Field Notes: North Carolina Moments at Folk Alliance International

February 27, 2019

By Catherine Swain, Director of Marketing for the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

North Carolina had a strong presence at the 2019 Folk Alliance International conference which took place February 13-17, 2019, in Montreal, Canada. The annual conference aims to serve, strengthen, and engage the global folk music community through preservation, presentation, and promotion. It is the world’s largest gathering of the folk music industry, and the many North Carolina musicians, promoters, and presenters present demonstrated just how deep our roots run in the folk community.

Held in the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel, artist showcases took place on the first five floors of the building.  Attendees literally meander from converted hotel room to room for private showcases while larger showcases are held in the evenings in the hotel ballrooms. The layout is conducive to intimate performances and the opportunity to get up close and personal with many of the acts. The hotel is already part of music culture history in its own right. John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged a bed-in at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, where they penned and recorded the iconic pacifist song “Give Peace a Chance.” This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic moment and during the conference, everyone was invited to livestream a performance of the song during their own bed-in.

Upon arrival on Thursday, the first act I caught was ‘Stray Local’ from Wilmington. It was kismet walking in to that room, where their first words were, “We’re from North Carolina!” Music to my ears indeed, and I treasure that my first experience was one of discovering new talent from North Carolina.

Between seeing music, I visited many of the industry booths which included reps from publications like No Depression and American Songwriter, powerhouse organizations like Americana Music Association, the International Bluegrass Music Association, Kerrville Folk Festival, The Blues Foundation, Folk Camp, Woody Guthrie Center, and a myriad of different music makers, service organizations and places promoting their nation’s music, including Canada, Norway and Wales.  It was good to see so many North Carolina supporters, who just beamed over hearing about the Come Hear NC campaign.

Come Hear NC, MerleFest and YepRoc co-sponsored a showcase featuring North Carolina notables Jim Lauderdale and Mipso. Their fantastic sets highlighted the diversity and depth of our state’s talent.  North Carolina got so many shout-outs from the stage and from friends of the state who were so excited to see Come Hear North Carolina reps at Folk Alliance International. It felt like a homecoming even though it was the first time we had ever been. It’s like they were saving a space at the table for us the whole time.

Livingston Taylor, James’ little brother, packed his showcase on Saturday night, and I was reminded what a sweet voice runs through that family.  He has been touring and performing for over 50 years and ‘Carolina Day’ was playing through the loudspeakers as I walked down the hallway towards his showcase.  

After his set, I headed over to Si Kahn’s 75th birthday celebration, featuring Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, who played one of my favorites ‘Truck Drivin’ Woman.’  It was such a nice tribute to Si, an activist, author and songwriter living in Charlotte, who has led many grassroots campaigns to support our state. 

Rising Appalachia had a 1 a.m. showcase on Saturday night that closed out the festival for me. I enjoyed so many North Carolina moments and felt like so much of our people and the places they are from unfolded in unexpected ways throughout the festival. I felt so much pride for North Carolina and gratitude to be part of the story currently unfolding.

There is so much love for North Carolina. Even the hotel concierge had a boyfriend in Charlotte and was planning on transferring there with her company.

Venez ententre North Carolina.  Come Hear North Carolina.

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