The final days of music showcases at the Folk Alliance International Conference was much like the first three: Scores of bands and musicians took stages throughout the Westin Crown Center hotel and issued quick but satisfying gusts of music, all of which fit under the large and welcoming tent that is folk music. Here are some of Saturday’s highlights.
Riley Baugus is a guitarist, fiddler and banjo player and for 25 minutes he filled one of the festival’s smaller room with old-time tunes that have deep roots in his native North Carolina. Baugus is also an instrument maker, and he told the story of his roles in “Cold Mountain,” first as a supplier of period banjos and then as a performer on the soundtrack with Tim Eriksen and Tim O’Brien.
As Baugus was finishing his set, the Bombadills, a four-piece from Montreal, were casting Celtic and bluegrass music in interesting shades and accents. Anh Phung embroidered each song with lovely runs on her flute or Irish whistle.
Austin singer/songwriter David Garza drew a crowd of 100 or so to his showcase. Sitting at a piano and joined by two guitarists and a percussionist, Garza performed an informal and loosely arranged set of songs, including “Outloud,” “Float Away” and “Texas Is My Hometown,” which bears a strong resemblance to Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”
One of the festival’s premier bands closed the Saturday showcase: the Hillbenders from Springfield, Mo. The five-piece issued a raucous and stirring set of songs that paid homage to bluegrass traditions while exhibiting several other influences. Their three- and four-part harmonies were spine-tingling, and Chad Graves played his resonator guitar with Hendrix abandon. Go see this band any chance you get.
The rebellious side of Nashville was championed by Bobby Bare, Jr. during his exemplary solo performance. An exuberant entertainer, Bare raised his arms in the air as if he’d kicked a winning field goal at the successful conclusion of one song.
The son of a legendary songwriter, Bare noted that he’s looking forward to a forthcoming engagement with “the old guy who’s been sleeping with my mother.” Before performing “Visit Me in Music City,” a song about growing up as country music royalty, Bare explained the duality of contemporary country music.
“We make the worst music that’s ever been recorded in Nashville, Tennessee,” Bare said. “Simultaneously, we make the best music that’s ever been recorded in Nashville.”
Although Michaela Anne is based in Brooklyn, her honeyed voice evoked a humid Alabama evening during her engaging set. Her two-piece backing band was joined by fiddler Oliver Craven of the Pennsylvania trio the Stray Birds for two songs. “Oliver learned these songs on the elevator ride down,” Michaela Anne said. Craven’s spontaneous contribution to Michaela Anne’s gentle country songs was gorgeous.
Willie Watson, an original member of the popular Virginia-based old-timey band Old Crow Medicine Show, sang about Mexican cowboys, Moses and John Henry during his impressive set. With his blue jeans, hat and strong chin, the rail-thin Watson was a dead ringer for Woody of the “Toy Story” movies. One of the most impressive stars of the documentary “Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis,” Watson’ forthcoming solo album is one of the most highly anticipated roots-oriented releases of 2014.
Lowell “Banana” Levinger represented the Woodstock generation at the conference. An original member of the Youngbloods, Levinger reprised the classic hits “Darkness, Darkness” and “Get Together” during his solo set. He remembered the late Pete Seeger as introduced the latter song. “I feel that we helped spread what he stood for,” Levinger said
Levinger also suggested that he and many of his colleagues were fatigued. “This is my first Folk Alliance Conference and it’s been a lot of fun, unless you think sleep is fun,” he said.
Darol Anger is an enormously influential progressive bluegrass, new age and crossover classical instrumentalist. Although he demonstrated his virtuosity on violin and octave mandolin during his set, the best moments of Anger’s performance featured contributions from his students at the Berklee College of Music. During a song Anger characterized as “a Cajun dance party,” Anger was the eldest of five fiddlers that danced joyfully around a microphone.
The stated mission of Shtreiml Ismail Hakki Fencioglu is to explore “the commonalities and differences between Eastern European Jewish music and classical Turkish music.” The music played by the Montreal-based collective Saturday can more succinctly be described as Turkish blues. The interplay between Fencioglu, anoud virtuoso from Istanbul, and harmonica player Jason Rosenblatt, wasn’t far removed from the partnership of the legendary Chicago blues duo of Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. Supplemented by an electric bassist and a drummer, the band played innovative party music.