Notes from the Road – Folk Alliance 2009 – Traveling to Memphis PRELUDE It’s February and time to head to Memphis. I’ve made a personal commitment to attending the North American Folk Alliance Conference each year and establishing a presence there. This year I am committed to six showcases, a ½ page ad in the program, a video ad displayed on 12 monitors daily around the convention center, a sponsorship in the Folk DJ reception, a ½ booth in the Exhibit Hall and, of course, the time and energy to work the conference to its fullest start to finish. It’s a TON of work, but it’s the way for me to broaden my audience and my touring range, so here I go again. For those who are unfamiliar with Folk Alliance, since 1989, Folk Alliance has served as the headquarters for North American Folk Music and Dance. With over 2000 members worldwide and an annual conference that is one of the five largest music conferences in North America, Folk Alliance continues to grow and mature. Over the years, Folk Alliance has grown to include record companies, publishers, presenters, agents, managers, music support services, manufacturers and artists that work in the folk world. Folk Alliance has six regional affiliates that provide the grass roots efforts in their respective markets. This primary national conference is a gathering of all of the contacts that a touring folk artist needs to get in front of the desired audiences. I’ve been getting ready for several weeks – it’s a lot more than just showing up. I began promoting for showcase opportunities about six months ago. I’ve got six very good private showcase slots – Concerts in Your Home (the principle source for house concert presenters and performers to network), Soona Songs (an established independent record label from Texas), Bill & Kate isles Present (Bill has been the point man for the private showcase effort since the beginning – being part of his showcase is a plum and I’ve got two slots), Kari Estrin Management & Consulting (the leading folk music career consultant who I’ve been working with for the past year with great results) and Ronda Barton’s SOS Annex (Getting a slot with Ronda is the brass ring at folk alliance – she runs three showcases that are the best attended here). Six quality showcases was my goal – more than that seems to stretch into a quantity over quality issue both in the terms of attendance and performance. This gives me plenty of performance time without it getting stale. In addition to setting up the showcases, the booth is a major commitment. I have a “half booth” meaning that I am sharing a booth with another artist. This year I’m very happy to say that my booth mate is Still on the Hill - Kelly Mulhollan and Donna Stjerna. I am a big fan of their music and we have many friends in common including Jack Williams and Steve Blackwell. In the booth, I have a 6’ table on which to create an interesting display for the 1500 attendees who will cycle through. I have a full color banner as a back drop, sign boards for the table surface with quotes and info, three CD players with headphones that will have my Break Some Stones album, a special three song sampler of new material created just for this event and studio rough mix clips from my new album, Welcome Home, that will be released in the spring. In addition, there are post cards with my showcase schedule, business cards, a guest book, etc. I will be giving out copies of the three song sampler in preprinted CD jackets that have a bio and contact information on them. The CD jacket and disc imprint were designed by Jason Thomas’s wife, Beth, and are being shipped to me at the Marriott in Memphis by DiscMakers. The discs are blank and I will burn the samplers as needed – that way the marketing piece can be used later in the year at the SERFA and FARM conferences too. More bang for the buck. A key element of the booth is food – folks here are foraging constantly for snacks. Jack Williams advised me my first year out to come up with a good, portable snack – something unique and regional, if possible – that will not only get folks to linger for a moment at your booth, but also make them remember you. I’ve managed to kill a couple of birds with one stone. My mother has a special chex mix she makes using standard chex mix, plus mixed nuts, worscheshire sauce, butter, pepper, chilli powder and other top secret ingredients. The mixture is baked (toasted) and has a real tasty kick. I’ve made my own modifications to include a little more kick (!!!!). I’ve cooked up about 35 pounds of the stuff and have 200 baggies to dispense it in. The baggies will have a 3 x 4 mailing label on each one with my picture and my showcase schedule on it and a business card will be inside – slick, huh?. As a plus this year, I picked a over a bushel of tangerines off of my backyard tree yesterday and have lugged them along – I suspect those will be quite popular! The other key aspect is communications. Folk Alliance posts a list of attendees who have registered for the conference. For those folks who I particularly want to meet and have see me at my showcases (mostly presenters, media folks and radio DJs) I send hand written invitations with my showcase schedule, my exhibit hall booth location, etc. Thankfully, all of this work is now over – time to load up and go! Monday, February 16 I had actually intended to leave on Sunday and swing through Nashville on my way west. But after spending all day Saturday driving to West Palm Beach and back for a recording session I realized that I was trying to cram too much in. It really took me all day Sunday to get organized and ready to go and even then I still had to pack my clothes, etc. Monday morning. But, I eventually got it all done and was on the road by about 9:30 Monday morning. I took the Turnpike to I-75 north, but was delayed by a serious accident on I-75 near Ocala. The south bound lanes were completely closed and traffic was being funneled off to detour around the wreck that involved several cars and had required an air ambulance to land. While it had no actual effect on north bound traffic, the rubber neckers couldn’t help themselves and traffic slowed to a crawl for many miles. With the delay it was well after lunch before I hit Georgia, the land of cheaper gas ($1.72 as opposed to $1.99 at home). My Lady of the Dashboard (my infamous and wicked GPS) took me west at about Tifton and I wandered through the west Georgia back country. The cotton fields have all been chopped, the dirt stilled littered with the cotton leavings. The peanut farms have all been plowed and planted it seemed and there are fields of late winter crops that are dark green, but I’m not sure what they are. The peach orchards are brown, leafless and barren. There are a lot of interesting old home places and grand houses along the way. A very enjoyable drive actually. I crossed into Alabama and made my way northwest toward Birmingham. My goal was to get past Birmingham before shutting down for the night to avoid big city traffic in the morning. I made it to Jasper, about ½ hour beyond Birmingham by about 8:30 Central Time, found a hotel right on route and crashed – I’m beat!! Tomorrow – on to Memphis!