Arriving at the opening party at Folk Alliance International Conference at the Westin Hotel in Kansas City, MO reminded me of a huge family reunion where everybody’s happy to see everybody else. That never happens at family reunions, of course, but it does here at the annual Folk Alliance conference, where 2,200 musicians and music lovers from around the (mostly English-speaking) globe gather to hear new talent and exchange ideas both new and old.
The opening Awards Ceremony honored the well-known (Pete Seeger, the Newport Folk Festival), the should-be-household-names (Brother Sun, Jim Kweskin, Brewer and Shipley) and the more niche but influential folk contributors (Cape Breton Island fiddler Buddy MacMaster and the late Moses Asch, whose vision gave us Smithsonian Folkways Recordings).
Kansas City performer Danny Cox provided a particularly serendipitous highlight with a powerful live performance that had that crowd on its feet, and Jim Kweskin reminded us all about the essence of folk music with a funny, smart and risqué story about falling in love with two mermaids, offering lines like, “I didn’t like her tail.”
Then it was off upstairs to the three floors of performance spaces until the wee hours. We stopped in to see Elmore’s own Dennis McDonough, who had his audience gasping for breath during his hysterical performance of takeoffs on Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, toe-tapped to the bluegrass of Jeff Scroggins & Colorado and loved the swing band Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys. Nationally-known artists like Bill Kirchen, Redd Volkaert and Chip Taylor played in the hotel bedrooms while we sat on folding chairs or the beds. You can’t get more up close and personal than that.