More than 700 performing artists, presenters, promoters, agents and managers, folk DJs, and others actively engaged in contemporary and traditional folk music converged on the Crowne Plaza in Stamford, Connecticut, Nov. 9-12, 2017 for the 23rd Annual Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) Conference.
Held in Stamford for the second consecutive year after outgrowing its previous location in The Catskills of upstate New York, the conference featured several jam-packed days and nights of music showcases, song swaps/in-the-rounds, informal jam sessions, panel discussions and workshops, an emotion-laden and inspiring keynote by singer-songwriter Vance Gilbert, a Wisdom of the Elders session (left), a children’s concert, short performances by Connecticut State Troubadours, one-on-one mentoring sessions, a large trade show-like exhibit hall, communal meals, a welcoming party and happy hours, a community meeting with NERFA’s volunteer board of directors, and lots of informal conversation and networking.
In addition to his keynote, Vance Gilbert presented two performance workshops and showcased his own musical talents during the conference.His “Collision Course” workshops were among some two-dozen featured workshops and panel discussions. Other workshops focused on such topics as activist artists in tumultuous times, budgeting and business planning for venues, diversifying the community, the DIY artist, engaging the next generation, a guitar master class, teaching while touring, venue marketing, and writing the funny song. The popular “On the Griddle” instant critique session, also returned, as did morning yoga sessions led by singer-songwriter Caroline Cotter. MusiCares also was on hand again to fit folks for custom earplugs.
Taking center stage during the 2017 conference were 14 artists/acts selected by a panel of judges -- each performed a 15-minute formal showcase set on Friday and Saturday nights. Friday night’s lineup included the Andrew Collins Trio, Beth Wood, Bettman & Halpin, The End of America, The Early Mays, Kirsten Maxwell, and David Roth. Saturday’s Formal Showcase lineup featured Mari Black & The World Fiddle Ensemble, Dan Weber, Ryanhood, Sloan Wainwright, Elage Diouf, Martin Kerr, and Emma’s Revolution.
After the formal showcases, attendees shuffled between four hotel ballrooms to catch short sets by 40 additional artists who were selected by a different set of judges. Performing in these semi-formal showcases on Friday night were (in alphabetical order) Clint Alphin, Emily Barnes, Bethlehem & Sad Patrick, The Black Feathers, Shawna Caspi, Dave Curley, Friction Farm, Abbie Gardner, Sharon Goldman, Hoot & Holler, Greg Klyma, Abigail Lapell, Paddy Mills, Emily Mure, Musique a bouches, Piedmont Bluz, Poor Man’s Gambit, Katherine Rondeau & The Show, Robinson Treacher, and Josh White Jr. Saturday’s Semi-Formal Showcase artists included Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches, Lisa Bastoni, Rachel Beck, Sophie Buskin, Meghan Cary, Dunham Shoe Factory, Vance Gilbert, Alice Howe, Rod MacDonald & Mark Dann, Austin MacRae, Mama’s Broke, Mike McKenna Jr, Zoe Mulford, No Good Sister, NUA, Elaine Romanelli, The Small Glories, Christine Sweeney, Ernest Troost, and Brad Yoder.
Following the juried showcases each evening (as well as on Friday ad Saturday afternoons), more than three-dozen presenters, performers and others hosted guerilla showcases in their hotel rooms – many of which extended through the early morning hours. Community sings, open mics, informal jam sessions, thematic song circles and round-robin song swaps rounded out the musical mix.
Michael Kornfeld, NERFA board president, expressed thanks to Dianne Tankle, NERFA’s longtime conference director, and her team of volunteers, for all of their efforts in arranging the event and in conscientiously designing it to help attendees forge connections, build community, and learn things that can help enhance and enrich their professional and personal lives.
For her part, Tankle expresses "an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for being right in the center of this incredibly loving community. How did I get so lucky? True, it is an enormous amount of work fitting all the pieces together, all the gruesome record keeping, trying to help everyone with their individual situations, making sure each workshop has been assigned to the proper space, reviewing all the judges scores for the juried showcases, working out an impossible schedule to try and squeeze everything into just three and half days with very little overlapping, etc. etc But when it all begins and I soak in some of the magic energy NERFA creates, I feel tears of joy welling up inside of me and realize what a miraculous extended family we have created. There are so many people (including our Board of Directors) who share in the work and the joy of creating NERFA. I am afraid if I start to list them I will leave someone out. Please have a look at the acknowledgement page in your program book. This will give you an idea of the many people and the many hours involved in getting this conference together. There is no way I could do any of this without the help of each and every one of you. I just want to tell my management team, how lucky I feel to be working with each one of you (in alphabetical order) – Robert M. Cohen MD, Nancy Feld, Jim Jackson, Terry Mutchler, Sonny Ochs, Cheryl Prashker, Pam Robinson and Patti Weaver. Your labors of love are what creates the magic of NERFA."
"Thank you ALL for sharing this weekend with us and making NERFA what it is today."
NERFA is a regional affiliate of Folk Alliance International, a Kansas City, MO-based nonprofit organization that seeks to nurture, engage and empower the international folk music community – traditional and contemporary, amateur and professional – through education, advocacy and performance.
Looking Ahead to 2018
NERFA is governed by a volunteer board of directors, which has been engaged in ongoing efforts to make it more of a year-round organization in order to best meet the needs and serve the interests of Folk Alliance International members from the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC to the provinces of eastern Canada. The Ladies in the House Online Music Festival that was co-presented by NERFA and GoGirls Music via Concert Window in April is an example of this. So too are the NERFA Presents Young Folk showcases that have taken place over the past two summers in partnership with a few music festivals in the U.S. and Canada thanks to the generous sponsorship of Grassy Hill Entertainment, as well as the NERFA Showcases co-presented with several venues and presenting organizations in the region over the past year featuring artists who have had official juried showcases at recent NERFA conferences.
Another online music festival -- Mid-Winter FolkFest -- is slated for Saturday, Jan. 27, from 12 noon to 4 p.m., in partnership with Club Passim in Cambridge, Mass. The afternoon of music -- featuring 11 artists/acts in a combination of song swaps and short showcases – will be streamed live via Concert Window and Facebook Live. More NERFA Showcases and NERFA Presents Young Folk showcases also are in the offing during the year ahead.