In Feb (13-17), I had the privilege of attending the FAI or Folk Alliance International Conference (thanks to AH for the partial subsidy!), held in Montreal at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth hotel. This is the world's largest gathering of folk artists and industry personnel. It was a good time but quite an overwhelming experience with 3000 musicians, presenters, promoters, agents, managers, DJs, record labels and other Industry folk. It was great to see old friends, recent ones and to meet and foster new relationships. The music, celebrating Indigenous culture (in partnership with UNESCO and the United Nations' designation of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages), was absolutely splendid! There is nothing like being wholly immersed in the "Spirit of Creativity" (the conference theme) for several days, to rejuvenate and inspire one. With over 600 showcases, it was difficult to take it all in and my tendency was to go hear performers with whom I'm already familiar and love....so to that end, (in no particular order), highlights were Tom Power & The Dardanelles, The Slocan Ramblers, Suzie Vinnick, Tri-Continental, Le Vent du Nord, Tom Wilson, The Turbans, Dave Gunning, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer...and the list goes on. Of special interest was Keynote speaker, Tanya Tagaq's talk and haunting Inuk throat singing, as well as a lively interview with the oh-so-vibrant and dynamic Buffy Sainte-Marie.
The day-time activities were devoted to panel sessions, talks and workshops; I attended an interesting session entitled "The Value of Art", focusing on the intrinsic benefit of music on community from both an economic and cultural perspective. "The Wisdom of the Elders" was a lovely panel moderated by musician David Newland and hosted by Sonny Ochs where she, Marilyn Gilbert (Arts Manager), Ian Tamblyn (touring musician and Royal Canadian Geographic Society fellow) and Gilles Garand (Society for the Promotion of Quebec Traditional Dance/Pres. Folquebec) shared stories and insights from a lifetime in folk music. "The Spirit Connection", led by Ken Whiteley, Twin Flames and Reggie Harris, was an exploration of the role of 'spirit' in the process of creativity, community and social responsibility and how it can inform, enrich and help connect us. A wonderful and enlightening panel on the effects of detrimental mental health factors on musicians was led by Lynn Miles who spoke from her 42 yrs experience as a touring artist. An Inuit Throat singing workshop was a fascinating glimpse into the world of Indigenous language and culture.
Various top honour awards were presented to Tanya Tagaq, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Twin Flames, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Michael Wrycraft, Hillside Festival, Alfred Caxaj (AD Sunfest), Gilles Garand (founder La Grande Rencontre festival, Matt Smith (Club Passim), Sonny Ochs (sister of the late, great Phil Ochs/radio host), Shoshona Kish (Digging Roots duo), fRoots magazine, Ellen Hamilton (Night Sun), Sofia Rei (Arts Prof NYU) and Hall of Fame inductees were radio hosts (amongst other accolades): Bob Harris, Wanda Fischer and Matt Watroba (whom we presented at Acoustic Harvest many years ago).
The Exhibit Hall was resplendent with many colorful booths displaying numerous agencies and their roster of artists, guitars, accessories and all the accouterments necessary for getting the best sound, as well as featuring various record labels including our own, Toronto's Borealis Records - *Note: Founder and President is Grit Laskin!
Official showcases started at 4pm, with the last at 8 or 8:15pm depending upon which ballroom you visited and then the unofficial, private "Guerilla" showcases began at 10:30pm-3:30/4am (!) in the bedrooms on floors 2-5. Beautiful posters and cards advertising Showcase times/room numbers were plastered on every conceivable surface of the walls, tables and elevators, even in the bathrooms. Folks decorated many of the rooms and offered up treats (poutine, Valentine goodies) and drinks to welcome listeners into the showcases. In case you're wondering, no, I did not manage to stay up until 4am although I did manage 1:30am!
All in all, this conference, so well put together by Exec Director, Aengus Finnan and his team, was a testament to the ongoing goals and mandates of hundreds of professionals and aficionados to keep the music growing and thriving.
For a blow by blow account please visit: www.rootsmusic.ca for in depth reviews by Heather Kitching (Roots Music Canada/Publicist), Paul Corby (radio host) and others.