2016

Live Music in Kansas CityLots of live music coming up this weekend!

While this is by no means a complete listing of everything going on, perhaps you;ll find something here to go out and hear.

Get out there and support live music in our great city!

THURSDAY 25

Earl & them @Knuckleheads
8:00 pm

Jason Boland & The Stragglers @Knuckleheads
with Nicholas David (of the Voice)
8:00 pm

FRIDAY 26

Jeff Bergen’s Elvis Show @Knuckleheads
8:00 pm

Katy Guillen & the Girls @Knuckleheads
with The Grisly Hand
8:30 pm

Shannon Basham & David Basse @Knuckleheads
with a 9 piece band
9:00 pm

SATURDAY 27

Open Jam Hosted by Billy Ebeling & Duane Goldston
1pm to 5:30pm

Platinum Express @Knuckleheads
8:30 pm

Carrie Rodriguez @Knuckleheads
-The Sacred Heart Tour
with special The Pines
9:00 pm

SUNDAY 28

Open Jam @Knuckleheads
Hosted by Levee Town
1:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Country open Jam @Knuckleheads
Hosted by Billy Ebeling & Twang Daddies

Bret Hodges & Neal Hudson @Knuckleheads
in the Gospel Lounge
6:00 pm