Saturday, January 31, 2015

Plugging into the Folk Alliance Conference

Composer David Amram playing jazz with a country band at the 2014 conference

By Anne Tangeman

Bluegrass, ragtime, old-time, country, blues, jazz, rock and more will be showcased at this year’s Folk Alliance Conference and the new-this-year Music Fair at Kansas City’s Crown Center Westin and Sheraton hotels Feb. 18-22. Attendees will find multiple music stages and open jams, music camps for adults and kids with lessons from locals to icons like guitarists Redd Volkaert, Andy McKee, Bill Kirchen, and Bela Fleck. There’s also a music related film festival, art gallery and expo hall.  Lawrence will make its presence known with several bands playing the local showcases on Wednesday night at the Westin as well as a full Friday night showcase at the Sheraton.

Much like South By South West, the conference is a gathering of international musicians, agents, festival bookers and fans with seemingly endless stages of music. While you’ll run into what you might think of as traditional ‘folk’ music, you’re just as likely to come across Lawrence native Chuck Mead rocking his Nashville honky tonk in one room and down the hall see 80 year old composer and world music expert David Amram throw down some jazz with a young country band. 

The ‘industry’ side at the Westin Crown Center has a steep SXSW-like entry badge fee of $275-375 which gets you entry to keynote speeches and gets ambitious musicians in front of agents and festival bookers. The new, public Music Fair portion at the Sheraton next door is just $25 per day or evening or $125 for the week and gets you access to six stages of music, the film festival, art gallery, expo hall and music camp.

If you play, bring your instrument (there’s even an ‘instrument check’ if you want to put it away for a while). You’ll find folks playing in the hallways, the alcoves and if you’re lucky enough to have a Conference full-on badge, you’ll find a Winfield-like experience of late night jams into the wee hours in blocks of hotel rooms turned into (really) small venues at the Westin.

Not to be missed:
Wednesday - All local lineup public show at the Westin 
$20 for ten stages of music from funk/soul group the Phantastics to Hembree to Lawrence’s own Carswell and Hope, along with Schwervon, the Latenight Callers, KC’s Rural Grit folks, Betse Ellis and more.

Thursday – Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Billy Strings & Don Julin

Friday – Lawrence KS Live stage (Ashes to Immortality, MAW, Tyler Gregory. Brody Buster, Nicholas St. James, Carswell & Hope and 40 Watt Dreams). At midnight The Hillbenders TOMMY: A Bluegrass Opry (yes, that TOMMY).  Also don’t miss guitar icons Bill Kirchen & Redd Volkaert

Saturday – David Amram, Betse Ellis, Kasey Rausch and more.
Be sure to check out the Art Gallery & Poster Show with works from Daniel Johnston, Tim Kerr and more. 

Chuck Mead and his Grassy Knoll Boys at the 2014 conference

Anne Tangeman is a Lawrence freelance journalist who has written for the Lawrence Journal-World, the Kansas City Star and several zines.

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