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Folkin’ Around: Making the Most of Folk Alliance International 2018

Above image: Above image: Betse & Clarke performing at Folk Alliance International 2017. | Photo: Sarah Bradshaw

Folk Alliance International 2018 week is finally here. A family reunion of sorts, this microcosm of nearly 3,000 artists and industry members descends upon the Westin Crown Center for four intensive days. These can be four of the most fun, informative and transformative days you’ll have all year, if you do it right. And you’ll want to do it right, because it’s the last time KC hosts the conference. Flatland’s Dan Calderon outlined a few ways you can find your story at FAI last week. For our part, we took insights from a few veteran performers and showcasers. Wondering how to make the most of your time at the conference this week? Read on.  

Wake up early.

In many ways, FAI is the polar opposite of a typical music festival — no deplorable porta-potties, no long lines, free water and booze, and there’s almost always a place to sit. It’s easy to get caught up in the insatiable energy of a private showcase, and before you know it, it’s 6 a.m. “Private showcases are where the magic happens,” said Benjamin Parks, who plays with Of Tree. “It’s a dreamlike experience, but be prepared to stay up late.” And while there’s nothing quite like stumbling upon wonderful new music in the intimacy of a hotel room, it’s also easy to get too comfortable. Party all night if you want, but get up for the daytime programming.   “Don't party your balls off and sleep through all the daytime panels,” said Colin Halliburton, who will be performing solo as The Roseline. “Surely you didn't pay all this money just to flit around the private showcases in your new Dust Bowl-chic hat drinking free IPAs.” Aside from the panels, there’s also a music camp (recently renamed after its late founder and former FAI executive director, Louis Jay Meyers), a health fair, an exhibit hall, guest speakers, speed meetings (think speed dating for your career) and even yoga. You’d be foolish not to take advantage of the opportunities. And if you don't believe me, take it from Victor & Penny, one of this year's five official showcasing artists from Kansas City.


Don’t be shy.

Whether you’re hawking your music to prospective fans, searching for the right booking agent or just looking to connect with musicians from different locales, FAI is all about the networking. After all, when else will you share one roof with people from 27 countries? “You never know who you’re talking to,” said Sondra Freeman, who helps host and curate the KC Music Collective private showcase room. “People from every facet of the music business are at this conference. The CEO of Sony could be standing next to you in the hallway.” But it doesn’t even have to be someone of that stature. Making new connections is not only a way to galvanize your career; it might just make you a better musician. Betse Ellis (of Betse & Clarke) has been a fiddle instructor at the music camp since FAI came to Kansas City in 2014. She underscores the value of meeting other artists and keeping in touch with instructors. “The camp is self-directed, so make friends with other participants and arrange jam sessions, share ideas from classes and get meals together,” she said. “And if your instructor doesn’t mention contacting them after camp, you might ask them to share their email address in case you have follow-up questions. In my experience, I love hearing from participants after a camp.”

Say your name.

From an artist’s standpoint, name recognition is essential — especially because you’re encountering dozens of performers and hundreds of people in a matter of days. If you don’t give them a reason to remember you, you’ll be out of their mind as soon as they check out on Sunday. “Wear your name badge where it’s visible,” Halliburton said. “And say the name of your act several times during your private showcases. People come in and out of rooms all the time and may only catch one of your songs.”

Play nice.

One of Ellis’s tips for the music camp applies across the board: “Play when it’s time to play, and listen the rest of the time.” In terms of the camp, it’s important to gauge your skill level with that of the class. “If the class is at a much higher level than you’re prepared for, try playing more quietly and simply,” she said. “If it’s way beyond your current ability, you can still get a lot out of it.” But another thing to remember at FAI: With a myriad of musicians toting around acoustic instruments all week, there is always an opportunity to play with others. You may find yourself in a multicultural banjo circle in the lobby, or an impromptu stairwell jam before hotel security tracks you down. So, infiltrate some of those jams (courteously, of course) and see what you can learn from those with whom you’re playing.

Take care (of yourself).

If you’re still reading, you’re in it for the long haul. You’ll be jumping from showcase to showcase, running up and down stairs (by the way, don’t bet on easily accessing the elevator anytime between 7 p.m. and 1 a.m.), shaking hands and hugging necks, swapping instruments and who knows what else. It’s all common sense, but after you’ve had a few cocktails, tips like drinking water and eating can go out the window. “You're in very close quarters with hundreds of people,” Freeman said. “Stay hydrated, take vitamins or drink Emergen-C and sleep when you can, or you will most definitely end up with the flu by the time it's all said and done.” Pro tip: You can grab food from Crown Center restaurants while they’re open or the Brasserie in the Westin, but it’s basically lights out after 9 p.m. A lot of the private showcase rooms provide free snacks, and there may be food trucks parked outside the hotel, but for the most part, you’ll have to fend for yourself. There’s an endless vessel of information to absorb, dozens of new connections to make and hundreds of acts to take in. To avoid the inevitable post-FAI hangover, don’t forget to take some time out for yourself. —Michelle Bacon writes about #kcmusic for The Bridge and plays bass and drums in bands. She'll also be running around Folk Alliance all week, so let's jam.

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