Notes from the Road – Midwest Folk Alliance Conference – Day 1
Good morning from Bolingbrook, Illinois, southwest of Chicago. It’s cool (40’s – 50’s) and rainy since we got here (Judy’s tagging along for this one), but relief from the hot and humidity is welcome regardless of its packaging. We arrived just after noon yesterday on Southwest (one of my favorite airlines – very musician friendly) and though it was rainy and windy at Midway we landed on only the second bounce (ok, it was a jarring landing, but any landing you walk away from is a good one).
The FARM conference has a long history having begun meeting in 1991. This is my first visit, precipitated by my selection as an official showcase artist, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I had heard mixed reviews by folks who had attended this conference in the past regarding the size of the gathering, the programs and value to the artist. But, FARM has experienced a renewal of commitment under its leadership and, though I have nothing to compare it to since I’m a Newbie I’m thrilled to be here.
The attendance is around 120 with a very good representation from venues, house concert presenters and Folk DJs – on a percentage basis compared to artists, about the same as the National Conference in Memphis. In just the first few hours I’ve gotten to spend time with folks I would not otherwise have met or would only get to see for a minute or two in the madness of the National Conference.
The first night they presented a new feature of the gathering. Concerts In Your Home (Fran Snyder) produced a special invitational showcase for non – official showcase artists and some special guests. Ten acts were presented over about 2 ½ hours. Though all were quite good and entertaining, I have to admit my favorites were Claudia Schmidt and Joe Jencks. Great talents both and certainly folks I would recommend without hesitation to any venue, house concert, festival, etc.
This morning things start of with workshops and peer group discussions on various topics. I’m looking forward to some of the business oriented workshops and to sitting over coffee with new and old friends alike. My official showcase is tonight. One thing that distinguishes the smaller regional conferences over the national is that the official showcases are done one at a time in one room – no other activity at the same time and, therefore, everyone is in attendance. That’s a good feature for the artists chosen and somewhat guarantees that the folks you really want to hear you are in the room (illness or exhaustion excepted). While I have a table display set up in the main hallway of the conference, its not one that I have to be with so I’m free to roam.