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.

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).

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