Home Feature Lillian Wauthier’s Folk Alliance International conference report

Lillian Wauthier’s Folk Alliance International conference report

Dave Gunning. Photo by Leonard Poole.

In February, I had the privilege of attending the FAI or Folk Alliance International conference held in Montreal at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth hotel. This is the world’s largest gathering of folk artists and industry personnel. It was a good time but quite an overwhelming experience, with 3,000 musicians, presenters, promoters, agents, managers, DJs, record labels and other industry folk. It was great to see old friends and recent ones and to meet and foster new relationships. The music, celebrating Indigenous culture (in partnership with UNESCO and the United Nations’ designation of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages), was absolutely splendid! There is nothing like being wholly immersed in the “Spirit of Creativity” (the conference theme) for several days to rejuvenate and inspire one. With over 600 showcases, it was difficult to take it all in, and my tendency was to go hear performers with whom I’m already familiar and love … so with that in mind (and in no particular order), highlights were Tom Power & The Dardanelles, The Slocan Ramblers, Suzie Vinnick, Tri-Continental, Le Vent du Nord, Tom Wilson, The Turbans, Dave Gunning, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, and the list goes on. Of special interest was keynote speaker Tanya Tagaq’s talk and haunting Inuk throat singing, as well as a lively interview with the oh-so-vibrant and dynamic Buffy Sainte-Marie. 

The day-time activities were devoted to panel sessions, talks and workshops; I attended an interesting session entitled “The Value of Art,” focusing on the intrinsic benefit of music on community from both an economic and cultural perspective. “The Wisdom of the Elders” was a lovely panel moderated by musician David Newland and hosted by Sonny Ochs, where she, Marilyn Gilbert (Arts Manager), Ian Tamblyn (touring musician and Royal Canadian Geographic Society fellow) and Gilles Garand (of Folquebec and the Society for the Promotion of Quebec Traditional Dance) shared stories and insights from a lifetime in folk music. “The Spirit Connection,” led by Ken Whiteley, Twin Flames and Reggie Harris, was an exploration of the role of spirit in the process of creativity, community and social responsibility and how it can inform, enrich and help connect us. A wonderful and enlightening panel on the effects of detrimental mental health factors on musicians was led by Lynn Miles, who spoke from her 42 years of experience as a touring artist. An Inuit throat singing workshop was a fascinating glimpse into the world of Indigenous language and culture.

Various awards were presented to Tanya Tagaq, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Twin Flames, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Michael Wrycraft, Hillside Festival, Alfred Caxaj (of Sunfest), Gilles Garand (founder of La Grande Rencontre festival), Matt Smith (Club Passim), Sonny Ochs (sister of the late, great Phil Ochs/radio host), Shoshona Kish (Digging Roots),  fRoots magazine, Ellen Hamilton (Night Sun), and Sofia Rei (Arts professor at NYU). Hall of Fame inductees were radio hosts Bob Harris, Wanda Fischer and Matt Watroba (whom we presented at Acoustic Harvest many years ago). 

The exhibit hall was resplendent with many colorful booths displaying numerous agencies and their rosters of artists, along with other companies selling guitars, accessories and all the accouterments necessary for getting the best sound. There were also record labels, including Toronto’s own Borealis Records.

Official showcases started at 4:00 p.m., with the last at 8:00 or 8:15 p.m. depending upon which ballroom you visited, and then the unofficial, private “guerilla” showcases began at 10:30 p.m. And went until 3:30 or 4 a.m. (!) in the bedrooms on floors two through five. Beautiful posters and cards advertising showcase times and room numbers were plastered on every conceivable surface of the walls, tables and elevators, even in the bathrooms. Folks decorated many of the rooms and offered up treats (poutine, Valentine goodies) and drinks to welcome listeners into the showcases. In case you’re wondering, no, I did not manage to stay up until 4:00 a.m. although I did manage 1:30am! 

All in all, this conference, so well put together by executive director Aengus Finnan and his team, was a testament to the ongoing goals and mandates of hundreds of professionals and aficionados to keep the music growing and thriving. 

For a blow by blow account please check out all these other reviews and recaps here at www.rootsmusic.ca.


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