Written by Eddie Ferranti
The month of September brings us Labor Day, the resumption of school, the beginning of Fall and of course football season. For Rose and I it also brings an event that has become quite special to us for five years running called the Southwest Regional Folk Alliance in Austin, Texas. This year marked the 17th Annual and again was held at the fine confines of the Holiday Inn. The format has remained the same and for good reason. It works.
Thursday it opens with Open Mic and Pool Party hosted by Berkalin Records with good grub and libations. The incomparable Butch Morgan runs this baby smooth as silk adding comedy and killer guitar work when the moment presents itself. This is an excellent way to hear over 4 hours of musicians do one song that hopefully catches your ear. After that the Official Showcase Alternates Concert takes place emceed by Charlie Stewart. 5pm-Midnight and that’s just Day One! That segue ways into the next two days jam packed with chances to catch artist’s showcases in hotel rooms and ballrooms from 1:30pm to the wee hours. SWRFA feeds you throughout the weekend where mingling and partaking of delicious food is an added bonus! We fondly refer to it as our “Family Reunion” where we get to catch up with old friends and meet new ones in this beloved musical world we’re fortunate to be part of.
Joining us again this year were fellow HMR mates Ellen and James Klassen. We’ve joined forces to present our 2016 “Dirty Dozen” of acts that stayed with us and deserve special mention. Here ya go………..
This dynamic duo made points for being the farthest travelers to SWRFA from the UK! They harmonize so well and actually have a five piece band back home. Tender tunes were “Don’t Pull Away”, “You See Me Through”, “A Thousand Miles” and “James Song” stayed with me. They anchored a major showcase and killed it! The energy generated by this Americana yet traditional country sound is captivating, especially up close and personal. You won’t meet two sweeter and cordial individuals than Rebecca and Simon. We were so fortunate to get a glimpse of them in Houston also at Anderson Fair shortly after SWRFA to confirm how magnetic their gigs can be! Easy pick for Dirty Dozen #1.
This Canadian trio of ladies got our attention at the Thursday “one and done deal” with an acapella stunner ”Mama Don’t Like My Man”! Jess Rae Ayre, Amber Rose and Michelle Anderson all sing and play instruments very well. They knocked me for a loop again IN the area in front of the elevator on first floor with captivating version of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody”. These women have been charming audiences since 2009 and are a popular roots/pop group in Canada. They also tore it up at a major showcase and showed such appreciation for the love bestowed upon them in Texas. “Middle Ground” was a goodie! Here’s hoping America sees more of them in the future.
SWEET SHINE & HONEY (RACHEL LAVEN)
Rachel Laven has been on our radar for years. It was so nice to see her “dirty up” her act and let loose with a unique mix of raspy country rock growl wrapped around a modern take on traditional bluegrass. Nothing better than a hot chick and great players backing her charismatic non-strumming guitar style either! “Wildfires” was a bonafide keeper at their impressive major showcase. This is a “Newgrass” super group of Steven Sellers (banjo, guitar mandolin), Sam Snavely (bass) and Addison Freeman handling fiddle. Laven won 2016’s Kerrville New Folk Songwriting Competition which is no small feat indeed. Let’s hope this Lone Star State foursome keeps the momentum going and scores big with their foot- stompin’ fun.
This Canadian lady got our attention with her rockin’ sound. Saying she was across the way from DEE-troit was cool and her energy wrapped around tender lyrics scored major. She also has a side project called Bosco with a CD titled “I Think I’ll Lose My Mind Today” which fits this off the wall woman. I stole an observation from her about myself at SWRFA when she said: “You are like a drone hovering over the proceedings gathering information!” Girl can play the guitar and is far from a strummer. Another winner from north of the border.
We’ve been on the trail following this down to earth lady for years. She’s a seventh generation Texan who wears it on her sleeve with her engaging personality and flair. She nailed a major showcase with four players, including Brian Kalinec, who compliments her quite well on underrated guitar work. “Put Me Out of My Misery” shined and her confidence seems to grow the more we see her especially on the big stage! What you see is what you get with LK and it is all good from our vantage point.
LYNN LANGHAM WITH DOUG GILL
This very talented lady has written songs and performed with powerhouse performers the likes of Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, Albert Lee, Todd Snyder and Rodney Crowell. “Old Yellow Moon” scored an Emmy in 2014 on Harris and Crowell’s duet album! Coupled with Gill they produced a spooky bluesy kind of cool that helped them score well both at a major showcase and in- room gigs. Her smooth strong and silky voice along with keyboard playing enhanced the performances. It was a mesmerizing sound that stuck with us and will be sought after down the road for sure.
This talented lady reached out to us before SWRFA asking us to give her a look. Glad she did from the Thursday Open Mic to her room gigs. Girl brought a portable piano and killed it in a New Orleans style jazzy blues that didn’t seem to be able to come from such a youthful reserved woman! Her pipes were ample and her style could easily fit from coffeehouses to bigger stages with ease. Versatile is an understatement with her for sure playing banjo and acoustic guitar, too. Really would love to catch her trio she sports back east.
This Oklahoma trio of ladies features twin sisters Sophia and Grace Babb along with their friend Nia Personette. Their silky sweet harmonies wrapped around fiddle and guitar backing was a pleasant sound indeed. They are really making an impact in Oklahoma’s nationally respected indie music scene. In fact they were the youngest performers to ever play Oklahoma City’s famous Blue Door which sold out in five days. The ladies exude a strong stage confidence that defies their young ages. Tender Americana is a nice monikor to label their fluffy presentation which makes you smile! The major showcase they put on sure did that to this reviewer.
This is another performer we’ve had the pleasure of seeing in various locations over the years. The lady can do sentimental blues to jazz and then shift to Hendrix type licks in one sitting. The Sydney, Melbourne native exudes a quiet confidence and sports a crisp clear voice on tunes like “Dig Two Graves Mister” and “Spring Cleaning in the Winter time”. She penned yet another gem with Nashville stud David Olney called “Devil In The Middle” which had a 1930’s vibe to it which was sweet. Her effortless folk rock sound worked quite well at her major showcase and it is no wonder she’s hanging in Nashville these days pumping out albums-six to date!
Cori Minor and Ray Smith have become a fixture the past few years at SWRFA flying under the radar, but not un-noticed for sure. The Colorado hippy duo is as low key cool as you can get and their “Blue Collar Folk” resonates well in the cozy confines of SWRFA. “Willing” was a catchy tune that stuck with us. Cool raw 60’s sound wears well on them and we were impressed how they searched HMR out to say hey! Let’s hope they are a constant repeat for us at this event and more down the road hopefully.
Talk about a no brainer again to make our list! This charisma laden duo grabs ya by the neck and slaps you silly for short bursts of fun! Hillary Claire Adamson exudes enough “pizzaz” to heat a building and her low key cool hubby Stuart compliments so well. Their latest album,”You Drive Me Crazy”, is chocked full of goodies like “Little Miss Tumbleweed”, “I Won’t Stop Loving You” and “Mr. Blue”. On top of that it was announced that this killer couple has joined the already strong board of Folk Alliance. They’ve been behind the scenes helping at seminars for years and it will be a major plus having them on the Dalis team! The song “We Won’t Back Down” personifies the upbeat wonderful attitude these two carry with them always. Looking forward to Barnes’ House Concert in Tomball,Tx 1/28/17.
SULTANS OF STRING
An instrumental group seemed an odd fit at a folk alliance, but this Toronto,Ontario duo tore it up and left people’s jaws open after their flaming 3 song major showcase! Very mesmerizing sound that kept you glued to the stage as the fiddle smoked and guitar burned. “Will You Marry Me” was a keeper tune. Their combination of Spanish flamenco, Arabic folk, Cuban rhythms ,and French Manouche gypsy-jazz was a potent “Molotov cocktail” that exploded and brought on a standing ovation at the end of the set!
VERY HONORABLE MENTION TO THE FOLLOWING:
Marina Rocks, Ordinary Elephant, DC Bloom, Tia McGraff, Dan Aiken, Paper Moon Shiners, Kristen Maxwell, Matt Harlan, Margie Allen, Friction Farm, Val D’Alessio, Mike & Amy Aiken, Bethel Steele, Eric Richard Stone, Ken Gaines, Brian Ashley Jones, Mare Wakefield & Nomad, KC Clifford, and Billy Crockett.
YIKES. Of course there is really no way to acknowledge all of the artists in this review, but hopefully we turned your head to the ones we did. The goals of the Folk Alliance remain in place and it is working. Education, networking, advocacy, field development, professional development and consumer development were all covered in one way or another. Seminars, mentoring and panel discussions help first timers as well as vets in the business to further enhance their respective careers.
2016 has been a rough year for Rose and myself, but SWRFA came at the RIGHT time to help us out of our stressful state of mind. COUNTLESS warm hugaroos of love wrapped around heartfelt music is a very powerful thing. Of course none of this Family Reunion would be possible without the Queen Bee Dalis Allen and her marvelous caring staff! The woman amazes me more every year with her endless caring and genuine personality that just will not let you have a bad time. She seems to be everywhere all the time fresh as a daisy! Her work force carries the same work ethic and it is a special experience indeed. SWRFA had 290 paid this year with over 50 newbies! That is a very positive sign of how well it is going under the leadership of Dynamic Dalis. By the way, I was beyond touched when she not only asked me to assist her Saturday evening in passing out the raffle winners, but also the kind words she had for Houston Music Review! We pride ourself on being non-profit since 2001 and all about helping musicians who happen to be some of the coolest folks on the planet. Count us in for 2017…………With love, Edge Rose, James and Ellen.