Every year, it is always nice when the Fall finally arrives in Texas. Although it is still hot thru Halloween, football comes back, festivals crank up and one of favorite events takes place: The Southwest Regional Folk Alliance, also knowns as known as SWRFA.
SWRFA brings together musicians from all over the country to converge on what we like to refer to as a “Family Reunion”! This year HMR had the fearsome foursome return of Ellen and James Klassen, Rose and myself to soak in the vibes and report what we thought was the cream of the proverbial crop for 2015’s version.
There is a saying that goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” This applies wonderfully to the format that we’ve seen for 4 years running. Thursday around 5pm by the pool Berkalin Records lays out a nice spread of picnic like grub with beverages including beer and wine! Pam and Brian Kalinec are such fine hosts-and great people period. That leads up to the cool format of one song only monitored by the irreplaceable Butch Morgan. The dude can bust balls with the best of them and he keeps it rolling until 10pm. This event is excellent to jot down a performer who catches your ear and you can follow them thru the weekend. BM does another one on Saturday from 3:30-5:30pm, too giving the musicians a fair shot to express their talents.
At 10:30pm on Thursday, you get the Showcase Alternates performing 3 songs each which concludes around Midnight. Friday, after a killer lunch from 1:30pm until 3pm, they present First Timers Showcases in 2 different rooms leading up to Afternoon Showcases from 3:30-5:30pm! Ya got all that folks?! SWRFA?! A welcoming party at 5pm followed by delicious din-din at 6pm is followed by Official Showcases from 7:30-10pm emceed by Rich Warren. After that from 10:30pm-??? It is on in rooms on 7-8-9th floors for the sponsored showcases!!! It repeats on Saturday with the same format. The following is what we gathered up to let y’all know what grabbed us…
There was just something special about this cat that made us want to see more. Quality of his voice was wonderful. Loved every song we heard and can’t wait to see more of him down the road. His true to life lyrics paint a very modern view of day to day life full of funny observations. Tunes that stood out were “Hit It Home”and “Do the Best You Can”.
They call themselves “Blue Collar Folk”. Whatever you want to call it it is an infectious sound with good vocals and guitar work. “What Makes Us Do The Things We Do” a rocker of a tune that stuck with us. “Missing You” about losing her dad and “The Dream I Made” hit home about small family farms being eaten up by large corporate farms. Husband and wife duo very entertaining and her harp work was good.
Caught up with this pepper pot of a talented woman in 2014 and she’s only gotten better. Had a major showcase and stole the night! “Let the Heat In” and “Wonder” both killer tunes. “Love As Is” beyond tender gem. Lyric of “We don’t realize the real moments until they pass” was so nail on the head cool. Lady is a songwriting machine. Her major showcase tore the joint down with tunes like “Running with the Gypsies”, “This Won’t Last Forever” and appropriate “Burn It Down” ! The voice quality, energy and pure harmonies fit to fill any venue this lass would want to play in our view. She’s so new and inventive that it is beyond refreshing to catch her gigs.
PAPER MOON SHINERS
Can’t get enough of this talented duo. They’ve been stuck on our shoe for 4 years running and they keep getting better! “Mike the Headless Chicken” the latest classic tune added to their arsenal. “Same Thang” is a bonafide rib tickler! This pair are performers and not just talented musicians! They truly have fun doing what they do so well. Never get tired of the passionate growl on “Come On In My Kitchen” or the bust a gut “Devil” !
Been following this lovable cool duo for a few years now. Crystal’s airy vocals combined with Pete’s mandolin and “banjotar” work is very pleasant to the ear. Highlights included “Bed of Gold” and “Leaving Kerrville” about getting a new lease on life and appreciation of time and friends in our life.
A Canadian who now resides in Austin music scene. She also plays in a band called the Coyotes. Her voice is a fine mix of gravel and wine that draws you in and holds ya! What impressed HMR was when she took her acoustic guitar, flipped it over and played it superbly like a lap steel. This gal has some musical skills. EC sang a song in French that was so nice plus “Stop This Train” killed.
Sweet lady whom we’ve known for a few years now. Caught her a couple times at the Cove in San Antonio and she has a very nice voice with range ta boot. “Don’t Put Me in a Town With More Churches and Bars” about living in a world with lots of diversity along with “Take Off These Dress Boots” stood out.
Cool duo who sport a bluesy touch that is infectious. “The Call” about Philip Seymour Hoffman and “Down the Deep Well” blues jammed very well. Andrew Hardin and Jeanie Burns are not a couple, but a couple of cool true Americana artists. Hardin can let it rip and Burns has some good songwriting chops for sure.
FREDDY & FRANCINE
Good strong two-part harmonies soared to wonderful lengths at their showcase. The old fashioned face-off style using one mike was kind of cool and different. “I Wanna Go Home With You”, “Mama I Told You” and “Running Out of Time” featured an antimated 50’s prom rock cheesey in a good way presentation that gets your attention. La Americana soul goin’ on!
THE FLYIN’ A’S
This down to earth passionate duo has been a friend of HMR for years. Love their upbeat sound and pure passionate stage presence. Stewart and Hillary are such a bonded couple that work off one another effortlessly. No nonsense punch ya in the gut rock style sticks with HMR big time and Stewart can let it rip on guitar when need be. Excellent tunes included “Blood & Bones”, “On Front Porch”, new one “Heaven Help Me Survive” and “This World Won’t Shake Me”. Like my Rose has said: “They are like a gumbo. If it fits in the pot it works!”
This band caught our attention last year, plus at FAI this year. They have a way of taking other band’s music and making it sound like their own. The difference this year is they are doing more of their own tunes as they grow as a unit. All three can rage on their own instruments that form a killer Indie sound in unison. Alyssa Avery is a beast on fiddle backed by Mark Wallace’s reliable stand -up bass which flows behind the arresting vocals of Ian Lubar. “I’ll Go On With You” and “We All Sing a Song From the Heart” were inspiring songs for sure. The major showcase smoked the room with “bombastic “Good Day Sir”, “All I Ever Needed” and “No Disrespect”. To say they have good chemistry and bring energy to the stage is putting it mildly.
The dynamic voice of this weird egg combined with a band was very enjoyable. His music continues to evolve where he can back off having to play Pickles the Clown. “Rats and Sinking Ships” showcased his unique voice. This Dallas based artist can shift gears from thoughtful country ballads to rowdy foot stompers at the drop of a hat. The 4 piece showcase tore it up on “Not In My House”. His latest album, “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted” is a keeper no doubt.
MYSTERY LOVES COMPANY
Houston based Carlos Machado on guitar and Madeline Herdeman on cello combine to bring an effortless and intricate sound that is full of good harmonies. They have a diverse and edgy sound which gets better the more we see them. “Sister One”and “Take It All in Stride” were all nice songs. The duo met at the venerable McGonigels Mucky Duck and the groundwork looks laid for a nice experience in the future.
BRIAN ASHLEY JONES
This Nashville based guitarist was head and shoulders the best axe player at SWRFA. We’ve known him for years now and he’s a stud good person, too. “Carolina Dream” is a beautiful tune that is full of killer licks. He’s a s smooth as silk and jumps in with many performers to back up and fortify their shows, too.
Wow. To say I did not cover everything would be putting it mildly, but it is true. Unless you show up and go thru the whole weekend you’ll never know how wonderful the experience really is. Heart felt love permeates throughout the event led by the “Queen of the Ball” Dalis Allen! I really cannot say enough about this woman. It was a very good sign for me when thee FIRST person I ran in to at the check in counter was Dalis herself!
Never have I seen a person personify passion and dedication to making people feel welcome and happy. Supportive does not quite cover it to this reviewer, but it will have to do. Her whole staff feeds off her undying will and emotion and HMR’s hat is beyond off to them. Music is of course the major component of SWRFA, but all the bases are covered at the conference from education on touring, networking, advocacy, field and professional development, and consumer development. The mission statement says it all: To nuture, engage and empower the international folk music community-traditional and contemporary, amateur and professional-through education, advocacy and performance.
Here’s hoping HMR has done a small bit to enhance the hard working musicians who bring warmth and meaning to our lives. We’ve got late September circled if Dalis will have us back…God Bless all caring music loving people in the world!