Mayhem, Music, and Inspiration were the tag words as the 32nd Annual Folk Alliance International (FAI) conference took over the Sheraton Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana. Did I say music? Well let me tell you…180 official showcases, spontaneous shows and jams in the lobby, stairwells and elevators, as well as five complete floors of independent showcasing starting at 10:30 pm and going until 3 am. There is an energy at FAI that feeds on itself and grows.
This brings the question of what is considered Folk? In reality the definition has spread to include Roots, Folk, Pete Seeger-style protest Folk, Bluegrass, Singer-Songwriter, Americana and World music. It is fairly wide and open and even includes me!
You will find an exhibit hall filled with booths hosted by managers, agents, festivals, countries, luthiers, record labels, instrument makers, string manufacturers, artists, even the Tall Ship Victory Chimes, and more.
One of the traits of FAI that comes across strongly (and that I very much appreciate) is a sense of inclusion within the community. During the four day conference there are free health clinics, eye clinics, hearing tests, blood tests and a health and wellness area.
If you are interested in learning about almost any aspect of being a professional artist you will probably find a workshop, panel or class being given. More than likely you won’t be able to attend everything of interest as there just isn’t enough time.
There is an overall feeling and belief that music and song have the power to change things for the better and to help bring about positive social changes. Being part of a group of over 3000 people who believe in such power is a heady and empowering experience.
Let me give you a snapshot of the independent showcase halls at 1 am. Envision five floors of a major hotel where all the rooms on each floor have been taken over as showcase rooms. All are filled with artists/bands performing solo or in-the-round, performing at the same time. The halls, staircases and elevators are filled with artists, presenters, agents, managers and fans working their way to their destination rooms, to perform or catch the next act. First timers and big name artists mingle together and quickly find common ground for conversation.
FAI is pretty difficult to explain without going and I am not doing it justice. Your first time may be overwhelming but you will quickly be caught up in the infectious spirit that pervades. Check it out next year when the conference returns to its roots in Kansas City, Missouri in February 2021. For me, it is beautiful mayhem, music and inspiration that I have not experienced anywhere else.
Over and out from FAI-NOLA, I am heading to Preservation Hall!