Written by James Killen

I became aware of the SWRFA (SouthWest Regional Folk Alliance) organization sometime after I got involved with Houston Music Review. It still took me a while to attend my first conference, but when I did the whole experience just kind of rushed over me. I’ve now attended two of the annual gatherings in Austin and am a firm believer that SWRFA is an invaluable resource for folk musicians in addition to being a great entertainment event and a generally cool place full of cool people.

Ken Gaines and Brian Kalinec, both active in the annual shindig in Austin, decided that Houston could use a little taste of the SWRFA love and co-opted Mark Zeus of The Americana into hosting it. Adding to the spirit of the gathering were Dalis Allen and a number of the SWRFA board members that drove in from all parts of the state. The day started out with two panels of music supporters. The first included folks from Kerrville Folk Festival, Songwriter Serenade, SWRFA, and Music Doing Good which all have opportunities that include participation by musicians. Charlie Stewart, a Texas music career manager and consultant brought his experience to the panel. Steve Ray of the Texas Music Office talked about some support that is available from the governor’s office to encourage the music industry in Texas. There was also Erin Rogers of TALARTS.org which is an organization of lawyers and accountants that have banded together to provide pro-bono advice to artists.

The second panel had folks from KPFT, Visionary Heights, Houston Live, the Houston Folk Music Archive, the Houston Songwriter’s Association, Nashville Songwriter’s Association International (Houston Chapter) and others. All of these organizations have events or ongoing services that support the musical artists in the area.

Not all of the panel members were musicians though some were, as well as the many of the folks that were organizing and running the event. They were more experienced professionals that had learned the ins and outs of the music business and found the places where help and support were available. They were giving their time to those that are interested in turning their talents toward a more productive and possibly profitable musical career. That’s just the kind of folks that you meet at a SWRFA event.

Of course it wasn’t all about the networking. If you get this many musicians together there is bound to be some music and Ken and Brian had lined up a nice variety of Houston talent to entertain us. It started off with Mystery Loves Company doing their unique blend of classical, jazz, rock and pop. They were followed by up and coming Amanda Pascali lending her fine voice to what she calls Immigrant American Folk Music. Charles Bryant took the stage with three of his familiar standards and a brand new tune all annotated by that down home Pasadena drawl. Susan Elliott shared her pop folk vocal stylings accompanied by Wayne Wilkerson on guitar. Susan Van Buskirk was next with her poignant lyrics and rich vocal tone and texture. The local music flavor was closed out by Bill Aspinwall, Mike Darnell and Jeff Hoofard of JP Hops House’ house band, the Hard Times Troubadours.

There was a bit of a break before the elders took the stage. Those of us who stuck around were treated to a song swap between Brian Kalinec, Connie Mims Pinkerton, and Ken Gaines with Wayne Wilkerson tossing in some licks. The four of them were so comfortable together that it was like a reunion show. Good vibes abounded until ten or so when us older folks were starting to think about bedtime after a thoroughly productive day.

The day’s objective was to introduce more singer songwriters in Houston to SWRFA and many of the other music related organizations and resources that are available to them. What is apparent to this bystander is that musicians have a very supportive community to fall back on. Competition is not the dominant attitude among them, but rather cooperation. There is a feeling that rising tides lift all boats for the community and folks are ready to help. I hope that we see a few more of the new faces from this event attend the next regional SWRFA event.