For the second year, the Folk Alliance Region Midwest conference will host seminars and performances by hundreds of touring musicians in Grand Rapids. Get the Local Spins preview of this week’s event.
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Later this week, a flurry of storytelling troubadours will touch down in West Michigan for the FARM (Folk Alliance Region Midwest) conference as part of its three-year stint in Grand Rapids.
The annual event, which is a regional chapter of Folk Alliance International, alternates host cities every few years, with previous conferences held in Iowa City, St. Louis and Chicago.
Starting Thursday, artists and an array of music industry professionals will convene at Crowne Plaza Airport Hotel & Conference Center at 5700 28th Street SE.
But the public — and other musicians — can get a sneak preview on Wednesday evening, thanks to a pre-FARM showcase at the newly minted Listening Room in downtown Grand Rapids, an evening featuring sets by Michigan folk legends, Ruth & Max Bloomquist, the up-and-coming Escaping Pavement, and other folk and roots artists from around the country (and Canada).
“Keeping the traditions alive and spotlighting this ‘under-the-radar’ folk/roots genre is our reason for existing and I feel like it is thriving,” said organizer and musician Annie Capps, of Annie & Rod Capps. “The Folk Alliance International has grown leaps and bounds over the years and our numbers are up 30 percent since coming to Michigan.”
The event also aims to prove the diverse nature of this “roots and acoustic music community.”
“I think there’s a bit of a misconception about ‘folk’ music that keeps some artists from feeling like they fit in with our community and we’re working hard to change that perception and broaden our reach both in genre and diversity. Traditions come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s a rare musician who doesn’t have roots in a variety of musical styles that inspire them.”
While pre-registered access badges are required for entrance to any of the conference events, walk-up registrations will be allowed. Those interested in attending select evening showcases can purchase stand-alone tickets as a “Taste of FARM” for $20 per night.
The conference officially begins at noon Thursday and runs through Sunday evening. In addition to numerous performances, the weekend will include workshops, mentoring, a plethora of networking opportunities and jam sessions.
PERFORMANCE SHOWCASES THAT ARE ‘INTIMATE, RAW AND TRULY REAL’
Showcases will occupy various rooms and sections of the hotel and conference center, including the exceptionally popular but low-key late-night hotel room performances, an element that “makes FARM fun,” as Grand Rapids singer-songwriter Nicholas James Thomasma put it.
“During the day there are workshops, presentations, mentor sessions and panel discussions, but at night the private showcases fill the hotel hallways with songs,” Thomasma said.
“You can wander from room to room as artists of all kinds play short sets. Hosts usually remove the beds, bring in chairs and provide snacks or beverages for guests. There are no loudspeakers or PA systems, and you can’t fit more than 10 or 15 people in a hotel room so each showcase is intimate, raw and truly real. Spectators are treated to an up close and personal look at the artists and the artists are treated to a small but rapt audience.”
Before all those cozy hotel rooms abound with song and spectators, early attendees can attend a showcase at Grand Rapids’ newest downtown music venue, the Listening Room.
Wednesday night’s preview showcase includes sets by Escaping Pavement, Noah Derkson, Michael Kelsey, Cari Ray and the Shakey Legs, Ruth & Max Bloomquist, Hayes Griffin and FARM keynote speaker Tret Fure. Get more details online here; admission is free, but a $10 donation is suggested to help pay the performers.
“Since this preview of the FARM experience is wide open to the public, we hope that local music lovers will take advantage of this opportunity to experience a wide range of music by performers from the local, regional and national folk scenes,” said Norton Shores musician Max Bloomquist, who along with this wife, Ruth, have been folk mainstays in the region for more than four decades.
There’s also a renewed energy among artists, attendees and organizers in regard to this year’s gathering, including a few intentional and important changes.
“Last year, there was such a buzz around our move to Michigan and the conference was a huge success,” Capps said.
“But we did notice that while we make every effort to be gender-balanced with our official showcases and workshop presenters, we inadvertently ended up with an imbalance of men in some of our featured events. Our keynote speaker, award recipients, Wisdom of the Elders, and even emcees were all male.
“So this year, we’re tipping the scales toward the strong influential women of our community in all of those roles. So, that’s an important change.”
Get more information about the conference and registration details at farmfolk.org.
Revisit Local Spins coverage of the FARM 2018 conference:
THE 2019 CONFERENCE
FOLK DJ SHOWCASE
Thursday (8-10:15 p.m.)
Dave Boutette & Kristi Lynn Davis
Annie Sumi Trio
Fendrick & Peck
OFFICIAL SHOWCASE ARTISTS
Friday (8-11 p.m.)
Gaines & Wagoner
Sundae + Mr. Goessl
Saturday (8-11 p.m.)
Heather Pierson Acoustic Trio
Nickel & Rose
Asaran Earth Trio
CONFERENCE SCHEDULE (Details at farmfolk.org)
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