Recently, I had the good fortune of being the Winter Music Camp Director at the Folk Alliance International Conference held in Kansas City, MO in Feb.
The Folk Alliance Conference and Winter Music Camp has become (at least) a four-headed kitten, unlike any of the other Conferences I am aware of.
- It’s a gathering of people who have anything to do with the folk music industry be they managers, publicists, writers, promoters, fashion designers, web developers, producers, insurance salesmen, Government funders and almost anyone else you can imagine. They are all there to sell their services or products to the musicians who are the ground zero of the industry.
- It’s a showcase event where thousands of musicians gather to try to sell themselves to promoters, fellow musicians and Producers to try to get gigs.
- It’s a huge party where young musicians stay up all night and play their butts off for anyone who will listen or simply to jam with like-minded individuals whom they rarely get to cross paths with. Mean while, their older compadres just try to hang on for dear life and join in as long as their energy allows.
- It’s a music camp where some folks come just to learn a new instrument or improve their skills on instruments they already play.
Jamming in the Hotel Lobby
Folk Alliance is a mental health break from the day to day grind for some and the cause of a nervous breakdown for others who are trying too hard to move their careers ahead in one gigantic leap. It’s a dating service and a place to celebrate Anniversaries. It becomes a mini-cosmos of any City, Country or Community with all the human drama included.
In the past, I have attended Folk Alliance with three main agendas –
- Find new performers or touch base with the already familiar for the Festival I book, Vancouver Island MusicFest.
- Showcase my own groups in order to try to get gigs or find session work as a Dobro player and multi-instrumentalist.
- Touch base with the colleagues and friends I have known for various periods of time and get reacquainted and re-inspired on all levels.
(not always in that order)
THIS YEAR HOWEVER , my job was to attend this crazy bash as Music Camp Director, where I booked and scheduled over 40 Instructors teaching around 95 classes in everything from Gospel Harmony Singing, to Banjo and Guitar Master Classes to Bajo Sexto!
The Sojourners taught sessions in Gospel Harmony and Freedom Songs
The Conference/Camp are held in two separate hotels that are joined by an above ground walkway.
Enter the one hotel and the smell of the music business hits you immediately, with old friends shaking hands and trading hugs while all-the-while subtly trying to read the name tags and identify all the familiar faces of those within the circle they have just jet-laggedly walked into! There is a buzz as loud as a giant bee hive that never stops as people try to make deals and get work or sell stuff all the while trying very hard to look like that’s not what they are doing. It is an amazing culture to observe or be part of. Sometimes it makes you want to puke and other times your heart is ready to explode with feelings of love and goodwill. It is also a conference of introverts all joining together in a business where most folks enter because they can’t quite fit into the ‘normal’ world.
Albert Lee at Folk Alliance
Enter the ‘other’ hotel and it’s all about music and music lessons with very little talk about the biz. None really cares whose who or who won what award or did what gig or who played with so-and-so, etc. It’s all about MUSIC. That simple. No chasing promoters around to try to get them to come to your shows or any of that stuff. It’s about Music. No business. Music. Remember? So…this was the world I entered into this year when honestly, I was used to the other one. I have to say, I enjoy them both. But, I think I might enjoy one more than the other!
So, back to the title of this article. Is Music itself the message? Yes, absolutely and no, absolutely not. It is both. Magical relationships grow because of the excuse of us all coming together in the name of Music. For some, their relationship with their instrument is what develops and solidifies over the weekend. For others, its the connection with people that really counts and drives everything they do.
It can be both.
One final antidote about this past Folk Alliance weekend, and it’s a bitter-sweet one. We all lost a very dear friend a few days ago; a man who was a huge part of the Folk Alliance and the musical community, Louis Meyers. I have known Louis for years as a fellow musician and a music biz colleague.
My last chance to talk to him was at Folk Alliance. Before that, it was at the Americana Conference in Nashville where we made a point of sharing a meal. We would always do that. (Thus, the pattern of these conferences) At Folk Alliance, we shared a few very late night conversations where Louis, who started the Music camp, shared with me his incredibly thoughtful ideas and responses to what was going on since he passed on the torch.
In the past, we have covered many many miles talking about instruments, conferences, Festivals, Music History and how it all relates to spiritual matters or not. Sometimes we just made stupid jokes and laughed together. Sometimes we complained bitterly to each other about the modern state of the music business.
This time, it was all about the Camp. That’s all we made time for. When I heard he passed away so suddenly , my first thoughts were …but…you didn’t tell me that would be our last time to talk. I didn’t know that would be the last time to tell you how much you meant to me. We could have talked about other shit that was so much more important to communicate but as in most friendships, never said.
My point? It was always music that brought us together, regardless of if we were jamming or doing business. But that was really just an excuse our case to pull like minded souls together to share some space and time.
My most staying memories of Folk Alliance 2016?
The last time I got to spend with Louis and the other very real human connections made with folks like the guys from Los Texmaniacs and the Sojourners from Vancouver and Kim Richey from Nashville and April Verch from North Carolina and Mary Flower from Oregon and so many others. And the team of staff and volunteers who did amazing work as a solid unit at both hotels.
Louis and Banjo
The music brought us together. I hate to sound too ‘West-Coasty’ but we shared some cosmic vibrations through the movement of sound waves that massaged all our hearts into being open for other equally deeply important exchanges.
That’s why I do it. Whatever it is.
It’s all around the music and sometimes it is the music. It’s us.