Puremusic at Folk Alliance

Folk Alliance 2002                          by Frank Goodman

Once a year, a large percentage of singer songwriterdom and the overgrown cottage industry around it converge at a hotel for what business people call a convention. It's in a different location every year, this year in Jacksonville, Florida. My girl Annie and I drove down from Nashville, got to the Adams Mark Hotel well in front of the throng of song, and got lucky with a riverfront room with a sliding door that allowed a fresh warm breeze all weekend.

I found the soiree a little more daunting than I did inspiring, but you can see a lot of great people play in very intimate settings. Hotels of past years had better setups for meeting people, I'm told -- big center rooms for networking that led off to myriad showcase rooms, and the like. In the Adams Mark, there were a handful of floors where many normal and suite style rooms hosted a running schedule of performers from noon to six, and from eleven until two or three in the morning, sometimes later. So-called guerilla showcases were not permitted from 8 to 11 p.m., when the formal Folk Alliance showcases were being held in a nearby theater. Personally, I was not that interested in those, and we only went down to catch the amazing Billy Jonas, who was great, as usual. Nice theater, though, and the sound was good. We saw some of Rosie Flores, too, who played a typically sharp set with a good band.

Folksingers -- it's a misnomer at worst, and misleading at best. Today, it means anyone who plays and sings with an acoustic instrument in their hands. And, if you do that, this is where you go to meet and play for the booking agents, radio programmers, and small label owners who specialize in it. Also to see your friends, make new ones, survey the competition, and commiserate. Someone told me the Folk Alliance was buskers playing for the homeless, and everybody wants a dollar.

That's the deal, really. Folk music today, or the acoustic scene, has a lot of passionate and talented people on the artistic and the business end, but there isn't much money changing hands. Sure, if you're Fleming Tamulevich booking Ani DiFranco and Greg Brown, or if you're Richard Thompson playing solo to 400 people at The Ark at $35 apiece, that's different. But those exceptions are a fraction of one percent of the number of artists trying to play this kind of music.

Folk also encompasses many kinds of ethnic and instrumental artists, from Celtic to Cajun and free form guitar, folk dancing of various cultures, performance art (see our review of Billy Jonas this issue), and various kinds of bands. It's kind of a hopeless mishmash, really, with very few dollars to spread around to keep the artists alive. But a large number of people have it in their blood to play this music, especially to be singer songwriters. On the one hand, it's what keeps the scene going. On the other, it's what's pulling it down. In the 60s, there was a huge audience for Folk music, but today it's a very small part of the music scene. So an ever growing number of performers seem to be competing for an ever shrinking audience. But because of a surprising number of volunteers of all kinds, a growing national network of people who host house concerts, and a very committed artistic community, the scene continues.

Like most people there, I was playing showcases of my own, but I did make time to enjoy shows featuring Richard Julian, Annie Gallup, Louise Taylor, Ray Bonneville, Annie Lalley, and The Sherpas. I also kept appointments to interview two recently lauded songwriters, Phil Roy and Arthur Godfrey. They're very different characters, and well worth the read. Phil was chosen Artist of the Year by the Independent Music Awards and Arthur won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest this year in the Folk category. Phil is an extremely savvy songwriter who spent 20 years writing and getting cut by major artists in L.A. and then became a singer songwriter and Indie Artist. Arthur is a relentless singer songwriter currently residing in the Santa Cruz, CA area who has been at it for many years while his day job in the Post Office (eventually becoming a Postmaster for quite a few years) moved him around from place to place. We believe songwriters and fans of the genre will find their stories and opinions interesting, we certainly did.

The Biscuit Boys

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continue to Phil Roy interview         

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