A Folk Alliance photo album from FAI 2020
Howard Gladstone attended the FAI conference in New Orleans, LA in his multiple roles as music lover, photographer, showcasing singer-songwriter, and founder of record label Sonic Peach Music.
Below are some of his photos, descriptions, and commentary.
“Any excuse to visit New Orleans is welcome,” Howard said. “The Folk Alliance combined a great array of music with the ambiance and musical landscape of the Crescent City. What a great experience.”
Music and Migration Workshop
Music and Migration was a powerful and engaging workshop, with a panel of musicians, activists, and refugees coping with their experience and sharing stories and remedies. The workshop explored the relationship between song and the experience of those forced by war, politics, and circumstance to uproot. The panelists were eloquent and moving on the power and importance of music, particularly folk music, to act as a unifying and healing force. Participants included Mark Marczyk, artist, curator and activist from Toronto and member of Balaclava Blues, and Lemon Bucket Orchestra; Ephraim Bugumba, a refugee from Africa who is now a singer-songwriter and storyteller; and Laura Hassler, the founder of Musicians Without Borders, an organization using music to bridge divides, build community and heal the wounds of war. It was hosted by FAI’s artist-in-residence Rebecca Folsom.
This workshop was held simultaneously with Ani DiFranco’s interview for her recently published memoir, which I missed. This was the norm at FAI, with too many simultaneous events, making it impossible to see all the artists/ attend all the workshops you selected. The mobile APP made planning easier, but there is insufficient time in a 24-hour day to attend even the FAI highlights. For those who wanted sleep, you could choose late night music or early morning seminars, but probably not both.
Wisdom of the Elders
A workshop featuring well-know members of the music scene sharing their wisdom gathered from decades in the music business. Maria Muldaur (who also showcased with a fabulous New Orleans Dixieland band) talked about staying healthy on the road. Tom Rush said he stayed healthy by never exercising and that he has all his “original parts.” Cyril Neville talked about the elephant in the room of the music business that persists – namely systemic racism.
Mavis Staples interview
Mavis Staples was the keynote interview. Mavis recounted stories of her childhood as a member of the Staples Singers, the family group under the direction and tutelage of her father, “Pop” Staples. She told a large and attentive audience of the family’s experience of racism on the road, the path to make the world a better place through music, and the struggle toward civil rights.
Beignets and Coffee at Café du Monde
No trip to New Orleans would be complete without a stop at Café Du Monde for their famous beignets and coffee. I snuck away from the conference to accomplish this.
Mary Gauthier with Di
Mary Gauthier played songs from her outstanding recent album, Rifles & Rosary Beads, a collection of songs co-written with US army veterans. It explores such themes as PTSD, survivor guilt, and the role of women in the military.
Dirk Powell – an accomplished Louisiana musician and producer, who also showcased – accompanied Mary on violin and accordion.
Patty Larkin was an official showcase artist, performing her folk/jazz/pop songs with skillful guitar accompaniment. She has produced many albums over a 30-year recording and performer career.
A long-time member of the award-winning Louisiana band Beausoleil, Michael Doucet appeared in a new group, Lacher Prise, performing Zydeco, Cajun, and French Caribbean songs and originals.
Imagine hearing this powerhouse singer in a hotel room with about ten other people. Shakura S’Aida, whose vocals can usually blow down the walls, brought it down to an intimate whisper in a fully engaging showcase – one of many held after hours on the upper floors of the Sheraton.
Bluegrass is alive and well and was fully represented at FAI. David Davis and the Warrior River Boys, members of the Alabama Bluegrass Hall of Fame, performed in an after-hours showcase.
I never did discover who this unique ensemble was. They paraded through the conference like effigies from the Wicker Man. Can somebody identify them for me?
An amazing talent from Duluth, MN, Gaelynn Lea plays original songs and traditional music on fiddle.
Canadian showcase rooms
Canadian music was well represented. There were outstanding showcase rooms from Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and the east coast provinces.
Regrettably, I did not take enough photos in the Canadian rooms, as I was most eager to hear Louisiana, southern, unknown-to-me artists and international artists who are less likely to tour the great north.
Official and unofficial artists that popped up over the weekend included The Once, Amanda Rheaume, Digging Roots, Ken Whiteley, Corin Raymond, Michelle Rumball, Freeman Dre, Jimmy Rankin, David Gunning, Catherine MacLellan, Erin Costello, Genticorum, David Myles, Mo Kenney, Suzie Vinnick, Eve Goldberg, Logan and Nathan, Beppe Gambetta, Quique Escamilla, Christophe Elie, The Jerry Cans, John Wort Hannan, and many others.
Ken Whiteley was accompanied for a few songs by David Amran, an all-round music genius who is pushing age 90, and Eve Goldberg on vocals.
Brian Litvin and Jabulani hosted and performed in the World of Music room, where I did my one-showcase set.
Borealis Records, represented by Bill Garrett and Linda Turu, exhibited in the exhibit hall.
Holger Petersen, radio broadcaster and founder of Stony Plain Records, received an FAI award.
Peter Chapman, founder of Fallen Tree Records, was seen around and about.
Leyla McCalla is a Haitian-American living in New Orleans, who sings in French, Creole and English and plays cello, banjo, and guitar. She was just one of the many local New Orleans musicians to add their touch to the musical smorgasbord that was the Folk Alliance.
Westbound Situation was one of the most intriguing bands I heard. A combination of chamber music, bluegrass, and jazz – they call it chambergrass. The band originates from Ann Arbor and features engaging and challenging compositions. Is it folk? Is it jazz? Is it chamber music? I don’t know, but it is captivating.
Eliza Gilkyson‘s new release, 20/20, is a collection of politically motivated anthems reminiscent of hymns and political rallying songs from the 1930s and ‘40s. No surprise, the showcase was sponsored by the Woody Guthrie Center, where Bob Dylan’s archives are also found.
Rising Appalachia is a six-member band from Asheville, NC. The photo captures the two female vocalists illuminated by stage side lights. Rising Appalachia has combined global music influences with southern roots. It’s great stuff.
Another hometown band – well near enough – hailing from Lafayette, LA, Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers lived up to their name. They entertained with high-energy, palpitating rhythms and crazy stage moves. Is this where Zydeco is headed? The show was sponsored by Offbeat Magazine, the Now magazine of NOLA, and WWOZ, the funky NOLA radio station.
The Brother Brothers, identical twins, David and Adam Moss, form this contemporary folk duo, playing guitar, cello, fiddle, and chilling harmonies. Who knew music like this could come from Brooklyn, New York?
The Grand Ballroom rocked with the pounding sounds and stage antics of Haiti’s Lakou Mizik. The act is described as a multi-generational band with the goal of promoting positive connection to Haiti through music. They released an album in 2019, HaitiNola, combining their own talents with NOLA musicians.
A total surprise, Sam Lee is a folk singer, song collector/archivist and ecologist. He spent 13 years collecting songs from disappearing communities in the UK, such as that of the Roma. He has a beautiful and powerful voice and a great folk/classical ensemble to back him. His t-shirt reads “No folk song on a dead planet.”
Birds of Chicago is a trio featuring two killer singers, Allison Russell and JT Nero, plus guitar wizard Steve Dawson. This band tours internationally and has talent and stage charisma galore. Wow.
After the unofficial showcases ended, those with energy and eagerness to play formed song circles such as this. Was this 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.?
Howard Gladstone appears at the Winterfolk Festival Feb. 21-23, at which he’ll also present a Sonic Peach Music showcase.