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

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