Photos By Mandy Pichler
Old Home Week kicked off on a warm, sunny day in the Folk and BBQ Capital of the world (sorry, all of TX and NC), when folks who hadn’t seen one another in a year greeted each other like brothers. Former Executive Director Louis Meyers arrived looking fit and relaxed, just there to have a good time; guitar master Bill Kirchen promised to do a few showcases, including one with pals Redd Volkaert and Albert Lee—I’m hoping for his updated version of “Hot Rod Lincoln,” anyplace; top publicist Cary Baker experienced his very first day at FA, and roamed the labyrinthine halls, mapping his strategy like everyone else; Living Legend Award-winner Ramblin’ Jack Elliott didn’t have to ramble, he just stood in the lobby, his outsized Stetson drawing a crowd of well-wishers like a beacon.
The day began with a mixer in a lobby, really just a continuation of what had been happening all day. We all moved into the grand ballroom for the Awards ceremony, where Ramblin’ Jack stole the show with his stories and a song; 99-year-old violin maker Violet Hensley gave him a run for his money though, with a witty acceptance speech full of no-nonsense advice to us youngsters. Album, Song and Artist of the Year Awards went to Elmore faves Rhiannon Giddens, the Stray Birds and Darlingside, respectively, and the ceremony closed with an electric Darlingside performance—and I mean that both literally and figuratively, since the band includes electric guitar and bass in addition to traditional folk fiddle and acoustic guitar. Even a somber song can take flight with these up-and-comers.
We headed to a few of the larger showcases, including the extremely energetic Railsplitters (Colorado) and a genre-bending performance by Aboriginal cellist Cris Derksen and a dynamic Native American dancer. On the way up to the informal showcases, we stopped to hear the Blackberry Bushes String Band, jamming in a corner with good acoustics, under a stairway.
Wandering the halls between hotel rooms turned into coffee bars, we stopped to marvel at the incredible picking of Cary Morin, and the heart-pounding excitement of Hillsburn, from Nova Scotia, which included a female drummer and an electric keyboard, the gentle harmonies and impeccable precision of father and son duo Tim and Myles, who tore through a Mozart rondo like a downhill freight train. Abigail Stauffer and cellist accompanist gave us to a set colored with jazz and percussive innovation, a real treat.
Last but hardly least, thanks to Media Coordinator Lellie Capwell, Operations Manager Jennifer Roe and Music Camp banjo Instructor Ross Nickerson for smoothing the way (and delivering directly to my dinner table) when this reporter left her phone at the KC airport. Strangers helping strangers is no stranger to Folk Alliance, and these folks’ coordinated effort proved the point. FA is a little like a big family Thanksgiving, except most everyone is talented, and they all really, really like one another.