Folk Alliance Heroes
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Folk Alliance tops my “Favorite Festivals” list, and has since my first day there.
As always, new talent bubbled up from every corner of the Western World and a few other places to boot. This year, I vowed to search out new music, no matter how strong the siren song of artists who I know and love, so here’s my take on the tried, true and much-listened-to artists at whose doors we paused whenever we needed to check the schedule, grab some popcorn or take a breath.
Matt the Electrician gave one of his patented quirky performances in one of the big rooms, taking us through some all-time favorites, singles from his latest album, It’s a Beacon It’s a Bell, and a couple of tunes he’s been working on lately. Happily, he also played showcases in the intimate rooms upstairs where he treated us to his low-key humor and the delicate guitar picking at which he excels as we cruised. This man’s one to follow for sure.
Brian Ashley Jones’ new album, Out of the City, shows off his songwriting chops. Jones has a knack for making every new song sound like a classic: familiar and comforting. On his own, Jones’ vocals shine, but he honed his sideman skills before he became a draw himself, and the man still provides strong guitar support and harmonies to a variety of sounds, from bluegrass to the bluesy sass of Ginger St. James. Happily, we heard him several times as he added value to other artists.
Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys are only on their second album, Ionia, and it keeps getting better. Lindsay Lou’s crystal-clear vocals drift out into the corridors, pulled along with the infectious enthusiasm of the string pickers behind her. Guitarist Mark Lavengood hit the gym in the morning and roamed the halls until late in the evening, yet still had enough energy to keep up with the rest of the Flatbellys. This is bluegrass swing at its grooviest.
Brother Sun are a keystone of Folk Alliance, standing for pure harmonies, serious music and ideals humanity should aspire to—Crosby, Stills & Nash at their most potent. We’re proud to have had member Joe Jencks’ article on Pete Seeger in Elmore, because Brother Sun represents all that is good about folk music.
Ray Wylie Hubbard has a new album, Ruffian’s Misfortune, out in April, and (spoiler alert) it’s a doozy [check out an exclusive sneak preview here]. Hubbard’s lived his entire life outside the box and everything he writes reveals (to those of us living at ground level) that Heaven and Hell are really, really close neighbors.
I missed Bill Kirchen, one of the best guitarists on the planet, and the opportunity to hear his new music and old favorites like “Hot Rod Lincoln,” with 40-odd famous famous guitar licks “passin’ cars like they was standin’ still.” Mea culpa.
The Milk Carton Kids played a big room which we missed, but we caught them briefly at an unannounced small room, and the duo treated us to a few old songs and…shhh…one or two off their upcoming album. Billy Strings sat front row, on the floor, rapt as the rest of us; Milk Carton Kid Joey Ryan did break to call Strings “the best guitar player in the building.”
We caught up with living legend David Amram in the space-age walkway between the participating hotels, where the man who’s played with every other legend in 20th century music (Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Tito Puente, Aaron Copland, Levon Helm, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, etc.) was on his way to support the Amigos, one of his many folk projects.
Banjo visionary Béla Fleck’s longtime tour manager fainted and was rushed to the hospital, but you’d never know he had a rough night. His show, a duo with Mrs. Fleck, aka Abigail Washburn, went on with a borrowed soundman, virtuoso performances and Fleck’s patented sense of humor.
Dom Flemons stopped by the Elmore “suite” for a photo shoot, where the former Carolina Chocolate Drop, Folk Alliance boardmember and walking encyclopedia spoke for an hour on the history and current state of American music and the goals of FAI. A real treat, and in addition, we caught him at a couple of jams. Sweet as candy.
– Suzanne Cadgène