I just spent the past five days in Austin at the Southwest Regional Folk Alliance (hereafter known as SWRFA) Conference. It would take a full article just to scratch the surface of everything that went on but let me say that it was fantastic. Last week, I mentioned songwriter, playwright, university professor, and general Renaissance man, Andy Wilkinson, one of the co-founders of the Nara Visa Gathering. Well, Andy was at SWRFA as a presenter and we got to spend some time together, which we don’t usually get to do at gatherings because we’re so busy. He’s a fine fellow whose work I admire tremendously AND he bought me a beer which sealed the deal! If you sense a theme developing …free food and booze appeal to me…you’re quite perceptive. A phrase that he used to describe the experience, both at SWRFA and at a lot of the Western Music events as well, is “finding your tribe.” Kindred spirits, people who share your experiences and your love of music…to quote the late Steven Fromholz, “The ones who stand beside you cannot guide you but you know they understand” (from “Late Night Neon Shadows”). It’s a great feeling.
SEGUE: At SWRFA, I heard a discussion that sounded eerily familiar. What is the future of folk music? Substitute “Western music,” “acoustic story songs,” “Roots music,” “Americana” and other buzz words if you would like. I’ve heard a whole bunch of talk about this topic and I myself have participated in many a dialogue over the past few years. How do we keep getting the music out there and how do we find and attract audiences who aren’t all members of AARP? (NOT that there’s anything wrong with that!) I won’t burden you with the details of the lengthy and, at times, contentious discussion, which made my head swim, but I’ll share my conclusions with you. 1) Nobody knows. 2) My plan is as good as anyone else’s.
So here’s my plan. Every couple of weeks, I’m going to share links, mostly on Facebook, of music that is both off the beaten path and would likely be appealing to people who enjoy good acoustic story songs. I hope people share the info with their friends and spread the good word. It ain’t happenin’ on Country radio or The Voice/American Idol/America’s Got Talent, ad nauseum so we might as well do it. Here’s my first installment.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with contemporary Western Music, check out these folks. Dave Stamey (www.davestamey.com/), Juni Fisher (www.junifisher.net ) and R.W. Hampton (www.rwhampton.com ) Three contrasting styles, three superb performers. Here’s a few hot tips from my very fresh experience at SWRFA. My good friends, George Ensle from Austin (www.georgeensle.com ), Ken Gaines from Houston (www.kengaines.com ) and Brian Kalinec from Houston (www.briankalinec.com ). Also, 2-Bit Palomino from Houston (www.2bitpalomino.com ). These folks are all seasoned veterans of the Texas songwriter scene and do great work. And finally, two young people whose songs just blew me away last weekend. Addie Brownlee from NYC (but don’t hold that against her! www.addiebrownlee.com ) and Matt Nakoa, also from NYC (and don’t hold it against him either. www.mattnakoa.com ). If you can’t find some music that knocks your socks off in this bunch, then you’re not really a music fan. If you do like it, pass it on. Pass on some of your own favorites too. As Michelle Shocked says, “music is too important to be left in the hands of professionals.”