By Sam Lynch
31st annual Folk Alliance International Conference
February 13 to 17, 2019
I wander out of a blizzard and into the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel in Montréal. Aside from the few signs, it’s difficult to tell that the 31st annual Folk Alliance International Conference (FAI)— the world’s largest gathering of the folk music industry and community— is occurring under the same roof. Then I take the escalator to the second level, and I feel like I’ve entered a new world: guitars slung on every-other person’s back, acoustic guitar jam-circles every 10 feet, a 45-person cue for the elevator, every possible inch of wall space covered with posters promoting showcases. After a quick check-in, I’m ready to join over 2,800 other artists and industry members for four days of workshops, late night showcases and sweaty hotel rooms.
This was my first time attending FAI, though I’d heard stories of the conference (usually held in Kansas City, Missouri). You might be wondering what the point of this whole musical speed-dating extravaganza is. Essentially, the conference is an opportunity for artists and industry members (festival buyers, labels, booking agents, etc) to connect face-to-face, rather than through a screen.
Over the four nights, I had the opportunity to hear a range of incredible artists from Canada, US, and beyond. There are too many to name them all, but some artists that left a mark on me: Kirsten Ludwig’s hypnotizing set left me starry-eyed; the sweet serenade of Vancouver’s own Twin Bandit was the perfect way to end the first night; Winnipeg’s Joey Landreth and Australia’s Tom West both played incredible sets that filled the tiny hotel rooms they were performing in; Izzy Heltai, who calls Massachusetts his home base, was a songwriting standout; The Long War shared their harmony-infused folk tunes late into the eve (or early morning); Ellen Froese from Saskatoon was one of my favourite discoveries of the week, with a nostalgia-drenched voice and witty, sometimes self-deprecating lyrics; Calgary-based artist Mariel Buckley blew my mind with her strong songwriting and crystal-clear voice; and Vancouver’s Luca Fogale hushed the room with his effortlessly smooth voice and incredible new songs from his upcoming record.
The camaraderie FAI fosters is truly unique— I’ve never been to another event where people have literally deprived themselves of sleep in order to catch a 15-minute set at 2:30 a.m. in a hotel room. It struck me quite suddenly while chatting with a new friend at 3 a.m. in a sweaty hotel room: everyone is just trying their best to be heard, to find ears to connect with, to claim space, to make something of worth. And as overwhelming as conferences like FAI can be, it’s an opportunity unlike any other to share space with people who are chasing the same thing.Folk Alliance International Conference, luca fogale, Music BC, Sam Lynch