2007 Folk Alliance
Downtown Marriot/Cook Convention Center
February 21-25, 2007
Part trade show, part self-promotion, and all music, the Folk Alliance Conference mirrors events like SXSW in that it gives artists a chance to show their stuff to the masses, doing a little self-promotion while they put on a bunch of showcases in a fast-paced few days.
Hosted at the Downtown Marriott (which was completely booked) and the adjoining Cook Convention, the resulting event was a mash-up of folk rock, bluegrass, and all things in between.
The conference kicked off on Wednesday night, as Oregon's David Jacobs-Strain announced "good evening, and welcome to the Marriott Hotel" in jest. He may have been poking fun at the location of the stage atop which he stood, but his set was anything but a joke.
Jacobs-Strain, a phenomenal finger picker and slide player, played to a packed room which included Big Star's drummer Jody Stephens, covering all sorts of blues including a sizzling version of Robert Johnson's "Come on in My Kitchen."
The conference predominantly featured musicians of the six-stringed acoustic persuasion, but there was plenty to satisfy nearly any musical taste.
On one side of the musical spectrum were acts like the Boulder Acoustic Society and the Carolina Chocolate Drops, both of whom put on great shows in the biggest room, showing off their old-timey bluegrass prowess. Over the course of the weekend the bluegrass room hosted artists from all over the world, as musicians from the Czech Republic, Cuba, and Germany gave conference attendees their spin on the art form.
Artists like the Mushfiq Ensemble brought a touch of the Middle East to the stage, contrasting nicely with the bluegrass pickers and soulful acoustic folk music. Playing qawwali and a little Indian classical music, the Ottawa, Ontario-based but Afghani-bred act was nothing short of mesmerizing, even though no one could really understand the dialects of the lyrics, as lead singer Mushfiq Hashimi speaks about 8 languages over the course of a show.
Perhaps the highlight of the conference was Michelle Shocked's solo appearance on Friday night. Driving straight in from Little Rock, Arkansas, where she had played that night, she sounded like a female Bob Dylan and made the most of her half-hour set, breaking out "How You Play the Game" and "Evacuation Route" with guest accordion player Carl Byron.
Shocked had the whole room's attention with "Anchorage," and delighted with the week-old "Liquid Prayer." Interacting with the audience as she told her stories, you could hear a pin drop in the room as the attendees gave her the respect she commanded. She closed her stellar set with a powerful version of "When I Grow Up."
Uncle Monk, the bluegrass duo fronted by former Ramone Tommy (Ramone) Erdelyi and guitarist Claudia Tienan, played several days, and provided quite a contrast to the music of the former rocker's seminal new wave punk band. Now on mandolin instead of drums, Ramone's showing an entirely different side of himself, and it's pretty good.
Over several days, there were hundreds of whirlwind sets of music played on the stages (and in the lobby, hallway, and any other place imaginable), plus all the private showcases that took place. While the artists may mostly be relatively unknown to date, that certainly makes their songs no less significant; undoubtedly a few of the artists will eventually break out.
If they do, some people can say they saw them a long time ago.
At the Marriott in Memphis.
all photos by Josh Mintz / photosbyjosh.com