Thursday, February 26, 2009

Folk Alliance 2009, According to Ellen

Last weekend I attended my 8th International Folk Alliance Conference, along with fellow Sound of Blackbirds blogger Jess Byers. We had a good time in Memphis (as evidenced by this photo!) and heard lots of incredible music. I'm sure Jess will have lots of her own highlights of this year's conference, but here are mine...

- Market Monkeys Room - As in years past, the room hosted by manager Michelle Conceisson and her Market Monkeys was one of the places to be. They kicked things off with a fun Wednesday night cocktail hour and continued throughout the weekend putting on great showcases featuring established artists like Cliff Eberhardt and young rising artists like Chris O'Brien and Danny Schmidt. Mother Banjo might also have made an appearance there...

- BettySoo - Pictured here, she is a young Korean-American songwriter from Austin, TX who has a great voice that can belt out an Americana gospel tune just as well as she can sing a pretty melodic love ballad. She had a great little band with her that included famed Austin guitarist Will Sexton.

- Natalia Zukerman - Joined by a great electric bass player and Anne Heaton on keyboards and vocals, Natalia did a great official showcase, featuring her most catchy songs to date...many of which are featured on her 2008 release Brand New Frame, which was produced by Willy Porter. Don't know if that trio has a plan to hit the road together, but that would be a show to see.

- Folk Alliance Awards - Broadcast again on XM/Sirius' folk channel The Village, this year's awards were pretty uneventful, but the highlights were Ray Bonneville performing his song "I Am the Big Easy" (which won him a Folk Alliance Award for Song of the Year) and Rosalie Sorrels' moving tribute to Utah Phillips.

- Loudersoft - A music blog I was introduced to after last year's Folk Alliance Conference, when he raved about Meg Hutchinson's showcase. Although I had emailed with blog host E.J. Friedman, I had never met him...we fixed that this year. I'm sure he'll share his own Folk Alliance discoveries on his blog soon.

- Noelie McDonnell - I saw this Galway songwriter (pictured here) in the infamous Canadian "Beaver Suite." Really great songs and a nice live charm--very crushable. He opens a few shows for Greg Brown this weekend in Minnesota, including one Saturday at the Cedar Cultural Center.

- Lucy Wainwright Roche - Although she first attended Folk Alliance in Cleveland years back when she was a fellow student at Oberlin, she made her first official appearance as singer-songwriter this year. She wowed everyone at her official showcase with her poignant songwriting and her charming on-stage presence. Her story about introducing Aussies to the "cool kids" in American marching bands resonated with the crowd of music geeks in a big way.

- Devon Sproule - I enjoyed this Virginia songwriter's old-fashioned sounding Waterbug release Keep Your Silver Shined and played it on my show but had never seen her live. The live performances I caught did not disappoint with tunes like "I Asked God for a New Job." Her surprisingly funky sound was enhanced by her scratchy amplified guitar. She's pictured here playing a particularly strong showcase with pals Carrie Elkin and Raina Rose--another definite highlight.

- Lynn Miles - Although I work with Lynn at Red House, I haven't seen this Canadian in a couple years since she has been mainly staying north of the border. It was great to catch up with her and hear lots of new songs, which will hopefully be on an album in the near future. I particularly liked "Fearless Heart," which you can check out on Music Fog, thanks to Jessie Scott. Jessie recorded all kinds of great performances at Folk Alliance on the Music Fog bus...all worth checking out!

- Molly Venter - I had been hearing about Molly from musician friends Brianna Lane and Justin Roth and had even played a few songs from her CD on my radio show but had not met or seen her play until Saturday of Folk Alliance...especially strange since she is from my original hometown of New Haven, has played my current hometown of Minneapolis and even turns out to be cousins of a guy I met at a friend's wedding this past fall. With all those connections, I'm very relieved to learn she is as good as everyone says. She has a soulful voice and a driving live energy. Can't wait to hear her again.

- Drew Nelson - I hadn't seen this Michigan songwriter since the 2006 FARM (Folk Alliance Region Midwest) Conference, when he joined me on a performance of "Come Life." He just finished a nice new recording called Dusty Road to Beulah Land and played some songs from it on a great late-night showcase. When catching up after his performance, I learned that his beautiful sounding guitar was made by him--his first. Needless to say, it got passed around between the guitar even got loaned to my pal Chad Elliott, who played it for his showcase that followed Drew's.

- Jess Byers - Getting to catch up in person with my friend Jess Byers (who I originally met at a Folk Alliance Nashville?) was a real treat. You can see her here, taking a break from showcases with Jonathan Byrd and partaking of the MoJo flask. You West Coast folks should definitely check out the stellar line-up she has coming up at her Shining City concert series in Portland. As you can see, Jess rocks it as a promoter and as an agent, now booking such acts as Annabelle Chvostek (who also did a stellar Folk Alliance showcase with her trio!) and Heather Masse. She also probably came to more Mother Banjo showcases than anyone else...thanks, Jess!

And those are just some of the highlights. All in all, Folk Alliance 2009 was great. Although attendance may have suffered due to the economy, the talent did not. I thought the level of musicianship and writing was a cut above what I've heard in past years. With 5 showcases of my own and 6 Red House artists present to support and promote, it was also my most busy Folk Alliance ever, and I'm sorry to say I missed a few folks I had really wanted to see play, including John Elliott, the Ebony Hillbillies, John Boutte and Tim Eriksen (although I at least got to catch up with Tim over a breakfast meeting). I guess there's always next year...


Matt Winters said...

I could totally get behind the Natalia Zukerman/Anne Heaton/guitarist World Tour!

Thanks for the great update, Ellen.

Jess said...

Well, I think that top picture is up there with most unflattering shots of me ever, but thanks for everything else you said. :)

I do have a lot to add, probably will have to wait until the weekend.

I vote for the Raina Rose/Devon Sproule/Carrie Elkin world tour. :)

drewnelson said...

So nice to see and hear you at FA... I hope to come your way soon! Thanks for the props.



Ellen Stanley said...

thanks for the comments, y'all! it's like folk alliance all over again this week in the twin cities with visits from danny schmidt, noelie mcdonnell and anais mitchell. :)

Ellen Stanley said...

another highlight i failed to mention...steve poltz at a late-night showcase in the live tour artists room, singing a song (with hand motions) with the refrain "i got a hand job on a church bus." holy cats!