Folk Alliance 2011: A Wrap-Up

There was nothing we really could say
The river had swept us away
Like a present hereafter, the warm sound of laughter
As we danced to the Delta Queen Waltz

On Wednesday, after stepping off the elevators at the 19th floor of the Marriott in downtown Memphis, I simply stood for a moment and took in the view of the Mississippi River. It shimmered in the sunlight, awesomely wide, as I drank in that moment of delicious silence. I knew this was like going to be a rare moment of peace before the insanity began, and Folk Alliance would definitely prove to be glorious insanity at times. For four days one is more or less captive in a pitching ark of musicians and industry professionals, all working in various corners of the world of folk music. Days begin with panel discussions, and after a long night of hotel room showcases, that second expensive cup of coffee from the lobby coffee shop becomes necessary medicine to rev the brain cells. The elevators resemble the stateroom scene from the Marx Brothers’ “A Night at the Opera” as everyone crams into a small space, only to tumble out in a pile when the doors open.

But eventually that umpteenth-wind took over as the collective energy of several thousand people, each on similarly little sleep, and each on their own trips through the wilds of the Marriott, buoyed me along. I was reminded, as always, that best laid plans are meaningless at these things, and once I let myself go with the current I got to the heart of Folk Alliance mighty quick.

The heart of FAI was ultimately about building community. To be sure, relentless self-promotion is expected at music conferences, and we all know the music industry at large is adept at building pseudo-fellowships while simultaneously cannibalizing artists as soon as they’ve outlived their fiduciary usefulness. But this conference clearly had a different goal. It was gratifying to see the camaraderie between most attendees, whether musicians or other industry folks. The collaborations and friendships that grew over the conference were built on not only a mutual admiration of talent, but often on a common mission. These are trying times, and it’s positively vital to know we aren’t alone in our fears, frustrations, and hopes. And truth be told, no one in this thing, with a few exceptions, is making much money, so there is a sense of shared survival. There’s strength in that support, and, at a time when so many are facing absurd attacks by vicious political rhetoric, lord knows the community needs its artistic voices to be supported – and broadcast loudly.

If I can be frank, I don’t consider myself much of a cultural critic. I’m just a hopeless, unrepentant geek. The only unifying factor I can find in why I dig some things and don’t connect with others boils down to intent and passion. Watching someone show you something real is soul-feeding. Watching the opposite is crushing. I do however strongly feel American folk music should be, at its best, music that not only comes from that genuine place, but also serves a real purpose in its community. Certainly not every act at FAI ticked that box, but I felt fortunate that most of the bands that played in our own SPPS room did, in a variety of ways.

So, in a spirit of celebration, our rock star taper Keith Bergendorff and myself have put together a digital mix tape, which you’ll find on page three. All of our SPPS showcase sets are represented. On page two, we have reflections from a handful of the truly awesome artists we were fortunate enough to spend time with in Memphis. Hopefully we’ll see y’all at Folk Alliance 2012, but if not you can guarantee the SPPS will be there on site, bringing the sounds straight to your ears and preserving them for the future. Because, to paraphrase John Hartford, that river rolls on, long after we are gone.

Continue reading for reflections from some of the Folk Alliance artists…


“I really appreciated how encouraging the musicians were to each other. This conference could be seen as a sort of ‘competition,’ but the collaboration and admiration expressed for so many of the musicians by their peers was exciting to see!” – Kelly Wells, The Swells

“I feel privileged to have participated in the 2011 FAI. The concentration of talent, knowledge, and community was truly inspiring!” – Ryan Spearman, solo artist/The Swells

“I had a great experience at FAI this year. I was there solo on a reconnaissance mission to see what the conference had to offer. We plan to attend next year for sure. I particularly enjoyed the Colorado enclave centered around the SPPS showcase room. It always had great music and a great vibe. Colorado was well represented. My friends were all there and all my new friends eventually showed up. Saturday night, the last night, just felt great. There was a perfect buzz about the hotel, everyone was smiling, and from room to room the music was stellar. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I’ve attended IBMA and this had a completely different feel, [it was] very open. It was well run, and pretty dang chill the whole time. I loved that so many musical styles were recognized and featured. I even enjoyed the 20 min sets. Groups can slam you with everything to make it count and I like that. There was so much to see and hear. I feel like I only was able to scratch the surface of all that was offered. And that was plenty.” – Bill Powers, Honey Don’t


“Wow! What an awesome experience! This was one of the most supportive gatherings of musicians that I’ve had the fortune to be a part of. There was just a high level of excitement about new music, new groups, and new songs. Our band got a great reception at FAI, and all of our showcases were well attended. In fact, we are honored to be included in the Folk DJs list of bands to watch for 2011! There were so many cool bands there. We’ve already gotten airplay with DJs that got our CD at FAI.” – Jodi Boyce, Lonesome Traveler

“FAI was a great experience for us. We made a lot of music, new friends, and many connections that we will keep as long as we are in this business. We are so happy to be involved with the SPPS. This was our first FAI, but it won’t be the last.” – Taylor Sims, Spring Creek


“It’s difficult to summarize the whole FAI experience in a few sentences. I met so many great people and saw so much great music! The biggest thing I got from attending my first Folk Alliance International Conference was the importantance of attending as a band to meet and strike up business relationships with people, venues, organizations, and other bands.  We discovered there is a South Western Folk Alliance that includes Colorado that we didn’t even know existed until we went to the Regional meeting at the Conference Friday morning! What a great connection that was for us to make, one of many that week. We’re already looking forward to next year.” – Erin Youngberg, Finnders & Youngberg


The Atomic Duo by Vigil

“Folk Alliance was a truly wonderful experience for the Atomic Duo. It was refreshing to see an organization that tries to promote a broad range of approaches to folk music, while at the same time emphasizing the importance of relationships as the foundation of a homegrown American art-form. I was really impressed by groups like the Steam Powered Preservation Society, who recognized and promoted the role that string bands have played in the shaping of American Folk music. For me Betse Ellis, The Two Man Gentleman Band, The John Hartford Stringband, Blind Boy Paxton, The Swells and Spring Creek were the aural highlights. Thank you Folk Alliance for giving me the opportunity to meet and play music with such fine people.” – Silas Lowe, Atomic Duo


“During Folk Alliance, it is refreshing when the official showcases end.  In the hidden corridors, music returns to its source, rather than the show.  In the unknown sectors of FAI, truth and magic arise from the chance meetings of old friends and new relations.” – Dango Rose, Elephant Revival


“Folk Alliance is always a great opportunity to touch base with some of the large family of musicians from throughout the United States and Canada that I’m lucky to know.  The opportunity Folk Alliance gave us this year to honor John Hartford’s life and music and to bring in some of our musical friends just made it all the more special, as we were able to create a ‘Festival of John’ within the event.  Thanks again to everyone that helped with the celebration.” – Bob Carlin, John Hartford Stringband


“The buzz about Folk Alliance had us excited about our first conference, and we weren’t disappointed.  Hearing and meeting so many other great musicians was fantastic, and as busy as we were with seminars, meetings, rehearsals, and showcases, the camaraderie was one of the best things we took away from the conference.  Of course, the flying trapeze show in the combination raw oyster bar/massage parlor/dirt track motorcycle racing course on the top secret 20th floor was a definite perk as well — not to mention the banjo target-shooting range on the super-duper-top-secret 21st floor.  Sorry if anyone out there missed out.  Hope you at least got to experience the next best thing — the Steam Powered Preservation Society guerrilla showcase suite!” – Scott Moore, The 23 String Band

Continue reading for our digital mix tape of the 2011 SPPS FAI showcases…


We hope you enjoy this mix. These 43 tracks add up to over three hours of music. It should definitely get you through a long drive or two! As you can tell, it was hard to pick our favorites from so many amazing performances. Take this as an introduction to the Folk Alliance experience. We’d encourage you to check out and download the full sets, linked here. Happy listening!




01 Atomic Duo – Mississippi Delta Blues

02 The 23 String Band – Catch 23

03 Spring Creek – Natural To Be Gone

04 The Honey Dewdrops – Nobody In This World

05 Finders and Youngberg – Driftwood

06 Evie Ladin – Home From Airy

07 Lonesome Traveler – All I Need’s a Sandwich and Something To Do

08 The Swells – Just When I Needed You

09 John Hartford String Band – Miss Ferris

10 Lonesome Traveler – Howlin’ Harlan Wind

11 Spring Creek – Mockingbird

12 Red Molly – ‘Til We Say Goodbye Again

13 Atomic Duo – Trickle Down

14 Finders and Youngberg – Back In the Band

15 The Steel Wheels – Hymn For the Unsung

16 Two Man Gentlemen Band – Darktown Strutters Ball

17 Lonesome Traveler – Old Copper Kettle

18 Dehlia Low – Climbing Devil’s Pass

19 Spring Creek – Cubavera Swing

20 Bill Powers with Spring Creek – Talk To Me Tennessee

21 Ryan Spearman – Sugar In the Gourd

22 Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen – July You’re a Woman

23 Elephant Revival – Old Rogue River

24 The 23 String Band – East Kentucky Water

25 Lake Folk – Smoke

26 Dehlia Low – The Change Up

27 John Hartford String Band – Delta Queen Waltz

28 Lonesome Traveler – A Little Bit Lonesome

29 The Nadas – Take On Me

30 The HillBenders – Talking In Your Sleep

31 The Steel Wheels – Working On a Building

32 The Swells – Walkin’ In My Sleep

33 Finders and Youngberg – Sold On You

34 John Hartford String Band – Bring Your Clothes Back Home > Boogie

35 Atomic Duo – SB 1070 Blues

36 Two Man Gentlemen Band – Fancy Beer

37 The Steel Wheels – Spike Driver

38 Abigail Washburn – Shotgun Blues

39 Spring Creek – Hold On Me

40 Finders and Youngberg – Muscatine

41 Dehlia Low – Going Down

42 Bill Powers with Spring Creek and Betse Ellis – Deep Ellum Blues

43 John Hartford String Band – Indian Ate a Woodchuck



Big thanks to our FAI 2010 webcast and blog sponsors!



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March 10th, 2011
Sarah Hagerman
by: Sarah Hagerman
Sarah lives a relatively quiet existence in Denver, Colorado. She enjoys dancing to bluegrass, trolling through sales bins at record stores, hiking, camping and attending screenings of old movies.


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