Written by Eddie Ferranti
ImageFor the third time in our musical lives, Rose and I strapped it on and covered Folk Alliance International in frigid Kansas City.

The best way to describe thee event correlates to a ride I used to love at my local amusement park when I was a kid called the Tilt-A-Whirl !  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilt-A-Whirl  just whirls you around sending you into a blur existence for a short time until the ride “ends”.  Well the “ride” lasted up to ten hours a day for four days in KC and somehow we survived to tell the story to my musical friends!

The pace is non-stop and you must have a game plan in place to check out the countless number of talented musicians gathered in one place.  The Westin and Sheraton worked together to have at least 10 major showcases a day from 6:30-10:30pm followed by in room action until the wee hours of the morning.  Oh yeah-plus 2-4pm every day also and thats not counting the Exhibit Hall, workshops, silent auction, top notch speakers like Rita Coolidge and many panel sessions to boot!   It is an experience like no other where five minute conversations are priceless “get togethers” meeting people who are all constantly on the move.  Oh, and don’t be fooled by the word “folk”.

This isn’t a Pete Seeger reunion with flower power and acoustic guitar strumming. We’re rockers at heart and FAI fills that void and then some!

The weather was a nightmare of cold, but the music more than made up for it indoors where it was hot and wild.  Like HMR has done before, a sampling of a “Top Ten” seems to fit the bill to acknowledge some of thee outstanding acts we were fortunate to see followed by Honorable Mentions.  Here’s hoping this tickles your fancy and gets you to come in 2016……….


ImageI was fortunate to latch onto this lively 5 piece band per a tip from the owner of McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, Rusty Andrews, from Houston.  There is no better front person than Erin Zindle who not only is the singer and songwriter, but plays multiple instruments including mandolin, violin and accordian.  She floats around like a lil bird hoppin’ & goin’ as she plays chirping away backed by her brother jammin’ on guitar T.J. Zindle, Dan Jones on bass, drummer Jon Brown and percussionist Randall Moore. To say they had energy and enthusiasm would be an understatement for sure.  Upbeat tunes like “Looking Out My Window” bonded the band tightly with the audience and they were straight forward all business rockin’ everytime I had the pleasure to catch them!  EZ’s quirky cuteness and smile stayed with us long after FAI was over and we’re longing to catch this act again big time………


ImageThis rootsy rocking five piece had a sound that was anything but folk for sure. Lead singer Amanda Anne Platt had a lively Patsy Cline flavor to her voice and the slide guitar / pedal steel by Matt Smith with the mandolin of Tai Taylor were spell bounding good.  Their tunes had a build up feel that crept up and got you foot stompin’ and dancin’ by the time they concluded. “Me Oh My” is their new release threaded with themes of love, loss, acceptance and regrowth coming out in April.  It should be a winner for this hard working jammin’ band who have been.together since 2007 and seem to be carving a very nice niche across the states.  Platt is a talented songwriter and here’s wishing the best for them…………


ImageWe’ve been following the trail of this “different” and very talented duo since we crossed paths at the Southwest Regional Folk Alliance in 2012. It is rare indeed in our fast paced music world to lock on to a band that grabs you and won’t let go like PMS did to us this trip.  Laughing and music are two things in life that keep me sane (or insane?!) and you get plenty of both with these cut-ups for sure.  Elena Antinelli can get down and blow out the blues or make trombone noises sometimes in the same song!  Frank Meyer has a baritone booming voice that he tosses out to compliment EA’s shoo-fly rasp often in comedic rhapsody that has to be seen to be believed.  Plus Meyer is one bad ass string man who can shred on guitar or switch to ukelele and knock your proverbial socks off.  Tunes like the “Head”, “Minnie the Moocher”, “Git”, “Come in My Kitchen’ and “Dagnabit” are just a few gems that make you belly laugh or out and out sing-a-long to your heart’s content.  HMR applauds the genre restoration of epic music that can still hold a room of all shapes and sizes and entertain your butt off.  Oh yeah-if you can hold a straight face throughout a whole sitting, I’ll give ya a million buckaroos!   To say this act is on our list of life is putting it mildly……….


ImageThis Buckeye native has been a keeper for us and it was so nice to finally track down this talented down to earth woman!  Her amazing clarity, control and projection of her voice is spine tingling good.  She wears her heart on her sleeve in a good way and her voice is like an instrument with lots of polish and warmth.  Her showcase performance with Sam Baker had her prancing like a lil girl and dominating the gig like a Broadway production.  Accolades include Texas Magazine naming her as Artist of the Year and Maverick Magazine had this to say: “On stage Elkin was simply a force of nature.”   Rarely do I see an artist who brings me to tears and gives me goose bumps in the same song.  Memorable tunes were “When the Lights Are Off”, stunning “My Brother Said She’s the One” and tender “When I Did” an ode to her hubby Danny Schmidt with emotional lyric “When I die let them judge me by my company of friends”…….Honored to call this special performer one of mine…………


ImageThis Lawrence, Kansas native has been around doin’ good things since the early 80’s earning a cult like following from Alt Country BR549 to present excellent squad he’s touring the world with The Grassy Knoll Boys.  We were catching this classic cat for the seventh time he and seems to be getting more polished-and rockin’-every time.  Mead scored heavily with Tony Award winning Broadway musical ‘Million Dollar Quartet” as the musical director, which we’re seeing for the second time in June (Galveston, Tx.). The hoppin’ hillbilly honky tonk hussle he puts into tunes like “Devil By My Side”, “Neosho Valley Sue” where Tilt-A Whirl is mentioned and killer “Slow Train Thru Arkansas” is so smooth and enjoyable.   Carco Clave flat out brings it on pedal steel to compliment Mead’s guitar prowess.  The last two times I’ve caught this gent I’ve spent some quality time “shootin’ the breeze” in a parking lot loading his van in Conroe, Texas talking about how Bob Seeger had it right on “Turn the Page” and then in a stairwell in KC @ FAI lauding him on how he handled FAI staff member “keeping time” on his gig!   Priceless down to earth fellow who is always on our must see list.   “Free State Serenade” is his latest and strongest album to date and it remains in my CD player in my truck………….


ImageThis was the second year in a row these guys killed it at a major Showcase @ FAI. One of the best descriptions I’ve seen for them is a punk blues band being a string bluegrass jug band !  Burly bearded leader Ian Craft leads the way on engaging banjo, fiddle works and even bass drum foot stompin’.  Ben Plasse nailed the bottom on stand up bass and Jared Green jammed on guitar and mouth harp-plus did some nifty dancing on a sawdust coated wooden plank, too!  They play one way and that is in-your-face non-stop energy “rockgrass”.  Their latest CD, “Trouble”, is another I cannot take out of my player.  Each fuzzy faced dude pulls their own weight and tore it up on tunes like “Whitehouse Blues”, “Hard Times”, “Troubled Waltz’ and superb ‘Night and Day”.   HB avoid the repetitive sound of most bluegrass bands going all over the board on their latest album.  To show their talent they are from NY via Nashville and Craft’s drawl belies his home roots. It is that diversity and uniqueness that makes this squad a winner for years to come…………….


ImageHMR caught this dynamic duo last year at FAI and were very interested to see if they’d carry the momentum over to FAI 2015.  They did so and then some!  Room 638 was their “residence” and what we witnessed was rock solid bad ass.  This go around they featured their soundtrack tunes from stellar movie, ‘Rattle the Hocks’, which they showcased twice during the weekend.  Alyssa and Doug Graham are joined at the hip and the results just keep on gettin’ better.  AG’s silky soulful growl blends well with harmonic union of laid back guitar jamming Doug producing a yeah baby feel to the room at all times.  Accompanied by Bill Dobrow on traditional Brazilian rebolo drum made the experience even better adding a consistent bottom to their jam.   Stud tunes were “Griggstown”, “Mama”, sexy as hell cooing on “Biscuits” and bluesy ballad “Tender Anabelle”.  Thee song that I still cannot quit playing though was the party anthem of FAI ,”Glorybound”, with in your face sing it out loud fitting lyrics of : “Sometimes I neeeeeeeeed to put the hammer down!”  The “wow wow” train sound refrains were epic in this party filled room and when the likes of Phil Madeira on guitar and Kyle Dahlquist on trumpet chimed in the joint was off the freakin’ chain!  Hats off to Brian ‘Bongo’ Davis for being such a kind host, too.  This adventurous caring team appreciates the roots of American soul and it shows a plenty………….


ImageThis was another cool band that was anything but folk to us.  The description of a finger pickin’, harmony singin’, tight knit conglomeration is a spot on description! Throw the old fashioned Vickie Carr (dating myself !) style of LL leading the way and this is a happening thang.  Bluesy and smoky pipes blend well with mandolin jams of Joshua Rilko, stand-up rock solid bass of PJ George and antics aplenty from talented dobro jammer Mark Lavengood.  Hell, ML played three different instruments in 3 straight songs!  Their latest album, “Ionia”, sounds great and the progessive rock undertones of this Michigan band makes you yearn to hear more than the thirty minutes we got this night.  House was packed and it was great to see a younger audience at FAI hoppin’ and boppin’ to these cats!  Catch a listen to their song “Smooth and Groovy” when you can. It sums up what New Folk Radio had to say about them quite well: “This is a very unique band, part of the leading edge of the revival and revolution in acoustic music…………..


Image2015 marked the tenth appearance for this band at FAI.  We caught them last year at FAI plus in Houston at Almost Austin House Concerts in December. Doug Williams shreds on acoustic and electric guitar plus vocals, his spunky wife Telisha thumps on bass and vocals plus they added swift drummer Megan Jane this year.  WP tried something new for them and released a single “Love Is Not a Sin” without an album.  It is a goodie and so are they.  Non-stop kick ‘n go by kinky Telisha keeps the action going for sure.  She reminds me in a good way of Martha Davis, the front woman from the 80’s band The Motels. They have a rare blend of being able to rock and be funny at the same time. Then be heartfelt like on “The Truth Is”.    Their tunes cover some heavy topics like sexual abuse and murder, but you’d never know it how they smile and be-bop to their heart’s content.  A highlight of FAI for me was sitting front and center in a private showcase while they just tore the room down.  This ain’t no folk music kids in my book and that’s a damn good compliment!  Their 2013 release, “Things That Used to Be” , garnered widespread critical acclaim, spent 6 weeks in the Top 20 of the AMA Radio chart and over 20 weeks in Top 40.  No accident and hope to see them at #11 in 2016 at least…………

RED MOLLY (Jersey City,NJ  USA)

ImageThis powerhouse trio of sharp lookin’ ladies tore it up in their showcase performance.  Laurie MacAllister on bass,  Molly Venter on acoustic guitar and Abbie Gardner really brought it on dobro mixing with their vibrant harmonies to create a stunning show.  Every part of the gig was crisp and well presented from the acapella “Copper Penny” to the Jonathan Byrd penned “Allright When Its All Wrong”.  Pepper pot Venter foot stomped her way to compliment the awesome dobro that Gardner was layin’ down slide style.  These ladies are very busy hitting stages from Denver to Denmark and “The Red Album” is doing very well for them. It spent 16 weeks on the Americana Radio Top 40, reaching #10, and it was #1 on the Folk DJ Radio Chart for all of 2014.  Hard to label these fine lasses, but gospel rock with an edge and a full on Americana stomp works for me.  They will be our first “find” group to follow-up on when we catch them 3/6/15 in Houston @ McGonigel’s Mucky Duck!   Looking forward to a full gig from these three for sure…………..


AMY McCARLEY (Nashville,TN  USA)

This sweet Alabama native got our attention @ SWRFA in 2014 and continued to impress us.  Her confidence seems to be growing and her guitar playing ain’t no strummin’ son!     Very likeable person who was rubbing elbows with cool folks all weekend and headed to SXSW 2015, too.  “Everybody Wants To”, “Jet Engines” and “Radio On” all cool tunes on her latest CD………..

MOORS AND McCUMBER (Wisconsin & Colorado, USA)

These two talented gents have been on our list since SWRFA 2012.  They “only” brought 8 instruments this go around and believe me they use them all quite well.  “Pandemonium” is their soon to be released new album and look for the review of it soon on HMR.  Two of the most laid back nice guys in the music biz who produce a sound that belies being a duo, especially in the setting that is FAI. “Bend Or Be Broken” and “That Ain’t No Way to Live” perfect examples of how they read each other’s body language, emotions and voices to blend like a snug fitting glove…………


This intense dude came highly recommended and he impressed.  “High On Tulsa Heat” is his critically acclaimed CD and his influences of Neil Young, Tom Petty and Steve Earle ring true in his heartfelt lyrics.  “Figue Out Forgiveness”  and “Come Down From the Mountain” showed off his jammin’ skills and visual reflections major.  Already have my ducats for his 5/31/15 gig in Houston 2 McGonigel’s Mucky Duck!

ROD PICOTT (Nashville,TN  USA)

Had the pleasure of seeing him at Almost Austin House Concerts in December 2014 and we feel late to the party on this masterful songwriting cool cat. “Hang Your Hopes On A Crooked Nail” is his latest release and it has done quite well , reaching #22 and 8 weeks in Top 40 on Americana Music Association most played albums of the year.  Very engaging personality who will be sought out from now on for sure………..


This Canadian native multi Juno Award winning artist knows his way around a guitar and then some.  This was our third time to see him at FAI and all ya have to witness is “Rattlesnake Cage” to get what he’s all about! “Photograph” showed off his deep vocals adn with Jeremy Holms on stand-up bass he killed it on “Won’t You Try a Little Silver” and “Somebody’s Got to Help You”. Hopefully move to the states will blossom his already good career………..


Alt-country, blues and folk wrapped into one, featuring a crackejack Nashville guitar wizard like Brian Ashley Jones, and you have a dynamic combo of fun.  Dude tours non-stop across North America and Europe.  He has a cool sense of humor and a cool hat, too!   “Out of My Mind” was stellar and the good storytelling along with jammin’ = success………….


Caught this trio at SWRFA and the follow-up look we caught continued the momentum.  Their feel good down home set with SONiA was outstanding to behold. Intense guitar and vocal leadership of Ian Luber, cheery faced stand-up bass deliverance by Mark Wallace and the bubbly always glowing fiddle work of Alyssa Avery is an intoxicating experience.  Looking forward to their H-Town date at JP Hops House 3/12/15………….


FAI program said this: They arrange a demented blend of Americana, punk, dance, and the avant-garde described as a metal band if it was 1927.  Could not say it better!  The likeable strong stage presence of rubber faced MJ , who multi-tasked big time with scrub board / drums, had a set of lungs that blew the walls down sans mike!   Very good live experience………..


Their name exudes what they lay out on the stage and that is a rock and roll blues blowout. Banjo pickin’ talent Jones leads a tight outfit that seems destined to make a mrk outside of the Sunshine state for sure.  “Simple Truth” was a keeper of a tune and hope to sample them again soon………..

TIM CHAISSON (Charlottetown,PE  CAN)

Young dude made major waves in his tight rocking set especially on songs like “Don’t Want to Lose You” and “Bad On Me”.  Tim’s cousin Cody Chaisson did downright bad ass on banjo to keep the energy level sky high.  If his forthcoming release in 2015, “Lost in Light”, does as well as his highly acclaimed 2012 album, “The Other Side”, he’ll be heard from a lot more…….

THE SMALL GLORIES (Einnipeg, Manitoba  CAN)

Cara Luft (banjo) and DJ Edwards (guitar) new collaboration has people north of the border buzzin’ for good reason.  His voice was like a grizzly bear with untamed charisma right out of the gate.  CL promised an unique blend of two parts and delivered major league. Energetic and then some on gems “Holding On”, “Time Wanders On” and “Had I Paid” made the set zip by aching for more……………

Yikes.  Before closing got to do one last “Tip of the Hat” to the likes of Bill Kirchen, Rebecca Folsom, Brian Kalinec, Libby Koch, Matt Harlan, DC Bloom, Blackbird Revue, Brandy Zdan, Kelly Mickwee, Jess Klein and Jenni Finlay.  Plus a major shout out to Joelle May and all the wonderful volunteers who made it so nice for us media types throughout the hectic experience!  If you’ve never strapped it on and dove into Folk Alliance International or any of the six regional ones, I highly recommend it.  The love and warmth that permeates from the Westin Hotel staff and everybody who’s there is an experience like no other if you are a true music lover.  February 17-21, 2016 is marked on our calendar and we’ll be there again if they’ll have us.  www.folkalliance.org is the place to get on board.  God Bless and hope this was a good read for you!