Home Feature Just what’s it like to be at Folk Alliance anyway?

Just what’s it like to be at Folk Alliance anyway?


From tomorrow through Sunday, Roots Music Canada will be on site at the 2019 Folk Alliance International conference in Montreal.  This is the world’s largest conference for folk and roots music, and it features a decent number of global and Indigenous artists too.  It’s a conference where artists showcase for festival presenters and concert promoters, and, consequently, it’s a great place to get a sneak preview of what might be big on the roots circuit over the next two years.  We’ll be bringing you tons of coverage over the coming days, but to kick things off, Christophe Elie brings us this write up on last year’s conference in Kansas City.  

It’s 2:45 in the morning on a Wednesday in Kansas City, and I’m wandering down a long hotel corridor. But these are special circumstances. These halls are not empty, nor are they silent.  I’m drawn into a hotel room by colored lights and sweet sounds, and before I know it, I’m lost in an intimate acoustic performance of song, voices in harmony and traditional instrumentation. Beautiful!  And the next hotel room is another unique folk line-up, and another and another, all the way down that hall and on two other floors too!


This is heaven for the singer-songwriters who have been enticed here from all over the world, like bees to honey.  It’s particularly sweet when you find yourself at a jam in the wee hours of the morning with an acoustic guitar, a harp player (orchestral), fiddles, flutes – sometimes played two at a time by the in-comparable David Amram – and other instrumentation that I cannot quite describe.  The room is packed, and everyone’s singing and playing along. That’s special.

I volunteered at FAI again last year, helping out with:

  • Set up for Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • Set and sound at an interview with acclaimed guitarist Richard Thompson
  • A performance by John Oates (Hall and Oates)…
  • AmericanFolkEnsuring the projector and sound were functioning at a wonderful film called American Folk starring Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth – after which I was treated to a performance of their songs and stories from the making of the film.

I recommend supporting this conference by volunteering with the wonderful FAI volunteer team. You get back as much as you give.  By volunteering, the cost of the conference is covered.

FAI has a Music Camp that is a part of the week, with amazing artists there for you to learn from at a very reasonable cost.  I had the opportunity to attend workshops with David Hamburger and Ellis Paul.  These classes provide immeasurable input into your growth as an artist.

Many seminars on various aspects of the music industry are organized.  On the Griddle is a unique breakfast song critiquing and listening session. The Wisdom of Elders panel and many others provided great opportunities for growth.  I felt honored to have the opportunity to attend the Modern Day Activism panel and hear Michael Trotter of War and Treaty tell his story – probably the most incredible and mind expanding, hopeful story that I have ever heard.  These types of experiences are what help us grow as artists.

Suzie VinnickThe folk acts that attend this conference are some of the best artists in the business.  From Canada last year, many of our best from the folk world attended: Suzie Vinnick (who was releasing a new album), Digging Roots, The Lynnes (Lynn Miles and Lynn Hanson), Lisa Leblanc, Amanda Rheaume, Rose Cousins, Harrow Fair, Melanie Brule and Brock Zeman.  Some other Canadian artists that deserve mention, some I caught for the first time, were Piper Hayes, Sarah Beatty, Ali McCormick, Mike Kerr, Campbell Woods, Pat Maloney and Rube and Rake. I caught up with a number of US artists that made the trek back to Kansas City, including Pete Kronowitt, Erin O’Dowd, Nick Nace, (Nick is living in the US but was born in Canada) and Jim Page.  And that just scratches the surface, but if you want to explore modern folk, start with any one of these artists.

I performed two formal private showcases, a great opportunity to meet people who truly care about folk music: the room hosts.  A showcase provides you a platform to invite who you’d like to share your music with to hear you in an intimate setting.  There are industry folks, Radio DJ’s, venue owners, club owners, and festival artistic directors all in attendance and artists that you may want to write with or to perform with.  Information on showcasing can be found on the FAI website.

I’ve been asked by a number of people, “How does the conference help you with your career in the music industry?'”  First, the cliches do apply. Sometimes what’s important is being there. It’s the long game because it is about the relationships you develop, and that does not happen overnight.  The conference, importantly, with effort and work, can translate into radio play, bookings, touring opportunities, festival opportunities, co-write opportunities, reviews and even lifelong friends.  It is a slow build, but simply by attending, you can make that happen.

This time I got to see the city!  What an experience that was, visiting the infamous 18th and Vine area and going to the Jazz Museum and The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.  These museums provide a history of that important place in the civil rights movement in the US.  I learned more about the Charlie Parkers and Ella Fitzgeralds of the era and was introduced to some of Jackie Robinson’s contemporaries, like Satchel Paige, who Joe Dimaggio was quoted as saying was thIMG_9866e greatest pitcher he’d ever battled against.  And finally, I made it to the Green Lady to hear some exquisite jazz at one of the finer clubs I’ve ever set foot in.  Be sure to take at least a moment to step away from the conference.

I also caught some acts at FAI that I’ve never seen before.  Those magic moments often happen unexpectedly during the week and definitely are part of what makes the conference special.  Some of those special performances I fell upon at the conference were Talisk, Tom Chapin, Martyn Joseph and the Bryon Bowers Band.

Aengus Finnan, the executive director of FAI, along with the board of directors, puts his heart into this conference. Everyone is there, participating and ensuring that the conference each year pushes further, challenging the boundaries of art.

There are various first-timer events and even private showcase rooms organized for those first time attendees.  These events reinforce the welcoming atmosphere of FAI.  There is a certain feeling that is special at Folk Alliance, kind of like being at a house party where you don’t know too many people but you’re made to feel right at home.  That special Folk Alliance International feeling is coming to Montreal this week, and vous êtes tous bienvenue!!



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