3,000 Folkies Set To Descend On Montreal

Eyes can glaze over when Folk Alliance International (FAI) is mentioned. But not for long.

It’s that first four-letter word—folk--- that does it. A vision of Pete Seeger threatening to pull the plug when Dylan went electric way back in 1965 at Newport might be the only one that elicits smiles from the mainstream music industry before they sink back into apathy over The Kingston Trio.

FAI is scheduled this year for Montreal, February 13-17, with close to 3,000 delegates coming from all over the planet. That’s an amazingly dedicated number of musicians, label owners, managers, talent bookers, publishers, promoters, publicists, media, and festival organizers descending on la belle province in the coldest month of the year for music that barely matters to mainstream movers and shakers, or so they may think. Once they hear more about the convention or experience it, they soon perk up.

Richard Flohil, well-known publicist and promoter, headquartered in Toronto, says, “Many in mainstream music see folk music as self-indulgent and largely irrelevant compared to the world of pop/rap/metal/rock and classical, but folk has long played a major role in influencing and changing virtually all kinds of music.”

There will be lots of examples of change and fusion in music in February’s vast gathering at the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Get this: There’s a group that calls itself Gangstagrass, a hip-hop bluegrass band from Brooklyn, NY. They’ve landed themselves an official showcase along with another 179 performers from Canada, the United States, Russia, France, Australia, the Netherlands, and so on … a total of at least 35 countries if last year’s conference is anything to go by.

Defining “folk” is not an easy task these days, clearly. For example, here are a few more of the official showcase artists, this time hailing from Canada:

Alex Cuba, April Verch, Brock Zeman, Catherine MacLellan, Dave Gunning, Harrison Kennedy, Hawksley Workman, and John Kay --- so far. An artist from the Caribbean, a bluegrass band, an Ottawa-based country singer-songwriter, a pair of down-east singer-songwriters, a brilliant blues performer who was once part of a Detroit-based soul music group, an alternative music hero, and a legendary hit-making rock and roller.

What’s missing from this accounting is mention of the FAI convention (more on that in a later post) and most fun of all, the private showcases (conflict declaration: The Hammer Comes Down is this writer’s private showcase, a baker’s dozen of singer-songwriters from Hamilton, ON). There are 95 private showcase rooms on two dedicated floors. Each room features artists from 10.30 pm to 3.00 am every night from Wednesday through Saturday, and all are acoustic. Most musicians play for approximately 15 minutes each at a time, and the aim is to get as many boldfaces as possible from the industry side of the biz to visit sometime during those 15- minute slots.

If only one or two festival artistic directors or house concert organizers sees a first-time conference attendee and books him, her or them, then that’s a definite score.  To that end, the corridors are jammed with people and everything from the elevator doors to the hotel’s support columns to the showcase room doors are festooned with posters of various sizes and competence of execution. Doesn’t matter: Just get that audience corralled any way possible within the law.

Possibly, behind one of those doors or riding that elevator is another Leonard Cohen or maybe Eminem or Drake, on banjo.

Registration for Folk Alliance International continues up to February 12.

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