The five-day Folk Alliance International festival is a showcase of folk and roots music from around the world, including Kansas City.
Wednesday’s opening-day bill at the Westin Crown Center hotel foreshadowed what will ensue through the rest of the festival: an array of styles.
One of the stages, sponsored by Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest, comprised four acts from Kansas City, all performing in Benton’s, the former restaurant on the 20th floor that is now an event space. It’s the festival’s most picturesque venue, thanks to its panoramic view of downtown Kansas City.
The lineup included Betse & Clarke, an old-time fiddle-banjo duo comprising Betse Clarke and Clarke Wyatt. They tore through a set that included originals and covers, including a romping version of “Hawks Got a Chicken and Flew Into the Woods” that included some guitar and vocals from Brett Hodges, a fellow mainstay in the weekly Rural Grit Happy Hour at the Brick.
Calvin Arsenia followed their set with 30 minutes of his unique style, a dynamic take on folk, jazz and R&B that taps into a background that includes gospel and classical music.
For most of his set, he accompanied himself on the folk harp, playing and singing over looped sounds and riffs. On several others, he was joined by Rick Willoughby on standup bass.
His set featured songs from “Catastrophe,” his inaugural full-length album, released in November, including “Cardiac,” a theatrical aria about the physical effects of love and infatuation. He also delivered a riveting cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” a standout track from her “Blue” album.
After Arsenia’s set, down in the Century C ballroom, the Changing Room, a relatively new five-piece neo-traditional folk/Celtic/roots band from Cornwall, England, was playing. They also featured a folk harp among a guitar, banjo, accordion and bodhran, and they sang a few songs in Cornish.
One of the evening’s final sets was a lively mix of music, comedy and levity from “Nancy & Beth,” a duo starring actresses Megan Mullally (“Will & Grace”) and Stephanie Hunt (“Friday Night Lights”).
Backed by a full band, their performance comprised mostly tongue-in-cheek renditions of songs that spanned several decades, and included some low-grade dancing/choreography.
But both are seasoned live performers with strong voices that locked into tight, clean harmonies throughout the set. They employed a few props, including chairs that were incorporated into their choreography, tambourines and, during one song, a marching-band bass drum.
The highlight of the set: Their earnest cover of “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
Kansas City has hosted the Folk Alliance International since 2014. The conference includes the second annual Kansas City Folk Festival, an all-day event Sunday at the Westin that is open to the public.