Written by Eddie Ferranti – January 22-26, 2020
It had been three years since Rose and I made it to the Folk Alliance International in Kansas City, Mo. We were psyched to come back when we found out it was taking place in New Orleans in 2020. Nawlins has always had a special spot in our hearts and it did not let us down one bit for FAI. Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser and the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area were more than happy to welcome everyone to Louisiana, where folk music and traditions are a way of life. The conference drew some major keynote players in the form of Mavis Staples, Rhiannon Giddens, Ani Difranco, and Mary Gauthier. 2500 people checked into the event on Thursday alone! Plus the FAI paid major tribute throughout the weekend to the sudden passing of one of the greatest American storytellers, David Olney. Stunned was a way to describe how we felt at the news of his passing. Heaven is a better place with that cool dude there.
The takeaway we got from this fabulous stay can basically be described in four words. Talent, guitars, kindness, and fun. You could place the word overwhelming in front of each of those words, too! Full bands one after the other blowing you away for 40 minute concerts in fan friendly gatherings. Watching groups coming from all over the globe giving it their all is an experience that stays with you big time. Calling this a “folk” alliance is not really an actual description of what transpires with electric and acoustic guitars shredding non-stop from 4:30pm until 3am. From the super friendly staff at the Sheraton to the countless volunteers, kindness was an understatement. The warmth of every room host we encountered was awesome. Two that stood out for above and beyond love were the cool folks in Room 1020 hosted by Bloodshot Records, with Maria Ivey being beyond gracious. The other was Room 800 (that it seemed everybody knew about!) the Blackpot Camp Lafayette Louisiana Experience. These killer folks never ran out of Louisiana favorite foods, beer, and Bloody Marys! In fact, this was my first FAI where food and drinks were so plentiful and I’m sure the New Orleans flavor had something to do with it. Well now it is time for Houston Music Review to give you our two cents at what hit us over four days. Believe me you can only do “so” much at a conference of this magnitude, but this is what we would like to convey to you in the form of capsules and an Honorable Mention section.
THE MASTERSONS- To start the weekend at 4:30pm with this stud duo said it all to us. Husband and wife team of Eleanor Whitmore and Chris Masterson have a new album coming out in March titled “No Time for Love Songs”. They did a full set of new stuff and it was sweet indeed. Stoked to see them in Houston in late March at Cactus Records, Mcgonigel’s Mucky Duck, and the Old Quarter Acoustic Café in Galveston.
SIERRA FERRELL- This Nashville based pepper pot of a lady stole our heart. Coupled with a killer fiddle player, her sometimes country sound even sounded eastern European at times. Definitely has a confident and sassy demeanor delivering her old time melodies. We were bummed she cancelled some gigs after her major showcase.
DIGGING ROOTS- This Ontario, Canada seven piece band were a major surprise in a good way. Raven and Sho Shona are the driving force behind this JUNO award winning indigenous sounding rock band. Their sound has been described as global infused blues which is so animated and upbeat complete with ‘round tribal dances’. Could not believe they only played one gig. Glad we caught it.
THE ACCIDENTALS- This Michigan trio currently are hanging their hats in Nashville these days and have been on HMR’s radar for years. Discovered them twice at other FAI and have seen them in Houston twice at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck also. Their bubbling youthful fast paced shows are infectious fun! Their gigs were long line waits SRO blowouts. Hope to see more for sure.
TOW’RS- Five piece folk rock band from Flagstaff, AZ were also full of energy. Humble band that says they like to let the music do their talking. It did with some cool cello and guitar work on display.
AMY McCARLEY & KEVIN GORDON- These two have also been buds of ours for years. AM’s guitar work from her Rice University schooling is far from strumming. Coupled with Gordon’s frisky hooks they were beyond underrated at this event. Amy’s Alabama drawl has a sexy allure that stays with you. Kevin is a Nashville pro period. Felt this showcase was beyond a steal.
BLUE MOON MARQUE- This Canadian blues duo produced a lot of sound for two people. Killer blues guitar and stand-up bass were the featured instruments, but right foot cymbal, left foot bass drum, and even a left hand ring to play another cymbal was amazing by all standards!
BIRDS OF CHICAGO- Another group we are familiar with and love. The chemistry of Allison Russell and JT Nero is fire hot with smooth and Dylan sounding vocals a nice mixture. Adding scorching guitar work of Steve Dawson made this a must see showcase. Judging by the over flow crowd a lot of others thought the same way! AR whipped out the clarinet which was an big bonus. They are a hard touring outfit who are based in Nashville.
RISING APPALACHIA- This Asheville, NC based band was another long line SRO type experience, which was well deserved. Lots of different sounds ranging from Irish to bluegrass to foot stomping rock all influenced by their southern roots. The six piece band has built a legend of listeners independently-they are a self made success story. We caught them multiple times.
SUZIE VINNICK- This Canadian lady has been in our sights for years. Was hoping to catch her with a full band like we have at past FAI, but her prowess on electric, acoustic, and bass is stunning good chops. Charisma flows from this sweet woman always.
DWAYNE DOPSIE & THE ZYDECO HELLRAISERS- A trip to the Big easy would not be complete without some no holds barred Zydeco music. DD burned the ballroom down with some foot stomping insanity. His accordion style has been described as explosive blues with soulful virtuosity leading the world in 21st century Zydeco music. Amen to that!
LOS TEXMANIACS- Grammy winning conjunto Tejano Texas based music four piece band. Melting pot of zydeco, jazz, rock, and traditional accordion fused feel good sounds. Cannot help but feel happy. Josh Baca was doing back flips while his fingers were going 9o miles per hour on accordion!
WILD PONIES- Yet another duo we have followed for years. Friendly fun folks. They were joined by a drummer and it only enhanced their hell bent and gritty sound. Doug and Telishia Williams are joined at the hip from start to finish. With her standup bass swagger to DW’s crunching electric guitar work works big time to deliver a very enjoyable gig. They are based in Nashville, but ooze their Appalachian roots in a rugged and powerful delivery. A must see always for us.
Amilia K. Spicer, Adyne Townes, Tim Easton, Nobody’s Girl, Amy Lafere & Will Sexton, Rebecca Folsom, Alicia Stockman, Sweet Water Warblers, Catherine Macllellan, Terra Lightfoot, Trace Bundy, Hat Fitz & Cara, Brian Kalinec, Jenny Reynolds, Ken Gaines , Leeann Atherton, South Austin Moonlighters, Chris Beall, Amelia Earhardt Returns, Carrie Elkin, Eliza Gilkyson, Grace Pettis, and Jeff Plankenhorn…………
In closing, I left out expanding on the fourth word which was fun. It is quite self explanatory really because that is all we had from beginning to end. Even though Rose and I took ill over this special weekend, we still managed to survive big time to bring home a boat load of good memories. Hugs, handshakes, high fives, and genuine heartfelt smiles were shared until your face hurt. Here’s hoping this recap helps you to go back again in Kansas City in 2021! God bless live music……………GET OFF your duff and support some stuff!