The 23rd annual International Folk Alliance conference was held in mid-February in Memphis, Tennessee. More than 2,000 people took part in the week-long conference and trade show. The event began with an evening of honors.
Artist and activist Joan Baez was one of three honorees at the 2011 “Folk Alliance Lifetime Achievement Awards and Honors.” The other recipients were filmmaker Les Blank and Jimmy Rodgers, the early 20th century singer often called “the father of country music.” The ceremony also featured music from Grammy nominee The John Hartford Stringband, a tribute project featuring members of the late singer-songwriter’s final band.
The Folk Alliance International was founded in 1989 to support the traditional music community. Today, the Folk Alliance has members from all parts of the world of music: performing artists, publishers, promoters, journalists, attorneys, and even music fans.
Sharing musical traditions is what Folk Alliance is all about, and this year more than 300 musicians were chosen to showcase at the event. Some, like David Bromberg, Suzy Bogguss, Steve Poltz and Kevin Welch are already familiar to attendees. One of the Folk Alliance’s missions is the preservation and growth of folk music by promoting and developing new talent. Each year, hundreds of musicians, most of them unknown, are chosen to perform at the event. While all are noticed, a few artists usually generate “buzz,” becoming the ones that everyone talks about.
“The Dunwell Brothers would definitely be the biggest buzz," said Louis Jay Meyers, Executive Director of the Folk Alliance. "Anyone that’s seen them has just been ‘Oh My God!’ They’re mind boggling! The quality of the songs, the quality of the playing, the quality of the vocals, the harmonies. Man, they’re like Mumford And Sons times 10. With still that kind of folk-skiffle beginning point, but with a pop sensibility. And they appear to be really qualified players on top of everything. I knew they were good from the records we got and the videos we got, but I had no idea they were that good. I know that they’re already been approached by numerous managers and agents, and festivals. From a business standpoint, I think it’s already been a very productive trip for them. And again, it’s their first time in the States, so what a great way to launch!”
While outsiders may see the Folk Alliance conference as nothing more than a week of fun, attendees view it as a serious business conference. The musicians who took over the downtown hotel in Memphis, Tennessee and played to audiences in ballrooms, bedrooms and hallways, were doing it not for the applause, but to win over potential booking agents, managers, music critics, and radio programmers; in other words, the people who might be able to boost their careers.
Among those showcasing this year was Russell deCarle from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Russell is well known to country music lovers the world over as the lead singer of the iconic Canadian country roots band Prairie Oyster. A member of the Canadian Country Music Hall of Honour with a stack of platinum albums and number one records in that country, Russell came down to Memphis to talk about “Under The Big Big Sky,” his first ever solo recording.
And, what brought him to Folk Alliance?
“To promote this new record and just what I’m doing now. A lot of people, I think, are familiar with my career thus far with Prairie Oyster," he said. "I’ve got to turn on a few people to what we’re doing now, and start working down here, touring a bunch more.”
But asked if it is a little different for him to be going into the guestroom at a hotel and playing a showcase set, he said, “Ah, not really. We have so much fun playing with this trio that, honestly, if we’re playing for six people or 6,000 people, we play exactly the same. And if we have to do it [spread the word] six people at a time, we’ll do it that way. But no, as long as we’re playing, it’s just great.”
When pressed to name a performer that “wowed” him during Folk Alliance, Russell deCarle named New Country Rehab, a band from Toronto, Canada also named by many asked to name a “favorite find.” Those polled mentioned New Country Rehab’s clever original songs, inventive new takes on older tunes and skillful playing as reasons why. The band’s self-titled debut disk has just been released, and is gathering positive reviews from critics across North America. One even went as far as to say New Country Rehab is “the guys everyone wants in their band, in a band.”