This past weekend I spent a whirlwind couple of days in Memphis, Tenn., at the Folk Alliance International music conference. This is my fourth consecutive year of attending and my sixth conference overall and number 23 for the organization once known as the International Folk and Dance Alliance.
Several years ago the group dropped the “dance” portion of the name, much to the chagrin of the traditionalists who came to clog, and concentrated more on reaching out to modern music makers while still courting those “trads” inclined to keep with traditional folk ways. But overall the folkies all get along and the event is an amazing spectacle of 2,000 to 2,500 mostly musicians and music types hanging out together for about five days, playing music, attending workshops, networking, promoting and partying a bit as well.
Held at the downtown Memphis Marriot a few blocks from the mighty Mississippi, the shindig turns the hotel into a music mecca with jam sessions in the lobby, the hallways, the bar, meeting rooms and even the hotel rooms. Along with the workshops and official showcases on the main levels, the top three floors of the hotel are reserved for private or “guerilla” showcase presenters. These rooms become mini-concert halls from 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. nightly with different scheduled performers on the half hour in nearly every room, making for hundreds of shows and literally thousands of songs sung, played, picked, hollered, hooted and lived every night.
My personal highlights included driving folk guitarist legend David Bromberg to the airport, hanging with rockabilly star Rosie Flores, getting a Miller High Life for blues master Jim Schwall and riding in the elevator with country great Rodney Crowell. These were brushes not just with famous folk, but really excellent and talented creative artists, plus I played plenty of music with those in my own league and participated in several interesting workshops. I’m sharing this mostly because I think it’s interesting (and hope you do too), but also to show what goes on behind the scenes to make the music you listen to on a daily basis happen. This is only a small part of the music world containing a section of the folk/acoustic scene, but what goes on here reflects other parts of the business, from rap to classical, rock to country, pop to primitive. There’s plenty of hard work and heartbreak going on behind those songs on the iPod.
In local happenings, Thursday, Feb. 24, Thornhill rocks the Alamo from 5 to 8 in a fundraiser for the Sojourn House. And 40 oz. to Freedom, a Sublime tribute band from San Diego does Marly’s at 10. Twenty-something drummer Taylor Floreth (Brad, the phenomenal country and jazz guitarist from Jacksonville is his dad) sets up a residency at the Brewhaus playing 7 to 10 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Taylor makes Brooklyn his home and makes a living banging on the drums all over Manhattan in the one and only New York City. He’s been out on tour with Kelli Scarr and since he’s in the area we set him up on the stage backing me, Brad his dad, bass players Keith Voegele and Bruce Williams and an array of sidemen (come on down, we’ll get you up).
Bruce Katz, a world-class keyboardist of immense industry stature, plays the Alamo on Feb. 28 for the upcoming Blue Monday jam. You probably haven’t heard of him but a quick review of his past reveals an amazing career, plus he’s really, really good. A new Springfield band takes the stage Saturday night when the Blue Ribbon Revival (Larry Caulk, Jonathan Field, Michael Sullivan, Schy Willmore) opens for psycho-billy roots rockers Hillbilly Casino at Bar None.
Next week gear up for Great American Taxi at Marly’s and Jorma and Jack at Sangamon Auditorium on Friday and the Illinois Central Blues Club birthday party on Saturday. See you there, folks.
Contact Tom Irwin at email@example.com.