The gathering of musicians and industry representatives from across the Midwest started Thursday with a night of singing, jamming and networking. Photo gallery, video.
The long line of guitar cases told the story, not to mention the hugs and handshakes of grinning musicians from across the region getting reacquainted.
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The Folk Alliance Region Midwest conference which kicked off in Grand Rapids on Thursday has drawn about 350 singers, songwriters, music industry representatives and radio DJs from several states, all steeped in the folk tradition and what that entails (Americana, roots music, acoustic blues, Celtic, country and more).
With four days of music showcases, panel discussions, workshops and speeches, the conference being held at the Crowne Plaza Airport Hotel & Conference Center off 28th Street SE ostensibly gives working musicians and touring artists the sort of industry contacts that could lead to bookings and more exposure.
But many attendees insist it’s really mostly about camaraderie and networking with musicians from around the country, some of whom they rarely get to see except at a gathering like FARM, a regional chapter of Folk Alliance International, which has served as a hub for folk musicians and event organizers since 1989.
“It’s just fun,” said guitarist and singer Roger Brown of Traverse City, who’s attending his third Folk Alliance event with fellow Drive South singer Mary Sue Wilkinson.
That certainly proved true for the Michigan contingent attending the conference, with Brown joined by the likes of Josh Rose, J. Oscar Bittinger, Ralston Bowles, Ruth and Max Bloomquist, Max Lockwood, Dave Boutette, Kristi Lynn Davis, Mark Lavengood, Chris DuPont, members of The Appleseed Collective and many others who’ve set up shop at the hotel for the weekend.
‘PEOPLE DON’T SLEEP AT THESE THINGS’
But the event is also about countless performances, from the official “DJ Showcase” that got things started with more than a dozen artists Thursday night in the main Grand Centennial Ballroom to open-mic sessions to scads of smaller showcases set up in hotel rooms where performers strummed and sang into the wee hours of the morning, including sets hosted by the Earthwork Music collective, Wheatland Music Organization, Folknet, Hey Man! Records and many more.
(Note: These showcases, in decorated rooms where beds had been moved or removed, didn’t even start until 11:30 p.m. Thursday, with many running well past 2 a.m. “People don’t sleep at these things,” Bowles remarked.)
Grand Rapids singer-songwriter Nicholas James Thomasma said chance encounters with touring artists and chats with other musicians often produce tips for touring in certain regions or states. And because DJs representing folk-driven radio shows from around the country are on hand — as well as those booking venues — there’s an opportunity to get new music into their hands.
While it may be rare, there’s also always the chance for an artist to really get noticed or even signed by a label – or at least, make valuable contacts that allow a musician to take the next step in her or her career, said Kari Estrin, a veteran, Nashville-based artist manager in the acoustic/roots music scene who attends numerous Folk Alliance conferences every year.
“You never know,” she said.
Check out the video and photos below, with more details about the conference and a full schedule at farmfolk.org.
VIDEO: FARM Conference – Day 1
Video by John Sinkevics
PHOTO GALLERY: FARM Conference – Day 1
Photos by Local Spins