Folk Alliance International Conference says goodbye to KC with February 2024 event

Irish singer/songwriter Grainne Hunt has a powerful voice that easily fills up the room with soulful emotion and original reflective lyrics.

What’s the Power of Music? “I think the power of music is probably connection, because it brings people together. Like you don’t have to understand the song or music to have it resonate with you. You go into a room and play a song or be in a room listening to a song (and) you are moved to tears or it makes you laugh and you connect with the person delivering it.” — Grainne Hunt

The annual conference of Folk Alliance International is a combination music festival, booking fair, industry conclave and tribally-minded support system. Drawing nearly 3,000 attendees to the two Crown Center hotels, the gathering creates an atmosphere of joyous chaos over four days and nights. As the singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman said one day, “There is so much heart in this community.”

There are workshops on business matters such as copyright and royalties, on physical and mental health for touring musicians, and on the craft of songwriting. An abundance of spotlight concerts fills the evening hours in the various ballrooms and meeting spaces of the Westin Crown Center. And then, at precisely 10:30 p.m., the rooms on three floors of the Westin turn into a cornucopia of “private showcases.” These are constantly shifting sessions of 20-minute sets by lonesome troubadours, bouncy string bands and wildly raucous performers. They are largely intimate affairs, given the generally small room sizes, even with beds and other furniture removed. Some promoters and patrons turn suites into compact concert halls with rows of chairs and top-notch sound systems.

Those who make the rounds of the late-night showcases — they typically end at 3 a.m. — come away with feelings of wonder, of exhaustion, of gratefulness in the presence of freshly emerging talent and creation, of belonging.

“Folk” is a very large tent, embracing shy solo guitarists and unabashedly energetic dance bands with global beats. In just a couple or three hours one night, I heard songs delivered in at least eight languages and dialects.

Folk Alliance, headquartered in Kansas City since 2013, will hold its next conference in Montreal, and it’s unclear when the annual show will return to Kansas City.

But relating its appeal is essential. Photographer Dan White here documents the 2024 affair, capturing the human spirit of the late-night showcases and finding many of Folk Alliance’s diverse glories along with a pervasive inner light. Steve Paul

What is the power of music?

Brent Schondelmeyer asked the musicians in each of Dan White’s portraits this simple question, and their answers shared similar thoughts: connections, empathy and a chance to share. Isn’t this the power of music, particularly when its roots are folk?

Adrian + Meredith (the group and the couple’s first names) frequently tackle political topics in their songs. Clogging adds a driving staccato beat to their fast-paced music. The husband and wife currently live in Nashville.

What’s the Power of Music? “It’s the ability to create empathy where there are situations where it is more difficult to create empathy in. It helps open doors to conversations that you can’t really have anywhere else. And that’s why we do it. It’s also just to experience life, and to create joy and have a good time.”Adrian Krygowski | Adrian + Meredith

Louis Apollon, who performs as louie lou louis, brings a soft jazz/folk soothing upbeat approach to his songs. The singer/songwriter lives in Brooklyn, New York.

What’s the Power of Music? “It’s connection and community. It’s about folks realizing that we don’t have (that) much different from each other. It’s about love and connection. That’s what music is. And people. That’s it.”Louis Apollon | louie lou louis

David Amram defies description. He wants you to know he is 93 years old — hard to believe — but how
else could he have such a varied career: composer, friend of the beat poets, sideman for jazz greats and
a cultural icon — a story recounted in his memoir “Vibrations.”

What’s the Power of Music? “It’s a mystery… I don’t understand it, but I can feel it and other people can feel
it and it’s always amazing.

“It’s like seeing the sunset… or somebody saying, ‘What is beauty?’ and you are supposed to define what’s beautiful. And the answer is: ‘You can’t.’

“It’s a mystery, but it’s real and you can feel it and other people can feel it in their own way. It’s what they call in ancient religions ‘the great unknown’ but it’s powerful.” David Amram

The husband and wife duo Over The Moon — their roots are in Alberta, Canada — relish bringing cowboy music and western swing to new audiences and those who grew up on the traditional music.

What’s the Power of Music? “It’s everything. It’s inspiration. It’s healing. It’s memory, like songs trigger memories like photos. To us it is everything. It’s our job. It’s more than that.”Craig Bigwell | Over The Moon

“And triggering emotions in people any time… sadness, happiness, joy. I love bringing joy to people, especially in a world that is not so joyful sometimes.” — Suzanne Levesque | Over The Moon

El Pony Pisador (Spanish for Prancing Pony) derives its name from an inn in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” The Barcelona band drew lots of audience engagement with their high-energy performances during their first appearance at Folk Alliance International.

(left to right) Ramón Anglada Jaraquemada, Guillem Codern Cortada, Martí Selga Ruíz, Miquel Perez Terrón and Adriá Vila Mitjà

What’s the Power of Music? “For us, it’s the power to travel without moving.”Ramón Anglada Jaraquemada

“It’s kind of a superpower. You can have material and physical effects on people that might be far away in the world or far away in time. You make people laugh, or cry or get goosebumps which is kind of a physical thing and you are not in the place . . . so it’s kind of a superpower.”Miquel Perez Terrón

Beau Bledsoe is the center of Ensemble Ibérica, an ever-changing ensemble of musicians (three or more) assembled from different continents. The group is anchored by stringed instruments — acoustic guitars (of all varieties) and cello — and they convey the music of Iberia, Mexico, Turkey and South America. And it works.

What’s the Power of Music? “The super power it has had in my life is breaking down international barriers. It’s a fast lane to empathy. If you show up with your guitar and you know some of their songs, it’s the fast track to the dinner table. Its primary function to me is to connect.” — Beau Bledsoe | Ensemble Ibérica

Photos by Dan White

Dan White is a Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer with a photojournalistic perspective that permeates his commercial, editorial and artistic images. Dan literally sees the world — not only through the lens of his experienced camera — but with the heightened awareness of one who travels internationally to better understand himself through others’ faces and places.

Captions by Brent Schondelmeyer

Brent Schondelmeyer is a writer, journalist and historian whose most recent project was the photo exhibit “Click: Two Decades One Community” at Englewood Arts.

KC Studio

KC Studio covers the performing, visual, cinematic and literary arts, and the artists, organizations and patrons that make Kansas City a vibrant center for arts and culture.

Leave a Reply