Close to 2,000 folk musicians and music industry persons gathered in Austin, Texas, recently for the 18th Annual International Folk Alliance Conference. VOA's Katherine Cole was among them, and reports on the event celebrating folk music and dance.
Chip Taylor has written hits including "Wild Thing," and "Angel of the Morning." But if you're thinking the 65-year-old singer and songwriter is content to sit at home and count the royalties he's earned from those multi-million sellers, you're wrong. Chip is still making music.
A new version of "Must Be the Whiskey" is from Red Dog Tracks, the newest CD from Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez. The duo was one of the 220 "official showcase artists," performers selected to play at the recent Folk Alliance.
Louis Jay Meyers is the executive director of the Folk Alliance. Formerly a working musician, he understands that a weekend spent at the Folk Alliance is time not spent earning money for performers. So why do so many musicians vie for a chance to play at the event?
"Musicians come here to meet other musicians, to meet talent buyers, record labels, publishers, agents, pretty much the entire industry," Meyers said. "To meet media people, too."
So what's this all about? Is it about the music?
"It's about the music. It's about tradition. It's all common minded people," he said. "It's not where the rappers are on one side of the room, and the country people are over there, and alt-rockers are there, and the metal guys are combing their hair somewhere else. It's not about tattoos. It's not about the latest styles. It's not about MTV. It's not about what's big in Europe. It's about music that is enduring and a part of the fabric of our lives."
With 70 official showcase acts each night, and several hundred more unofficial performances in the mix, deciding what to hear, and what to skip is the most difficult part of Folk Alliance. Jonathan Edwards, heard there performing "Train of Glory," traveled from his home in the Virgin Islands. Since he doesn't play many gigs in the U.S., it was hard for many to pass up his showcase, even though it meant possibly not discovering "the next big thing."
Brad Paul, Vice President of National Promotion at Rounder Records, faced a similar dilemma.
"I'm a music fan first and foremost, and last night it was hard for me," he said. "I saw Danny O'Keefe on the schedule. And I said 'oh my gosh, Danny O'Keefe!' And I'm struggling internally. It's not like I need to go 'discover' Danny O'Keefe. But, from a music fan perspective, I had to go see him. But at the same time, I knew I was missing two or three other developing acts that maybe, from a professional standpoint, I should have gone to see. I think that's probably one of the hardest things about Folk Alliance. There is so much music going on all at once. I found myself last night having AHDD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder]. I mean, I would go in and sit down and, unless I was being really knocked out, I would probably stay for three songs. I said, 'OK, I'm going to stay for three songs, because I know I'm missing acts X, Y, and Z down the hall.' So, I'd do three songs, and get up and go down the hall. I think there was only once that I only stayed for one song."
Also spotted at the Folk Alliance, Austin-based producer and musician Mark Rubin, heard there with the Ridgetop Syncopators. Just because the former member of the Bad Livers wasn't an "official" performer this year, don't think he took it easy when Folk Alliance was in town.
"Friday, I was rehearsing with Joshua Nelson at the Synagogue at 10 a.m. At Noon, I was here, talking on a panel about what folk music is," Rubin said. "The moment I left here, I went to a recoding session, and played tuba on an Australian blues singers record. And the moment I finished that, I drove to a gig to play jazz and blues standards at a café. And then I got home around 10 o'clock, collapsed, and then came back here again."
In addition to the first ever Folk Music Awards, the weekend also included two special concerts. One, featuring Arlo Guthrie and 70 of his musical friends, raised money for Hurricane Katrina victims. The other was a tribute to the duo of Lowen and Navarro. Eric Lowen is battling ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, a neuro-muscular disease for which there is no cure. Friends including Eliza Gilkyson, Jimmy LaFave and Ronny Cox, joined the duo onstage in a celebration of their music, which includes hits written for Pat Benatar, The Four Tops, The Bangles, and Dave Edmunds.
A CD of the concert is to be released sometime this year, and it is likely to feature a live version of "How Mighty Is The Silence," a song written by Eric Lowen soon after he was diagnosed with ALS.