Colorado Bluegrass Invades Folk Alliance International: Steam Powered Preservation Society Hosts CBMS Bands at Conference

This article originally appeared in the February 2011 edition of Pow’r Pickin’, the official publication of the Colorado Bluegrass Music Society.  For subscription information, click here.

Finnders & Youngberg

Finnders & Youngberg

Words: Sarah Hagerman

This February, thousands of musicians and music professionals will descend upon Memphis, Tennessee, for the 23rd annual International Folk Alliance Conference. Kicking off on February 16th, notable events at the conference include speakers, the 2nd annual Sacred Steel Summit, an awards ceremony and a special tribute to John Hartford. Attendees can also take in a large three-day trade show, as well as numerous panel discussions, workshops and instrument clinics.

But, ideally, music conferences are ultimately about offering networking opportunities to up-and-coming artists. With over 200 official showcases, as well as countless unofficial private showcases, a wide spectrum of acts such as singer-songwriters, traditional musicians and roots bands will be spotlighted at Folk Alliance. Among those bands showcasing are three CBMS members:  Lonesome Traveler, Finnders & Youngberg and Spring Creek.

“A conference like this takes a lot more planning and strategizing than a regular show,” says Erin Youngberg, bass player for Finnders & Youngberg. “At Folk Alliance there are thousands of bands, venue owners, record label executives, promoters, media representatives and other industry professionals, all trying to get noticed, get their product seen or heard or looking to hire. It’s like the difference between shopping at a K-Mart and the Mall of America. This is our first time going to Folk Alliance, so we are trying to be strategic about where and when we play.”

Lonesome Traveler

That strategy involves printing out hundreds of postcards, buying advertising space and scheduling as many showcases as you can play over those four days. It also means preparing to put in a lot of face time with industry folks. It’s a big investment for a band, both financially and energy-wise, but the connections made at conferences like this could lead to significant opportunities.

“At a conference you are paying to participate in hopes that it will get you the gigs that put the money in your pocket down the road,” Youngberg says. “It’s more of an investment and a long-term commitment to the band’s future.  We go with goals in mind and try to do good business.”

Jodi Boyce, mandolin player from Lonesome Traveler, agrees. “It’s all about promoting, 100 percent,” she explains. “We get a really short time when we’re doing our showcases, it’s not like a real set. You have to go in there and—wham!—hit ‘em with your best stuff.”

A side bonus of the conference is the chance to meet up with far-flung musical friends that you haven’t seen for a while. As Lonesome Traveler bassist Evan Neal describes, “These gatherings are fun because they’re a reunion of sorts. All the bands that go different directions during the year, this is the chance we all get to play under the same roof. That’s one of the things I really enjoy.”

This sense of musical camaraderie will certainly be on display at the nightly hotel room showcases sponsored by the Steam Powered Preservation Society, where all three CBMS bands will be featured as host artists. This is the third time the non-profit organization, which archives and preserves acoustic Americana and bluegrass music, will be sponsoring a showcase.

The lineup also includes Elephant Revival, Dehlia Low, John Hartford Stringband, The Farewell Drifters, Red Molly, Lake Folk, The Honey Dewdrops, The HillBenders, Abigail Washburn, The 23 String Band, The Atomic Duo, Two Man Gentlemen Band, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen and Ryan Spearman, with more to be announced. The showcases will be streaming live online for all four nights of the conference. Make sure to check the SPPS website at www.thespps.org in the upcoming weeks for details and a full schedule.

Spring Creek

One of the artists who played solo at the SPPS showcases last year was Chris “C-Bob” Elliott, banjo player for Spring Creek. This year, he will be attending with his full band. Speaking highly of his experience at Folk Alliance, Elliott was especially impressed by the wide variety of music featured at the conference.

“I liked Folk Alliance because it was a melting pot of different music,” he recalls. “It’s not just bluegrass, as IBMA is. I thought it was really neat that a lot of diverse musicians were there. The fact they let bluegrass musicians play there is pretty cool, but bluegrass is in the folk family.”

As a bluegrass band, groups like Spring Creek are in a position to stand out at Folk Alliance instead of getting lost in the shuffle. The conference also provides opportunities for them to book in markets outside of the bluegrass circuit, and to play for an audience with a less traditionalist mindset.

“I think it’s going to be a really good thing for our band to get some exposure in that scene,” Elliott says. “It’s going to open up a lot of new doors for us, to be seen by these folkies. It will work better for our brand of bluegrass. We do original songs that aren’t really bluegrass-y. I think those will be well-received, maybe even more so at Folk Alliance than at IBMA.”

Colorado is certainly known for its open-minded approach to bluegrass music, and Folk Alliance will be a chance for these three bands to represent their home state’s unique music scene to a national audience.

“We’re a soulful bunch out here in Colorado, and we’re all great friends,” Youngberg reflects.  “I think we are adventurous with our songwriting, with our arrangements, with our band personalities, and our stage shows.  I want the FAI attendees to see Colorado as the hotbed of original music that it is.  I want people to trust that any band coming out of Colorado will be worth hearing, and that we can create and play some seriously good music.”

Guitarist Mike Finders, of Finnders & Youngberg, echoes that sentiment.  “In Colorado, maybe it’s the mountains, maybe it’s the air and the sun, but bluegrass flourishes out here. It was a big part of why I moved here two and a half years ago. I think having such great bluegrass bands show up at Folk Alliance from Colorado will help make a statement, not only about what we’re doing out here, but also about how big a role in America’s Folk Story bluegrass really plays.”

You can listen to all these fine CBMS host bands for the SPPS showcases, as well as fabulous CBMS member band Honey Don’t, who will be closing down our showcases, on our live webcast brought to you by Colorado Case Company and The Walnut Room! Details to be released soon! In the meantime, check out our exclusive feature with Honey Don’t here and check out our showcase schedule here.

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February 8th, 2011