For most of the last several years I’ve flown back east for what I consider to be the most under-appreciated music festival in the country; the annual Folk Alliance International conference. FAI does a tremendous amount of good for musicians, and the conference itself has many seminars targeted to beginners, long-time musicians and industry professionals. There’s also some music. With a little stamina and flexibility you can see a hundred different performances in 4 days, many of those with only a dozen or two other people in an intimate stage nee hotel room.
As you can imagine, this year’s event (next Mon-Fri) is virtual. So the good news is I don’t have to get on a plane. It’s also the case that this year the main event musical showcases are available here to anyone for a tax-deductible donation that goes to the Village Fund, which helps musicians in need. The amount is entirely up to you. Now, blessed with a bounty of musical choices here are a couple of thoughts for how to choose what to stream.
One option is to put your head down, remove any distractions, and just plow through the list of artists. Most of them you will have never heard about. Here are a few of my suggestions. Atlantic String Machine is a classical string quintet that covers popular rock and heavy metal songs. Or maybe they’re a rock cover band that plays classical music. Minos the Saint is a south Louisiana folk band with horns that gets you up out of your seat. Sounding like they’re just down the road from Minos, but actually hailing from Canada, is King Cardiac. For something further afield, you might check out Breabach and their music from the Scottish Highlands.
Another way is to trust someone else to curate your experience. Several folk-related organizations have put together hour long sets featuring 4-10 acts, and having done this for years they have a reputation to maintain. Going down this path I’ll recommend a few that always deliver. Cantina Navarro is hosted by musician and former FAI president Dan Navarro. This year’s line-up includes Katie Pruitt, Deborah Holland, Jade Bird, and the inimitable Steve Poltz. The good folks that put on the Kerrville Folk Festival have a showcase featuring 3 former Kerrville New Artist winners; BettySoo, Rebecca Loebe, and Grace Pettis, now playing together as Nobody’s Girl. This showcase also includes a favorite of mine, the Texicana Mamas, channeling the spirit of Doug Sahm. The Canadian folk scene is always well represented, and there are several showcases with artists from our north. The Canadian East Coast one includes the aforementioned Atlantic String Machine, while the Ontario-centered set has AHI, King Cardiac, Moscow Apartment and Terra Lightfoot. Last but not least on my list would be the Louisiana showcase, with Minos the Saint and Sweet Cecilia, among others.
So regardless of how you choose what to listen to, I highly recommend carving some time out of your schedule next week and taking in some of Folk Unlocked. It benefits a really good cause, and with even a small amount of patience you’ll hear some great music from bands you’ve never even heard of before.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.