A few years before Americana Rhythm Music magazine came into being, the now publisher called me and asked if I wanted to accompany him to San Diego, CA. for a music conference. He hoped that I could help him and the publisher of Singer magazine staff a trade booth to free them up to do some networking at the conference. Being the seasoned traveler that I am not, I immediately agreed to fly to California. That was my first time to attend a Folk Alliance International (FAI) conference. Several years later, I made a trek to Memphis, TN for another gathering of FAI—this time to staff a trade booth for this magazine. Both experiences were very memorable and enjoyable.
A Unique 30 Years
The FAI is a unique gathering of musical artists with the 2018 conference being the 30th year for this gathering. I reached out to FAI’s communications manager, Ms. Erika Noguera to learn more.
To get us started, I ask Ms. Noguera to give us her FAI definition of folk music. Here is her reply, “We hold the thought that folk is a music of the people—music traditions and roots traditions of the world over. It is a diverse genre fueled by oral history and roots traditions from all around the world. We see it as a powerful way to share a common humanity and common love for music. Folk music is a music of the people—all the people.”
The FAI traces its beginning to Malibu, CA in 1989. Clark and Elaine Weissman and the California Traditional Music Society invited 100 plus interested representatives from the folk community to attend a retreat. The invitees were people from all over who were involved in the presentation and performance of folk music and dance. They represented folk groups that ranged from major presenters to small folk societies and were people who had done business across the continent yet often had never met face to face. The purpose of the retreat was to discuss forming a coalition of folk organizers, and the outcome of this retreat changed the way that presenters of folk music and dance, the performers, agents, managers, media, and record companies, do business in North America. At the retreat, the attendees formed a steering committee that worked for a year to craft a set of bylaws. They gathered again in Philadelphia in January of 1990 to approve those bylaws and officially give birth to the North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance. The organization changed the name in 2008 to Folk Alliance International (FAI). This name change was to address and embrace international opportunities for North American members and for a growing list of international members and delegates.
The FAI works under the leadership of a Board of Directors, but every member of the organization contributes to the success of FAI endeavors in many ways, which includes the many advocacy efforts for the betterment of the folk community. The FAI presents an annual professional development and networking conference. This conference is the world’s largest gathering of the folk community and industry. Each year FAI hosts a gathering of over 2500 delegates.
The FAI headquarters has moved around but is currently located in Kansas, MO, which is probably its permanent home; however. the annual conference takes place in a city and at a time that is determined by the FAI board of directors. The FAI issues a request for proposal from possible sites, and the cities bid to hold the conference. Final selection depends upon the facilities available at the city.
The FAI conference is a five-day event and requires preparation with a multi-year approach and an ample investment of time and money. Over the course of its existence, FAI has held the conference in over 15 cites all over North America and in Canada. The 2018 FAI annual conference will be held February 14-18, 2018 in Kansas City, MO at the Westin Crown Center Hotel. The 2019 conference will be held in Montreal, Canada as it is every fifth year.
The FAI conference includes many seminars and subject-related meetings for the delegates to attend as well as a robust tradeshow loaded with display booths staffed by businesses and organizations associated with the folk community. Guest Speakers for this 30th conference include iconic U.S. singer/songwriter, Mary Chapin Carpenter and UK folk-rock legend Richard Thompson.
It’s The Showcases
The real fun of the FAI conference, however, is the showcase of talent that goes on display each night, all night. These talent shows serve a very real-world purpose as they expose the performing artists to the industry’s promoters and producers who fill their festival and venue lineups for the year from the folks who showcase their talent at FAI. Showcase presentations at FAI are two-fold: Official and Private; however, FAI also encourages jam sessions both organized and spontaneous. Ms. Noguera said, “We are really excited about our showcase artists this year and all the programming that is shaping up for the conference. This year the theme is about homecoming and celebrating 30 years of folk music and alliances. The artists that are coming this year are such an incredible lineup up of diverse talent both musically and geographically.”
Official showcases, of which there are about 200, are at the top of the heap. Artists apply for and are selected for these events by an industry advisory panel via an anonymous jury process. Performers are selected based upon their quality of work, current career activity, future performance plans, and national/international tour-readiness. Official Showcases are 30 minutes in length on full production stages complete with lighting and sound.
Private showcases are available to everyone in attendance. To host a private showcase, the artist makes application to FAI for permission. The FAI is one of the few music industry conferences that make the opportunity available for artists to present their own independent showcases. These events occur in designated hotel rooms and suites. Private showcases are non-amplified, acoustic, late night events that run from 10:30 PM until the wee hours of the morning. Each event lasts 15 to 30 minutes and conference attendees rush from room to room to catch as many different artists as possible.
All The Small Spaces
Lobby jamming is at the grass-roots level and is for anyone who can play a tune—no reservations are needed. The host hotel makes ample space available for jam sessions anytime night or day. Artists participate in jams for the fun of doing so and for the outside chance of being discovered and launched on the ladder of success.
I asked Ms. Noguera to leave us with some observations about the FAI mission and how she viewed the future of folk alliances. Here are her feelings, “The FAI is a way of sharing the music of the people. It is all of our music. We feel it very deeply. It is a way of sharing story, history and culture. This music is a powerful tool for unification and personal relations. That is what art and music is about—the elevation of all of us to connect. We feel very passionately about this.” She continued, “We have seen the interest grow in the years we have been in existence and we continue to connect in a deeper and broader way to the incredible community of artists, musicians, and the folk music industry. This community is made up of so many talented people across various disciplines and career paths and we plan to continue to help these avenues to grow. It is our role as an organization to produce this platform where people can connect with each other for the purpose of personal growth and the growth of a career for their livelihood. With the elevated aspects of the arts that we create and share together, we just hope to continue to do this. We know that this is a really important time in our history to take those connections seriously and we hope to continue doing that in a responsible and intentional way.”
Come One Come All
If you are a folk artist, festival or venue promoter, or are a folk-music fan and care about this genre of music, you owe it to yourself to join the FAI. Although it may be too late when you read this story to make plans to attend FAI’s 30th conference in Kansas City, you can still become an FAI member. You can get more information about Folk Alliance International and the 2018 conference by visiting the web sites: www.folkconference.org, and www.folk.org. Also you may contact Lellie Capwell at Lellie@lpc-media.com, 818-384-1180 or Erika Noguera at firstname.lastname@example.org, 816-221-3655(ext7).