Written by Eddie Ferranti – September 26-29, 2019

It is always great when the calendar flips to September for me. Football is back, major league baseball is heading towards the playoffs, and the anticipation of fading the Texas heat finally comes into focus.  That is all great, but the main thing about late September is the annual visit to Austin, Texas for the Southwest Regional Folk Alliance. I have lost track of how many years in a row that I have participated in this wonderful gathering.  Spear headed by “the Queen of the Ball” for twenty years running, Dalis Allen, the event kept the same format.  And why not?   If it ain’t broke why fix it?!

Thursday at 5pm Dinner at the Pool is a buffet of great food laid out by the folks at Berkalin Records , which includes wine and cold beer! Hats off to Brian and sweet Pam Kalinec for sponsoring that delicious deal.  Open Mic by the Pool follows from 6-10pm hosted by Butch Morgan and John Whipple.  which is a one song and done format for the artists who put their name in the jar.  42 artists participated and the return of Butch always makes it a classic affair.  It is a cool way to see if a performer catches your ear so that you can search them out over the next three days.  Plus it is neat to catch up with folks you have not seen for a while. Day one closes out with the Official Alternates Showcase in the Elm Room emceed by Charlie Stewart and sound by John Whipple from 10:30pm-Midnight.  Eight artists are given the floor for 3 songs. Not a bad start to the weekend indeed!

Friday is a buzz saw of a day that kicks off from 9am with concurrent seminars that are most beneficial to the artists themselves. Topics range from helping you find your touring team, first timers advice, distribution, booking, arts funding, showcase tips, and how to find the right venues to play.  After having a killer lunch the seminars steered to writing and instrument playing tips along with a talented list of One-On-One discussions with industry professionals. There is also an open exhibit area where all registered artists can display their goods.

Music gets in full swing with 3 rooms on the 9th floor hosting showcases for First timers only. Then from 3:15-5pm sponsored showcases take place on floors 7-8-9!  The welcoming party (with a free drink ticket) is at 5pm followed by dinner at 6pm. Official Showcases take place from 7:30-10pm in the big Hill Country Ballroom which gives 8 hand qualified performers 3 songs on a big stage with excellent sound emceed by Rich Warren. All bets are off from 10:30pm -??? for in-room showcases which take place on floors 7-8-9!!  This is a stunning way to catch tons of talent up close and very personal.

Saturday is pretty much a carbon copy of Friday except the afternoon only features the one and done pool open mic for those who did not make it Thursday. Twenty seven participated in the Elm Room due to weather issues. Seminars included more tips on vocals, harmony singing, and a great forum on live streaming .  A gem of a panel discussion called “Wisdom of the Elders” moderated by Rich Warren featuring John Lomax III, Bobby Bridger, and Bob Livingston. Then we off to the races catching lots of good music!  Everything is so easy going at this event and love is in the air. When it is all said and done the main focus is hearing artists you know or want to know for the first time. The following is Houston Music Review’s “Baker’s Dozen” of the ones who grabbed us in 2019.  Believe it is hard to cut it down this small, but not enough time to write up all the talent we witnessed.

AMELIA EARHART RETURNS- Texas based “Ameri-grass” acoustic duo of Kristen Hart and Linda Schaible were fun and engaging.  Had a bigger than life feel to them especially in the hotel room setting. Kristen can play her guitar and they harmonize quite well.  Not short on cool hats and “Texas Honey” was a tune that stayed with us for sure.  Hope to see them in Houston down the road….

ALICIA STOCKMAN- This singer-songwriter from Utah made HMR’s Baker’s Dozen in 2018 and found her way here again. Her brazen confidence filled style that she wears on her sleeve grabs you.  You can tell she has been influenced by the likes of Patty Griffin and Susan Tedeschi .  A tune about being a bartender really showed her open and cool attitude. Good guitar on “Full of Grace” and Sheryl Crow type feel on “Courthouse”.  Plus she digs Buc-ees!  Word is that Alicia is working on touring in Texas in 2020.  Hope to be in on that……..

THE WHEELWRIGHTS- They are listed as an acoustic Americana trio out of Austin, but I think they are more than that. The variations we saw of a 4 piece at Alternative Showcase and two piece in rooms showed versatility of upbeat harmonies , soulful tenderness, and “jangled type jams”!  “Stone in the River” was a bad ass tune.

NICOLETTE GOOD- This Texas lady won the Kerrville New Folk artist in 2012. She has been on the HMR radar for years. She has a new release called “Reverie” and “Little Boat on a Wave” was good before that one.  We are lucky she has showed up in Houston and hope to catch her soon.

KARYN OLIVER- This lady’s booming voice got our attention at the Thursday Pool party. On her bio it says she is part Joan Osborne, Janis Joplin, and Emmylou Harris. Well said.  Raspy, soulful, and tender her voice comes after you in a spell bounding manner.  I also had the pleasure to visit with her over some beers and she is genuine neato ta boot!

AMANDA PASCALI- This sweet pop tart of a lady was born in Queens, NY and calls Houston home. HMR has been following her and were quite impressed how far this woman has come as a performer.  Her side kick , Addison Freeman, really enhances the gig with his multiple instrument talents to compliment her sexy and sincere vocals.  Her music has been coined Immigrant American Folk and she is getting her message across quite well. We were also lucky to get to hang with them over libations and it was a treat.

LYNNE HANSON- Any time an artist makes the trek down from Canada to SWRFA it is always a winner. 2019 was no exception when this Ottawa, Ontario based lady amped it up with her bluesy delivery and attitude.  Besides her rockin’ in room gigs,  performing “Gotta Have Rain” unplugged on a table at her Official Showcase was stellar!  Love to see more gigs from this woman for sure.

GRIFTER AND SHILLS- This is another group that made HMR’s Baker’s Dozen in 2018 and slid in again. Or should I say stormed in?!  Nothing gets ya going at SWRFA like a foot stompin’ riot that these two can blow at you!  Fresh off the release of new album, “Pretty Little Secrets”, they seem to be getting better and better enjoying themselves along the way.  Two very nice individuals rat there, too my friends!

JENNY REYNOLDS- This Boston native who moved to Austin in 2003 is a fiery performer whom I known since the infamous Will Sexton room gigs at Folk Alliance International in Memphis. She was hanging with heavy cool company then that got my attention major.  I love her raw sincere and heartfelt delivery.  Been too long and hope to see her more.  Hit her up-she is looking for a house concert near you!

CHERYL CAWOOD- Fresh off HMR’s slick coverage of CC’s latest album (by Jane Ponte) we got to party with this bigger than life fun lady! Check out review-http://houstonmusicreview.com/wordpress/2019/09/21/cheryl-cawood-love-pearl-album-review/

God bless this stay busy woman who is caring as much as she is talented……..

AMERICAN DREAMER- This power house outfit rattled the room in a free for all of Indie folk jamming that was fun to behold. Calling them upbeat swing does not seem to do them justice, but will have to do.  Bud John Egan gave me the tip on them and was sad I only caught them once.  They are coming to Anderson Fair in Houston on 11/19………play a bunch in Austin, too.

BUTCH MORGAN/BRIAN KALINEC- HAD to put these two hard working , fun loving, and TALENTED guitar playing gents on the list. Morgan was back after a one year break and was honored by SWRFA big time for his massive contributions over the years. His sense of humor and hat wearing tickle me to death. Brian is a just a tireless performer who “shows up” seemingly everywhere at gigs! The dude even drove to Brownsville area and back hardly missing a beat at SWRFA.  His duo set with John Egan was a true highlight of this year for us!  God bless them both…….

BIRCH PEREIRA AND THE GIN JOINTS- SWRFA scored another far away winner with this Seattle based threesome. Birch on his deep and dirty bass yukulele was unique and quite effective following shredding lead work of Park Evans! Wrapped all around it was the sexy presence of the opera trained vocals of Jenny Littlefield doing her damnest WOO HOO’s to the crowd’s delight.  “St James Infirmary” was smokin’ hot good.  Sure hope to hear from them down the road of life……

 HONORABLE MENTION- A big lift of a cold one to the following:  Marcus Abrahams,  Jordi Baizan, Langham and Gill, Ken Gaines, Wayne Wilkerson, John Egan, Pushing Chain, Helene Cronin,  Joel McColl, Jaime Michaels, Andrew Delaney, and Tom Tranchilla. PLUS thee entire staff of worker bees who follow the tireless leadership of Queen Bee Dalis!  The hours these folks put in are amazing and we all benefit because of it.

What SWRFA still allows me to do is get off the grid of life and feel loved. Sounds simple and when you attend this “Family Reunion” it is.  Lost track of all the times I heard thee event described as such a loving experience.  In closing Dalis, Brian, Pam, and Ken treated us like gold.  Tears me up thinking about it.  Nice feeling indeed all throughout the building for 72 short hours in our too hectic lives.  God bless live music and events like this…………. http://www.swfolkalliance.org/