Written by James Killen
Another SWRFA has come and gone. Another weekend of fun, fellowship, networking and music was had by many in the Holiday in at the junction of 290 East and IH35. While HMR has been represented at the conference for a number of years, personally, 2018 was only my second SWRFA experience. Still, being the second time here I knew a little better what to expect and I was able to see several of the same participants with a perspective of a year’s growth in their art.
Our attendance began with Thursday night’s meet and greet, hosted by Brian and Pam Kalinec. This year, due to cooperative weather, we were able to enjoy the evening by the pool with a cold cut buffet and an open mic where each of the attendees was able to perform one of his/her compositions. A number of the participants chose their songs in light of the day’s news coverage of the Kavenaugh/ Blasey-Ford hearings. These are folk singers, after all, and ignoring a current event of that magnitude was not likely.
The poolside performances closed down at 10 PM and we moved indoors to the Elm Room for the alternates showcase. Featured were Cari Ray and Shaky Legs, Flagship Romance, Kyle Donovan, Kora Feder, Susan Cattaneo (with Brian Kalinec) and Ronny Cox (singer/song-writer and costar of Deliverance). The first four performers were young and new to SWRFA and brought diverse new talents to the mix, while the last two are SWRFA veterans and always welcome performers.
Friday morning the seminars started. This year’s presentations seemed to focus more on the business side of a career in music. There were discussions on how and when to hire an agent, how to expand the fan base, using the internet and opportunities to ask more experienced pros how to make it in the biz. There were also seminars on developing musical talents like singing harmony and Bill Nash’s multiple capo techniques. Of course there was the “Wisdom of the Elders” with Bob Cheevers, Johnny Nicholas, and Austin’s Bill Johnson.
After lunch, there were more seminars, but the HMR crew split up to enjoy some First Timers’ showcases on the 9th floor. It gave each of the newcomers a chance to do a ten minute set without having to play opposite some of the more well-known and established performers. There was plenty of fresh talent to be enjoyed, followed by a couple of hours of showcases that included some of the veteran performers.
At five, we returned to the Elm Room where a media reception was in progress. While HMR represented print media, there were a number of radio DJ’s in the room. This was an opportunity for singer/songwriters to get their music in front of the folks that could get the names on the air or in print. Tom Tranchilla represented Houston’s KPFT for his Songwriter’s Studio, airing Sunday evenings. When you think about it, radio shows that feature folk music are rare these days and the opportunity to get in front of several of them at the same time was invaluable. HMR received a number of recordings at this meeting and we will have an article featuring a number of them once there has been time to give them all a fair listen.
After dinner was the Friday night Official Showcase in the Hill Country Ballroom. Johnny Nicholas was a late addition to the published lineup of Scott Cook, Byrd & Street, Mike P. Ryan, T Buckley, Dave Ray Cecil, Suzie Vinnick, the Cowboy Way and the Flying A’s. The entertainment was diverse and highly talented. This was followed by the in room showcases, thirteen in all, that stretched the evening into the early morning hours.
Saturday morning began with a continuation of seminars that broke for lunch and then began again in the afternoon. Saturday afternoon also brought the conclusion of the poolside open mic (which was moved to the Elm Room due to rain.) featuring those that had not gotten their opportunity on Thursday evening. Kudos are due to John Whipple for taking over Butch Morgan’s responsibility for sound this year and for the fine job that he did.
Dinner on Saturday evening was also the occasion for raffle drawings which were for various services that musicians would be interested in, as well as free registration for other regional folk alliance conferences, as well as the International Conference to be held in Montreal this year. The Saturday Official Showcase followed featuring Nancy Beaudette, Andrew Delaney, Claudia Nygard, Jaime Michaels, Ben Bedford, Helene Cronin, Clint Alphin, Jenny Reynolds and the duet of Joanna Howerton and Michael Cross. Again the talent was amazing and diverse. Some of those that stood out most to the staff of HMR that was in attendance will be detailed in our annual SWRFA Baker’s Dozen at the end of this article. The evening concluded with another late night smorgasbord of in-room performances.
Sunday was the almost anticlimactic close of the conference at a fine brunch where artists were able to perform their new compositions written in response to the song prompts that they received at registration.
This being my second year to experience SWRFA, I found a new perspective comparing the two. There were newcomers to the industry of performing publicly, like Jeanine Higgins and Marcus Abrahams. Last year their demeanors were somewhat timid. This year the growth in confidence of performing and trying out new compositions was commendable. The Minnesota folk country duo of Pushing Chain, connected at last year’s conference with Bill Kirchen and Mark Hallman and coopted them into the team to produce their new album, “Sorrows Always Swim”.
I also noticed that one couldn’t go far at this conference without coming across the contributions of “some guitar player” named Brian Kalinec. In addition to sponsoring the Thursday night open mic and buffet, he accompanied a number of the listed performers like Susan Cattaneo and the Cowboy Way when key members of their bands were not able to make the evening. His keen ear and adept talent for improvisation were in great demand while he preferred to remain quietly in the background.
Of course all of the attendees appreciate the efforts of Dalis Allen and her staff for putting on the whole shindig. Their attention to detail and schedule made the whole experience a most enjoyable one. Thank you for seeing to all of our needs and most of our wishes in a most hospitable way.
The 2018 SWRFA Baker’s Dozen
Eddie Ferranti, James Klassen and myself, each came up with a list of our most notable performing artists for the weekend. After combining them we came up with a list of the thirteen that we found most memorable. This was not an easy choice to make and so many excellent artists were considered but left off in the interest of brevity. In any case the Baker’s Dozen are:
Suzie joined us from Canada bringing her bold blues music with her. She rocked some amazing blues licks on her acoustic guitar and Brian Kalinec’s electric bass at Friday night’s showcase and serenaded us with her sexy vocal talents. Suzie seemed to be everywhere at the in-room showcases. This lady is one talented entertainer.
Howerton and Cross
This talented duo brings a gentle pop blues sound with just a touch of accordion to suggest a Southern Louisiana origin. Michael Cross’ rich vocals and acoustic guitar is aptly complimented by Joanna Howeton’s squeeze box and vocal harmonies. They just make you feel all warm inside.
The Flying A’s
Austin’s own dynamic duo, the Adamsons always deliver excitement and entertainment. Stuart playing amazing guitar riffs with Hillary’s undaunted enthusiasm have been a staple fare at SWRFA for years and this year they were right in their groove.
Cari Ray and Shaky Legs
These young ladies joined SWRFA for the first time this year bringing a bluesy, country feel rooted in southern folk music, all with percussion. At times I thought I caught bits of influence from Michelle Shocked and the Indigo Girls. They even brought a bit of yodeling.
The Paper Moonshiners
This act is unique in the performance sense as Elena Antinelli plies her dramatic expression to the accompaniment of Frank Meyer’s talented roots guitar. Many of their songs waft vintage and recall times long past. Their shows are always entertaining and I dare you to sit through one with a straight face.
Although Marcus is no youngster, he is just starting to get his groove as a performing artist. He has written some original songs that tap into some deep primal source that draw the listener into his vision using imagery and timing to bring his point home. His stuff is well worth a listen.
From the Dallas area, Helene writes like a seasoned veteran. Her style skirts the edge of Nashville country, but like Mary Chapin Carpenter, keeps a folk tone that deals very directly with feelings and subjects unabashedly.
Grifters and Shills
This Houston couple is firmly rooted in blues, country and gospel, but have ventured out to the edges of rock and roll and beyond. They are high energy performers with a winning sense of humor that puts a warm smile on audiences of all kinds.
Boyd Blomberg and Adam Moe bring an energy to their fiddle driven country and honky-tonk that won’t be ignored. They are promoting their latest production, “Sorrows Always Swim”, which these Minnesota lads travelled all the way to Austin’s Congress House studios to produce.
Scott is another Canadian attending this year’s conference. He brings a bigger than life persona to the stage and humorous lyrics delivered with a huge grin. It is hard not to be dragged into this man’s agenda of fun.
Jenny is a serious songwriter. Her songs are no nonsense representations of her observations in life. Ms. Reynold’s songs are finely crafted and thoughtfully presented with the intention of delivering her ultimate message.
There were a number of other singer/ songwriters that were in our discussions including, but not limited to Clint Alphin as an all-around talented writer and performer, Andrew Delaney for his quirky creativity, Johnny Nicholas for keeping the roots blues idiom alive and pertinent, Shanna in a Dress for witty lyrics and twists, Eric Gerber for his guitar work on his fine compositions, Libby Koch for her excellent songs and bold performances and J Michael Laferty for stage presence and story-telling.
It seems that we have just finished another SWRFA conference and now are already looking forward to next year’s meeting, which, by the way, has already been scheduled. It’s time to start thinking about getting your folky self to Austin for one of the greatest experiences you are likely to get in life. See you there. Peace.