The sound of picking banjos, strumming guitars and fiddling fiddles permeated the air Thursday night as some 3,500 musicians, agents, promoters and other industry representatives from all corners of the globe descended on the Westin Crown Center for Folk Alliance International.
It was a musical free-for-all as spontaneous jam sessions broke out in hallways, on couches and in stairwells. Among them were many area musicians, some of whom are veterans of the annual conference that celebrates folk music of every stripe. A few of them stopped by to talk to us about their experience.
Genre: Indie Folk-Rock
"Naps and coffee get us through," said Jacob Prestidge. “I do think a lack of sleep is honestly part of the Folk Alliance (annual conference). It’s sort of that late-night craziness. 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 and it’s just a crazy-fun, kind of festival-ish atmosphere. But you have to pace yourself because by the time Saturday gets here, if you’ve been doing that Wednesday, Thursday and Friday you are going to be completely wiped out.”
“It’s been very fruitful for us making those personal connections,” said Danielle Prestidge. “We just had a amazing coffee visit with a booking agent that we’ve been in contact with over a year and it went really well.”
Julian Davis and the Hay-Burners
Genre: Americana Bluegrass
“Coming from Pittsburg has made me work harder to get where I wanna go because it’s not going to happen in Pittsburg, Kansas,” said Julian Davis. “I have to make my own luck. And so I have to put in the hard work and effort to get myself out of that town to make it where I wanna be.”
Betse and Clarke
Genre: Traditional/Future Folk
“We are beginning to feel the ownership of celebrating being a host city for something so huge,” said Betse Ellis. “I think we’re embracing it and I think I see the excitement ramping up exponentially every year. Now, in year three, there’s just been so much excitement going into this time of year. People are more ready for it now.”
“Just being around a whole bunch of people who love music is enough to bring me to a place,” said Clarke Wyatt. “It’s almost like a family reunion. Betse and I just have so many friends from all over the country and all over the world that we only ever get to see together all at the same time at events like this.”
“I always come trying to see people who might have something to say, something that I might want to tap into or learn more about them,” said Iceberg. "Everything happens so fast here. Sometimes you see seven different shows and you stay at this one for five minutes and that one for seven minutes and keep running. I think it’s more of an opportunity to just see who you like so you can explore them further after the conference is over.”
Genre: Music from Spain and Portugal and all of their former colonies
“My favorite part of Folk Alliance is the great unknown,” said Beau Bledsoe. “I have no idea what’s going to happen to me and I always come out the other end a better artist, completely recharged, in love with music again. When I go home, I’m actually listening to music and enjoying it and I am trying new things.”
“Beau is so excited this time of year,” said Jordan Shipley. “He’s like a little kid. It’s wonderful. He’s brought me along all three years so far so I am lucky enough to be here again this year.”
Executive Director, Rural Grit Happy Hour
“I love the murder ballad,” said Kim Stanton. “Murder ballads are in every culture. And for me, it’s folk as long as it covers a culture or a tradition. But even within Folk Alliance there are different ideas of what folk music is. Just like a folk tale. They all started orally. It’s no different with music. It starts and it’s passed on."
Victor & Penny
Genre: Swing Folk Jazz
“We figured out right away within a half an hour of our first year being here that whatever preconceived ideas we had about the word folk were going to go right out the window, because it’s just incredibly inclusive,” said Erin McGrane. “The interpretation was much broader that whatever I thought it was going to be.”
“I think one of the things Folk Alliance has done for Kansas City is that so many artists who have not been here before have seen how great it is and had a chance to talk to some of the venues here and have come back through afterwards, “ said Jeff Freling. “So now we actually have these hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of artists who tour through Kansas City now and before they probably didn’t know what was here. I think it’s just upped Kansas City’s profile in the world of music in general.”
Genre: Folk Soul
“I think as a songwriter, you draw from all of your experiences and what I really love about folk music is the narratives, how heavy it is in storytelling,” Jessica Paige said. “Because I think if you are writing songs, being able to articulate not only your story, but other people’s stories as well. All of that comes from things that you hear and you can find such a variety of that at Folk Alliance. It really gives you more to draw from in your own creativity.“
“I am going to really be paying attention to the sidemen this year,” said Damon Bailey. “There are so many good ones here. People who are good at stepping in and boosting up another artist. I think to me, that’s really exciting right now.”
Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her @juliedenesha.