That sound you’ll hear this week emanating from Crown Center — the ringing of guitars, the singing of songs — marks the return of Folk Alliance International.
The organization is holding its third of a planned five annual conferences in Kansas City beginning Wednesday night and winding up on Sunday with an afternoon festival open to the public and featuring many local musicians.
The mostly members-only conference combines professional development for musicians with an all-out musical extravaganza that turns the two Crown Center hotels into a sprawling series of formal concerts, loosely contained impromptu jams and late-night musical revels.
As many as 3,500 musicians from 20 countries are expected once again to make their way to our town representing a vast array of music styles collectively referred to as folk.
Veterans will be honored; the estimable Judy Collins will cover more than 50 years of personal territory as a keynote speaker. And a mind-boggling lineup of established and aspiring bands and song artists, from Texan Jimmy LaFave and the unpredictably eclectic David Amram to the young Crane Wives of Michigan, will get performance time.
Folk Alliance International, which moved its headquarters to Kansas City and operates the Folk Store in the River Market area, has become a collaborative participant in the local culture scene. Last year, its outreach to the Kansas City Ballet led to a dance production.
This year it partnered with the National World War I Museum to sponsor an artist in residence. Joe Crookston, a painter and songwriter from Ithaca, N.Y., found inspiration in letters in the museum’s archives. They were written by a nurse serving in France in 1918 to her family in Wilson County, Kan. Crookston produced a song about the letter writer, Florence Hemphill, and a painting for the museum.
The alliance also planned educational outreach programs with the Guadalupe Center and Académie Lafayette.
The essence of folk music, if not music in general, is to preserve stories, like Florence Hemphill’s, of the human condition. Like all music, it builds bridges, inspires community and swells the heart.
Many Kansas Citians have come to look forward to the energy and spirit of this annual affair. The city has shown well for Folk Alliance attendees from around the globe. And this week’s weather can’t hurt. Like many conferences here, it ripples toward local clubs, restaurants and other attractions. Unlike most, it brings a sound all its own.