Heading north in February—unless you’re toting skis—begs institutionalization. My institution involved a hotel, a couple thousand other music nuts and some head-changing acts: Folk Alliance, the industry’s gold standard in folk music conferences.
Held entirely in one hotel, the banquet rooms host the customary performance spaces, panels and a trade show, but the departure from the norm sits on three consecutive floors where each room showcases performers and acts change every 30 minutes. Most certainly a logistic nightmare, it works nonetheless, as musicians, bookers, managers, record execs, festival promoters and press squeeze through the crowded, instrument-littered hallways and literally run up and down the fire stairs between floors. Acts almost always play several times over three or four days so attendees can catch them the second or third time around or more than once if truly smitten.
Bluegrass and its descendants dominated the scene, with singer-songwriter/troubadours close behind; blues and “oddball” acts like a vaudeville act, a one-man Aussie complete with didgeridoo, a harmonica quartet and rappers with a bluegrass backup band trailed in quantity, but not in quality: the rappers in Gangstagrass worked one of the hardest rooms to squeeze into and the Quebecois harmonica whizzes D’harmo earned a rare two visits from your truly. I’m guessing I caught about 100 performances a day over three days—the music starts at 6 PM and runs until about 3:30 AM, when the jams kick in. Crazy? Absolutely. Exhilarating? You bet.
– Suzanne Cadgene