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Kansas City hotel rooms turn into concert halls as Folk Alliance returns: What you need to know

Betse and Clarke.jpg
Julie Denesha
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KCUR 89.3
Kansas City musicians, such as the duo Betse & Clarke, performed in a showcase in a hotel room at the Folk Alliance International Conference in 2015. Due to COVID restrictions capping capacity, it may be difficult this year to see one of these shows in-person unless you're already registered.

Folk Alliance International's annual conference is back in Kansas City for the first of three years. Things will be a bit different due to COVID-19, but the public can still participate.

When Folk Alliance International first hosted a conference in Kansas City in 2014, musicians and concert-goers were blown away.

“I had someone from Hungary, Argentina, Mexico, somebody representing Ireland and West Africa, Cuba,” musician Beau Bledsoe told KCUR about leading a panel on world music. “I got to play with people from all over the globe.”

The event combines workshops and networking events with formal concerts and late-night intimate performances in hotel rooms — with world-class musicians.

"If you go up to the hotel rooms for the private shows, there are guitars and upright basses and fiddles littering the hallways and in all the rooms," musician Jacob Prestidge told KCUR, "and it’s just a crazy-fun, kind of festival-ish atmosphere."

The organization’s annual conference rotates to different cities. But Kansas City hosts the event starting on Wednesday and running through Saturday (and again in 2023 and 2024) at the Westin Crown Center Hotel.

This year, due to COVID, it’s a hybrid conference with a mix of in-person events and virtual performances with about 130 artists performing showcases. And, with attendance capped at 2,000, there aren't as many opportunities for the public to sample the music.

Here’s are three ways to participate anyway:

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Folk Alliance International
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Masks and proof of COVID-19 vaccination are required for those attending sessions at the Folk Alliance International conference this year in Kansas City. Virtual workshops are also available online for those registered.

1. Stay up all night watching the virtual showcases

Registration for the conference maxes out at 2,000 for in-person (community members are welcome to volunteer), and attendance is at capacity.

But there's no limit for virtual access and it’s pay-what-you're able, at no cost for FAI members and starting at $50 for non-members.

The conference features two types of showcases: official and private. The official ones are 30-minute sets on full production stages. The private ones are more intimate and “turn hotel rooms into listening rooms.”

Virtual official showcases will be available for streaming via Pathable, the virtual conference platform, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-9 a.m. CST.

The official showcases at the Westin Crown Center Hotel will be “presented and filmed on full production stage in the host hotel ballrooms and posted later for online attendees.”

Other online offerings include The Black Opry Hour, Thursday-Saturday, 3-4 pm.

According to conference organizers, the bulk of the in-person content — from panels to networking sessions to official and private showcases — will be made available online.

Graham Nash.jpg
Julie Denesha
/
KCUR 89.3
Folk musician Joel Rafael sang with Graham Nash, a keynote speaker at Folk Alliance International's conference in 2014. This year's keynotes include English folk singer Shirley Collins and jazz and blues artist Madeleine Peyroux.

2. Volunteer

Limited in-person volunteer opportunities may still be available for those ages 16 and over. And the perks include free conference registration.

Proof of vaccination is required, as well as wearing a mask during conference activities and in conference spaces.

According to the FAI website: “In order to create a safe and comfortable environment for all, we have taken into consideration our many international attendees who have testing requirements for crossing borders, and those who are at high risk for complications from COVID-19. This is why we have chosen to continue to require masks during our event, despite the host city or hotel not having a mask mandate in place.”

Virtual volunteers are also in demand with skills in "hosting/facilitating online meetings (and) troubleshooting online meeting issues."

If you're not needed this time around, check again in February 2023 or 2024, when Kansas City hosts the conference again.

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Todd Zimmer
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Making Movies, a band formed in Kansas City, Missouri, will perform a showcase at Folk Alliance International's conference in 2022.

3. Go to Sunday's Folk Festival — it's free

In 2016, FAI launched a kid-friendly event open to the public called the Kansas City Folk Festival. The festival continues, but this year marks its first as a new community-led organization.

Look for national, international and Kansas City-based musicians such as Nilko Andreas and Friends, Just Angel, Elexa Dawson, Charly Lowry, Ani Mal, Cary Morin, Nina Ricci, Mac Sauce, as well as storytelling by Philip blue owl Hooser.

The festival on Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. also offers arts, crafts, food trucks and painting at Washington Square Park, located by Crown Center. It's free, although donations are welcome.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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