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5 things Heather can’t wait to see at the Folk Music Ontario conference that AREN’T showcases

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Emily Jean Flack dances during FMO 2022 while Xavier Leahy plays guitar.

As reported yesterday here on Roots Music Canada, the Folk Music Ontario conference unfolds this week in London. And I dare say, it’s a highly anticipated event this year.

New FMO executive director Rosalyn Dennett put on a banger of a come-back event last year on less than six months notice – because, at the start of the year, we still didn’t know how the COVID restrictions would shake out for the fall – and some of us can’t wait to see what she’s done with a full year to plan.

Already there is plenty of evidence she’s been implementing feedback like a pro.

Last year, there was criticism that the conference wasn’t drawing enough promoters. This year, the booking sheet for the lightening talks boasts a huge list of promoters, including festival ADs from the east and west like Kerry Clarke from Calgary, Sue Panning from Canmore, Troy Greencorn from Stanfest in Canso, N.S. and Stephen Antle from the Halifax Urban Folk Fest.

5 acts Heather can’t wait to see at the Folk Music Ontario conference

Last year, some of us whined that we had to leave the hotel for the late night showcases. This time, we don’t.

To top it off, the actual list of showcasing talent this year is downright impressive, and some of that seems to be attributable to casting a wider net and drawing in more applicants from the so-called world music scene. It’s great to see Small World Music presenting showcases. And holy shit. The Snake Charmer is showcasing! How did we pull that off? She’s a downright social media celebrity!

I talked yesterday about some of the acts I can’t wait to see (She’s one of them). But here are some of the things I’m looking forward to that aren’t simply artist showcases.

The Folk Fest

I love the fact that FMO is opening up the conference this year and sharing the music with the wider community. Even though it doesn’t materially change anything for the conference-goers – we’re awash in live music all weekend – there’s something about getting to watch some shows with an audience of non-industry folks that makes things kind of special. Giving people a chance to see something for free always brings out a certain number of people who might not otherwise check out these performers, and it’s exciting to witness that moment of discovery when they see something that really grabs them. Also, can I just say, having a truly public component of the FMO weekend is long overdue.

How to Make a Living as an Artist Without Destroying the World (or Yourself)

This Saturday workshop makes some huge promises with its title. I have no idea where they’ll end up going with this, but good on them for trying. I can’t wait to hear the discussion.

The Wellness Suite

This “anti-workshop” concept, introduced at last year’s conference, returns for a second year, and I’m hoping to get to spend more time there this year because I loved what I saw last year. The 2022 sessions were like group therapy sessions where participants talked about the stresses of the music business and the struggle to stay true to oneself amid the hustle. There are several interesting-looking sessions on this year’s schedule, including one called “AUTHENTICITY, Creativity, and Branding: Rejection as Inspiration.”

The Ontario Folk Music Awards

FMO’s award system had long been a hodge podge prior to the debut of the OFMAs last year. Its signature prizes were the Songs from the Heart awards, but the number of categories seemed to vary from year to year, and frankly, there were too many of them. Just because lots of people are making music doesn’t mean there’s lots of truly award-worthy stuff, and some of the numbers that won SFTH awards were, to be honest, meh. But FMO also hands out other awards, including the Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award for the Ontario Arts Council, the Rising Star awards, and of course, the Estelle Klein Award. At the end of the day, nothing really got the attention it deserved. FMO did the right thing by collapsing Songs from the Heart into a few core prizes last year: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, etc. And they idea of giving it its own ceremony was long overdue. Finally, we have a proper event to celebrate a few key artists who deserve to be fetted. For a time, there was talk of merging FMO with Folk Music Canada and the Canadian Folk Music Awards and doing this kind of thing at a national level. The integration of the OFMAs – a public ceremony – with the FMO conference shows it could work very nicely if they ever decide to go ahead.

Late night showcases IN the hotel

Last year’s return to in-person FMO-ing came with a compromise: the late-night showcases happened off-site, in venues within about a four-block radius of the hotel. Two of those venues – the London Music Hall of Fame and a room at Fanshawe College – were really quite comfortable. But we folkies are spoiled in Ontario. We’re used to having the music come to us. So having to put a coat on and walk down the street in the chilly night air was just too much to ask for some people. And I won’t lie. I didn’t love it. So I’m excited to see we’re back in the hotel for this year’s late-night events. Also, as someone who’s now more than 20 years older than I was when I first started going to these conferences, I’m also quite happy that “late night” doesn’t go quite as late as it used to.

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