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Folk Alliance Is Coming to Kansas City! ...and Day THREE of the Conference

The 2014 Folk Alliance Conference will be held in Kansas City. (Flickr Photo by Jim Nix)

Bob McWilliams,               aka Radio Bob

The music portion of my final day at the Folk Alliance conference didn't start until early evening, as I spent the afternoon at various panels and meetings; the most exciting of which was about the move of the conference to Kansas City starting next year. There are going to be some VERY exciting things going on in conjunction with the conference next February in Kansas City, including events open to the public and not just conference registrants. I'll be telling you a lot more about this towards the end of this year!

The evening started off with a large and appreciative audience for the trio Brother Sun, with Greg Greenway, Joe Jencks and Pat Wictor. Adept at powerful anthems as well as quietly beautiful songs, they draw heavily on gospel, blues and jazz as well as folk. Highlights included their version of Mose Allison's Everybody's Crying Mercy, with tasty slide guitar from Wictor, and Greg Greenway's adaptation of U2's In the Name of Love, inspired by a visit by Greenway to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis at a Folk Alliance conference there in the late 1990s. After a debut CD that was one of the most played on folk radio in 2011, and playing to cheering crowds at the Falcon Ridge, Kerrville and Philly folk festivals, they have a new CD produced by Grammy-winning producer Ben Wisch, and will be playing in Lawrence and Manhattan, Kan., this May.

I had caught just a bit of Spuyten Duyvil on the first day of the conference, but wanted to see their main showcase, which turned out to be an excellent decision. I even won a Spuyten Duyvil bumper sticker for knowing the meaning of the band's name! The high-energy, seven-member band roared through a set influenced by not just folk and old time string band music, but also gospel and r & b. Highlights included Judge Not, a mash up of Freight Train with The Angels Laid Him Away, and their signature tune, a rollicking Shady Grove. In many ways, the band reminded me, in their eclecticism and energy, of the wonderful band Eddie from Ohio.

Annie and the Beekeepers - “An Island”

Based on the recommendation of Brad Paul, who spent decades with Rounder Records and is an astute judge of musical talent, I made sure to catch the official showcase of Annie and the Beekeepers. The band had a very nice, spare alternative country sound, with banjo, acoustic bass and drums backing the guitar playing Annie, whose luminous country voice makes this a band well worth keeping an eye on. From there, I caught a bit of the showcase by Ruth Moody, best known for her work with the Wailin' Jennys, with a set of new songs that I hope are on CD before too long.

For years, Paul and Win Grace and the Grace Family were a mainstay of folk and old time music shows and festival in the Midwest, with many of us watching their daughters Leela and Ellie grow up. While the sisters sometimes perform these days as a duo, Leela Grace was here on her own, playing a very cool version of Lazy John on the banjo, and sharing a lovely original song, the Island, inspired by a songwriters retreat on an island in remote Northern Minnesota. Also in the old-timey vein, the duo Red Tail Ring played a very nice set.


I'd be eager to see singer-songwriter Ben Bedford, from downstate Illinois, whose songs often draw upon American history and have a strong sense of time and place. His first song, Twenty-One, was from the perspective of a Union soldier at the siege of Vicksburg, with a haunting refrain of "I'd go back home, but I don't know how." Other highlights included songs inspired by John the Baptist and by the Indian ruins of Cahokia. Another singer-songwriter, Melissa Greener, who did a very nice house concert a few years ago in Lawrence, has switched from using acoustic to electric guitar, which provided a spare, atmospheric and somewhat haunting sound fitting her quiet but insinuating voice. Highlights included My Love Is a Ghost, Everybody Wants Some Love and a song inspired by coming home to a very cold house in Nashville.

Oh My Darling - "Love Me Love Me Not"

My last stop on this late Saturday night was to see the Canadian band, Oh My Darling, made up of four women with a very lively approach to old time string band music. Their three-part harmonies were especially nice on Lulu Gal; they also had strong original songs rooted in Canadian culture. While the music would continue for several more hours past this one a.m. showcase, I enjoyed them so much that I decided this would be my last showcase for the 2013 Folk Alliance, and on to Kansas City for 2014!

Music Notes for DAY ONE Folk Alliance Conference 2013

Music Notes for DAY TWO Folk Alliance Conference 2013

Bob McWilliams, who earned his B.A. and M.A. in history at the University of Kansas and his J.D. from Harvard Law School, far prefers radio to law. He's hosted jazz programs on KANU and KPR since 1983, and became jazz director and Jazz in the Night's weeknight host in 1996. He also did graduate work in jazz history with the late Dick Wright. He co-hosted the Flint Hills Special for many years, and has produced and hosted Trail Mix, blending contemporary and traditional celtic, folk, bluegrass and beyond, since it began in 1994. He's also active in teaching U.S. History at Johnson County Community College, and is a passionate St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan and Kansas Jayhawk basketball fan, as well as an avid if not particulary talented tennis player. Somehow, he also finds time to be an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction, and indulges his news habit with three daily newspapers and numerous magazines. Bob also founded the nonprofit West Side Folk concert series in Lawrence. "To me, there's nothing quite like 'goosebump music,' the music that makes time slow down and draws you in, away from everything else, and leaves you with goosebumps," Bob said. "I hope listeners enjoy the music on many levels, but I also hope that, on occasion, I can leave them with 'goosebump' moments."