Folk Alliance International, a six-day event which ended Sunday (Feb. 23) in Kansas City, Mo., united singer-songwriters from across the globe. They swapped songs everywhere inside one hotel — in the rooms, hallways, elevators and fire escapes. Music started by noon and was rarely silenced by dawn.
The communal feel was tangible.
“Folk Alliance, while ostensibly about doing the business of music, is more about community to me,” said Austin-based songwriter Matt the Electrician. “I make so many friends, see old friends, hear new songs and reconnect with this huge community. Easily my favorite event of the year.”
Here are my five most memorable highlights from inside this year’s event in Kansas City:
1a. Owen Temple singing Gary Floater songs. Look these up right now: “The River Flows,” “A Hero Never Learns,” “When the Eagle Screams.” Most importantly: “The Dirty South.” Bring your humor and enjoy. A sharp satirical character largely created by Temple and his songwriting pal Adam Carroll, Floater is healing and hilarious. Temple’s versions had crowds hollering for more night after night.
1b. Owen Temple singing his own songs. While his Gary Floater covers will crack you up, Temple’s own material challenges your mind. In fact, he’s maybe the most literate songwriter working in Austin today. Check out: “Man for All Seasons,” “Six Nations Caledonia,” “Make Something.” Each one is a graduate school lesson in writing.
2. I’ve heard whispers about the Howlin’ Brothers for a while now but never had a chance to catch a show until Folk Alliance. They’re worth the wait. The youthful old-time Nashville trio killed all week whether offering their “Tennessee Blues” or covering Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues.”
3. John Gorka meeting Chip Taylor outside a gig Thursday night. Gorka didn’t say, “Hi, I’m John Gorka, and I’ve written some pretty great songs, too.” No, he simply presented himself as a fan. “Hi, Chip,” Gorka said to the man who wrote “Wild Thing” and “Angel of the Morning.” “I’m John. Love your songs.” He offered no last name, no pretense. He just met a hero and moved on. Heartening humility.
4. “We Texas songwriters all labor in the shadow of Townes,” Jon Dee Graham said during the Saturday afternoon of a three-day Van Zandt tribute. Graham holds his own. The singular songwriter stilled the room when he followed Van Zandt’s beautiful “Snowin’ on Raton” with his own harrowing “Codeine/Codine.” Stunning. (Disclosure: I helped organize the Van Zandt tribute.)
5. Ryan Culwell had folks talking up and down the aisles, mostly fellow songwriters lauding the newcomer’s sharply crafted tunes and soulful delivery. The Nashville resident similarly captivated crowds at last year’s Americana Music festival. Keep a close eye on Culwell for sure. He’s the real deal.