The five-day Folk Alliance International festival is a showcase of folk and roots music from around the world, including Kansas City.
Some highlights from Thursday’s public showcases at the Westin Crown Center hotel:
Elle Márjá Eira: Before she screened footage of her father and brother tending to the animals in her rural Norway homeland, Elle Márjá Eira proudly identified the occupation that she shares with her family: “I’m a reindeer herder.” As striking images of reindeer and other symbols of the culture of the Sámi people were displayed on a screen, Eira and two backing musicians performed imposing indie-rock songs.
One selection addressed persecution from “the church people (who) believed the devil was living in the hats” worn by Sámi women. Another was simply about her people’s “love of the reindeers.”
Fru Skagerrak: The music of Fru Skagerrak is exotic to ears accustomed to American old-timey music. The trio of women fiddlers from Denmark, Norway and Sweden managed to sound both virtuosic and humble, as if three members of the Oslo Philharmonic were playing works by composer Edvard Grieg around a campfire as the northern lights flashed overhead.
Marquise Knox: The robust output of Marquise Knox’s three-piece backing band bounced off the glass windows and wood floors of Benton’s with suitable ferocity. The passionate set by the St. Louis blues man was almost certainly one of Thursday’s loudest and funkiest showcases.
After Knox set his guitar aside for a rendition of Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog,” he found plenty of eager dance partners in the audience.
The Jellyman’s Daughter: Working as a trio, the Jellyman’s Daughter played pop-inflected folk that resembled Nickel Creek with a Scottish brogue. Emily Kelly infused the melodramatic flair of Adele into slight but pleasing material.
The Edinburgh group closed its set with the atypically foreboding “White Shadows,” a song inspired by the attempted imposition of the travel ban on which Kelly repeatedly sighed “we’ll be sleeping with our eyes open.”
Gjermund Larsen Trio: Norwegian violinist Gjermund Larsen claimed that his sound is “based on the traditional music I grew up with.” Yet much of the meditative output of his trio resembled the highly refined chamber jazz associated with ECM Records.
Gaby Moreno: She felt compelled to add a qualifying statement to her introduction to one of a handful of autobiographical songs she sang about her life as a native Guatemalan living in California. She noted that she’s “not a citizen, but I have a green card.”
Backed by musicians including accomplished guitarist David Garza and Kansas City-based multi-instrumentalist Kyle Dahlquist, Moreno performed the sort of artistically gratifying but commercially restrictive material that has made her a favorite among a small cult of devotees.