Above image: The Matchsellers perform six sets at this year’s Folk Alliance International conference. | Photo: Sarah Bradshaw
Let’s face facts: February in the Midwest can be brutal, and there’s often little reprieve from the bitter winter chill. But for the last five years, Kansas City musicians have found refuge in the Westin Crown Center for a few days in mid-February, congregating in close quarters with thousands of international musicians.
Of course, this is the moment we’ve all been dreading — when the Folk Alliance International conference spends its final year (for now, at least) in Kansas City, before moving on to Montreal in 2019. But before it does, we preview some of the area acts that will be performing next week.
“Music should be a transcendent experience that involves everyone in the room,” Calvin Arsenia told me in a 2016 interview. Since he moved back to KC by way of Scotland in 2014, Arsenia has become known for his immersive live show. In fact, he initially captured the attention of several Kansas Citians during a few impromptu hallway performances at a previous FAI conference. He’s a piquant vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and poet whose show will leave you breathless, regardless of your musical propensities. Arsenia performs in the KC Music Collective room at 12:35 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 15.
One of only five Kansas City artists on an official FAI showcase, Cubanisms was started in mid-2016 by Michael McClintock, who is also a member of Ensemble Ibérica. It’s rooted in the sound of the tres, a traditional Cuban instrument that resembles a guitar — but unlike a guitar, it has three pairs of strings tuned to the same pitch. The band’s debut 2017 album, “Acento Cubano,” is a stirring blend of Afro-Cuban and Latin sounds, paired with a couple reimagined American jazz standards. Here’s a full list of Cubanisms’ showcases.
Beau Bledsoe formed Ensemble Ibérica in 2014, introducing KC audiences to the folk music of Spain, Portugal and the colonial Americas — from mariachi to merengue, fado to flamenco. You’ll have a whopping 12 chances to catch Bledsoe and his group at FAI, including an official showcase with fadista (i.e., Portuguese fado singer) Nathalie Pires. The ensemble will also be collaborating with violinist, vocalist and Latin Grammy winner Mireya Ramos, and KC’s own Making Movies in private showcases throughout the week. Check out the schedule here.
If your soul isn’t quite satiated yet, indulge in the sounds of Ivy Roots. The singer-songwriter, guitarist, pianist and producer incorporates elements of ‘90s R&B, neo-soul and acoustic folk to create a rich, gratifying experience. She performs in the KC Music Collective room at 12:35 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14.
Kasey Rausch was perhaps destined to set the human experience to American folk music. She comes from four generations of songwriters and musicians from the KC area, the Ozarks and Texas; these are roots that shine through beautifully in her solo work, along with her collaborations in The Country Duo and The Naughty Pines. Rausch is doing a duo set in the KC Music Collective room at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16 with Norman, Oklahoma native Kyle Reid.
The Matchsellers may look like yet another charming, predictable bluegrass duo, but only if you aren’t actually paying attention. The pair consists of Julie Bates — a classically trained violinist from KC — and Chicago blues guitarist Andrew Morris, who will have you simultaneously awed and in stitches by the end of a show. They have six sets planned at FAI, and will no doubt be promoting their upcoming album “Bluegrastronauts,” which shows their ability to preserve folk traditions and take them to new heights. Check out their FAI schedule here.
The Vogts Sisters
There’s arguably nothing more impeccable than the musical chemistry between sisters; just look at acts like First Aid Kit, The Secret Sisters and The Staves. Maggie and Abigail Vogts follow this tradition, setting their graceful harmonies to heartfelt folk songs. And this hasn’t gone unnoticed; the sisters have won numerous awards at competitions from the Walnut Valley Festival to the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, the Indie International Songwriting Competition. In their first appearance at FAI, the Vogts Sisters will perform three times. Check here for a complete list.